Things to Do in Peloponnese
Squeezed between two hills on the arid plains of the northeastern Peloponnese, fortified Mycenae was the major settlement in the powerful Mycenaean civilization that held political and cultural sway over the Eastern Mediterranean from the 15th to the 12th century BC. The Bronze Age city is regarded as the home of the legendary Agamemnon and is UNESCO World Heritage-listed for its profound cultural influence upon later Greek civilizations.
Covering around 32 hectares and at its peak with a population of around 30,000, the ruins at Mycenae were excavated in 1874 by Heinrich Schliemann, who also worked at Troy. Highlights include the Lion Gate, the main entrance into the citadel carved with figures of mythical lions; the Treasury of Atreus – also known as the Tomb of Agamemnon; the scant remains of the Royal Palace; and the Cyclopean Walls, whose massive stone blocks are all that remain of the original fortifications. The true showstoppers, however, are the grave circles, believed to be the burial sites of Mycenaean royalty thanks to the numerous precious gold, silver, bronze and ivory artifacts excavated around the tombs, including a gold funerary mask Schliemann believed to be the mask of Agamemnon. Many antiquities discovered at Mycenae are now on show at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens but the smart, white museum next to the citadel still has three halls stuffed with pottery, burial urns, clay figurines, fragments of fresco and a replica of the death mask of Agamemnon. A model of the ancient site can be found just outside the museum.
The Theatre of Epidaurus is a stunningly well-preserved ancient theater constructed in the 4th century BC. It was built by the architect Polykleitos on the side of a mountain and merges perfectly into the surrounding landscape of undulating hills, overlooking the Sanctuary of Asklepius.
For centuries, Epidaurus Theater remained covered by trees, until excavations revealed the ancient monument towards the end of the 19th century. Despite repairs and restorations over the years, particularly to the seats, the stage itself has been retained as it was since ancient times. Today, the theater is a popular venue for the annual Athens Festival productions, which are held here every summer.
In terms of its architecture, structure, and acoustics, Epidaurus is widely regarded as the best ancient theater in Greece. In fact, its extraordinary acoustics mean that all 14,000 spectators situated in its semi-circular seating arrangement can hear every note played and every word spoken – even from the highest seats up on the 54th tier.
Site of the first Olympic Games in 776 BC, the UNESCO-listed ruins of Ancient Olympia are one of the archaeological highlights of the Peloponnese. Explore the excellent museum and vast complex to admire the remains of temples and the stadium, hippodrome, wrestling school, and gymnasium where Olympic athletes trained.
At this museum, a collection of objects unearthed from Ancient Olympia—where the very first Olympic Games were held in 800 BC—help you gain a better understanding of the adjacent ruins. Museum highlights include statues recovered from temples, carved pediments, votive offerings, and a scale model of Olympia.
Adjacent to the UNESCO-listed site of Olympia, the Museum of the History of the Ancient Olympic Games follows the founding and development of the Olympic games. Displays exhibit sporting objects, sculptures, and artistic representations, and cover key events such as javelin throwing, chariot racing, and wrestling.
The cultivation of olives and the production of olive oil have been vitally important to Greece for centuries and hills covered in silver-leafed olive trees form an iconic part of the landscape. The country’s homage to its most important crop opened in 2002 in Laconia, one of its main olive-producing regions, and offers an informative take on the cultural and economic importance of olives as well as taking visitors step by step through the process of producing olive oil, soap and other by-products. As well as ancient amphorae used for transporting olive oil, mill stones and flat-bottomed Byzantine storage jars, highlights of the exhibition include clay tablets from the 14th century BC, which are inscribed with the health-giving properties of olive oil.
A variety of olive presses from all across Greece date from ancient times right up to the industrial age and include examples powered by water, steam, diesel and even by animal. Among the olive trees in the museum grounds are several sizeable presses, including replicas of ones from prehistoric, Classic and Byzantine times. A small store offers a range of local, organic and flavoured olive oils for sale as well as handmade soaps.
Mystras (Mistras) is a fortified town located on Mount Taygetos in Peloponnese, Greece. Not far from ancient Sparta, the history of Mystras dates back to the 13th century. Over the years, it was alternately occupied by the Byzantines, Turks and Venetians before being abandoned altogether in the 1830s. In 1989, the ruins of Mystras, including the fortress, palace, churches and monasteries, were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The only remaining inhabitants of the town are the nuns at the Pandanassa convent.
One of the highlights of Mystras is the Palace of Despots, which is located at the top of the ruins, providing breathtaking views of the surrounding area. The palace has been undergoing extensive restoration. Another important stop is the 14th century Church of Agia Sofia, which features marble floors and well preserved frescoes. The Cathedral of Saint Demetrius dates back to the 13th century and is home to a small museum of exhibits from ancient and medieval times. The cathedral may be best known as the place where the last Byzantine emperor was crowned in 1449.
One of the best surviving churches in Mystras is the Pandanassa convent, where nuns sell handmade crafts and sometimes offer cool drinks to visitors. Nearby is the Perivleptos Monastery, which dates back to 1310 and contains the most complete set of frescoes in the town. Also of note are the Byzantine Laskaris Mansion, the Vrondohion Monastery and the Church of Agios Theodoroi.
At the western edge of Greece's Peloponnese Peninsula, Katakolon’s deep waters makes it one of few Greek ports able to accommodate the world's largest cruise ships. It’s also the gateway to ancient Olympia, the flame and founding place of the Olympic Games, and one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece.
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