Even if you’re not as obsessed with Spartan lore and Greek history as I am, there are some really good reasons to visit this area of the Peloponnese. Like Mystras, for Pete’s sake, it’s only 6km from Sparta.
You must go to Mystras. If you don’t go to Mystras, I will track you down and drag you to Ioannina to eat cheese pies with me next to that smelly lake. We’ll see how well you follow my orders advice after that.
Mystras ia a ruin of an old Byzantine town that absolutely flourished during its time. A school of humanistic philosophy was founded here that revived the teachings of Plato and Pythagoras, and attracted intellectuals from every corner of Byzantium. This all ended when Mystras fell to the marauding Ottoman Turks. It was revived under the Venetians, only to suffer another fall to the Turks. There was no end to the trials of Mystras: the Russians burned it, the Albanians sacked it, and Ibrahim Pasha took a torch to what was left in 1825.
It’s an absolute delight to explore. What with churches, libraries, strongholds, castles, palaces and walls in various states of ruin, you’ll feel like you’re in a dream involving St. George and a dragon.
People, you must go to Mystras. It’s like Pompeii but much, much better. I want to live there. I spoke to a nun at the Convent of Pantanassa, which was difficult considering she couldn’t speak any English and my Greek is minimal (she has 5 sisters in Boston), but I couldn’t make her understand that I wanted to live there. Currently there are only 3 nuns living in Mystras. I think my being a big ole blasphemer might be a deal-breaker.
The first church I walked into, the Church of Ayioi Theodori, took my breath away and then made me cry. No worries, though, I have the loveliest condition known to mankind: Stendhal’s Syndrome. Holy places and ancient sites get to me, but museums really go to my head. I’ve been known to faint, cry and vomit (Max Beckmann exhibit) in them.
The great thing about Mystras is that you can actually roam around freely. Even though it’s a World Heritage-listed site, nothing is roped off, no warning signs to stay away and not touch. Greek sites give their visitors a lot of freedom. This can’t last much longer – you should go now. Take me with you.
The Taygetos Mountains are to the east of Sparta. I drove across the Langada Pass and bought oregano from the woman pictured below, because she looked like she really needed someone to buy oregano from her:
This is the mountain in the Taygetos where the Spartans left their less-than-perfect newborns to die:
Gytheion is the ancient port of Sparta, but most of Ancient Gytheion lies under the waters of the Lakonian gulf.
The ancient theatre of Gytheion is fenced off and the only view is through the parking lot of a Greek military building. The building is guarded by a pack of Rottweiler-type dogs, so go at your own risk.
Not far from Sparta, you’ll find Monemvasia – the Gibralter of Greece — a fabulous Byzantine town in the process of being resurrected:
Whoever designed the cupola of this church was not focused on the sweet hereafter:
I’m in Pireaus now, the port of Athens, waiting for my ferry back to the Cyclades and the start of the second part of my journey through Greece. I’ll be revisiting a couple of islands I was especially fond of, and taking a short trip to the island I visit every time I come here.
Hope you’re all having a great summer!
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