Tours in Greece

The City State of Sparta - Mystras

Sparta in Southern Greece was founded in the 10th c. B.C. in a fertile plain of Laconia. Its remoteness was an advantage to the warring Spartans and the high mountains to the east, north, and west, and the sea to the south, formed natural defences. Two centuries later, Sparta conquered its neighbour, Messenia, and gained excellent agricultural land. It became a luxury - loving state producing fine crafts. Music and poetry also flourished. Later, the Spartans were defeated in war, and the conquered Messenians engaged in a long running rebellion, so Sparta turned to military matters. It became a super power in Greece and the main rival of Athens and Spartan society was dominated by the need to maintain power.

All men of Spartan birth had to serve in the army. Boys of seven were taken from their families to live in army barracks. Their whole lives were dedicated to learning the arts of war. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that Spartan soldiers,  They differed from the rest of the Greeks in that they wore long red robs.  always combed their long hair when they might be about to put their lives at risk, as when going into battle. The scarlet color of the military cloaks became a symbol of Spartan pride - SPARTAN REGIME. The Spartan system of education, with its emphasis on physical fitness, was mush admired in 19th - century Victorian Britain.  Battle of Thermopylae.

 The cornerstone of the Spartan state was its celebrated constitution, traditionally attributed to a lawgiver called Lycurgus. Sparta's institutions were unique in the ancient world. Its class structure had ethnic and aristocratic origins: only descendants of the founder warriors had full citizenship status. The political structure was simple, it was headed by two kings who were supervised by Ephors and who received advise from a council of elders (Gerousia) and from a public assembly comprised of citizens aged over thirty (Apella). Non citizens in Sparta were either Perioikoi or Helots. The Perioikoi were free men who, although they did not have the rights of citizens, were allowed to trade, and serve in the army. Helots were the descendants of the original inhabitants of the area. They farmed the land and did all the heavy work for their Spartan overlords.   Ancient Messini - Ithomi.

Municipality of Sparta: Sparta is a city with along history and with a modern municipality. The Municipality of Sparta is the capital of the Laconia prefecture with a population of 20.000 inhabitants. With an excellent city plan Sparta stands on the side of the ancient city built by the decree of 1834 signed by King Otto and designed by Staufehrt. The plan followed the Ippodamean example of wide avenues and big squares and was designed for 100.000 inhabitants. The economy of the city is based on agricultural production and tourism. It is surrounded by ancient sites and the centre of the city is crowned with many neoclassical buildings and monuments. Do not miss to visit the Archaeological Museum and the unique Museum of Olive and Greek Olive oil in Sparta.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM: The museum was established in 1874, in a building designed by the Greek architect Katsaros. The most important items of the museum are: Stele depicting couple of figures in relief, on both sides. On the one side perhaps there is the representation of Menelaus with Helen and on the other Agamemnon with Clytemnestra,  dated to the end of the 6th century. Statue of Hoplitodromos (running Hoplite) with helmet of Attic type. It has been argued that the statue of a Spartan hoplite, the best known of the very few surviving Laconian sculptures portrays King  Leonidas, leader of the Three Hundred warriors who fell heroically fighting against the Persians at Thermopile in 480 BC. According to another view, it represents Pausanias, victor of the battle of Plataeae, or even a competitor in a race for armed runners It was found in the temple Of Athena Chalkioikos at the acropolis of Sparta. It preserves the upper part of the body but hands are missing. It is dated to the second quarter of the 5th century BC.

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Acropolis of Sparta

Excavations began at the end of last century under the guidance of American and Greek archaeologists while since 1905 digging has been carried out by the British Archaeological school of Athens. New excavations have begun five years ago, mainly at the area of the theatre and the shops. The most important monuments of the side are:

The temple of Athena Chalkiokos, goddess and protector's of Sparta, on the top of the Acropolis is defined more by some indications from the excavation rather than by the  architectural ruins themselves. The temple which was constructed on the plans of the architect Vathykles from Magnesia and Gitiadas the very talented Spartan poet and sculptor, decorated the Temple with bronze plates.

Classical Tour

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The ancient theatre of Sparta is on the southern side of the Acropolis of Sparta.. We do not know whether there was a theatre on this site in archaic times, if there was a structure of some kind, it would have been wooden, or the natural form of the slope itself may have served the purpose, as it did for contemporary Athenians as the theatre of Dionysus.

There was definitely a structure there later on, in classical times, as Herodotus mentions it in connection with events taking place in 465 BC. The stone theatre that we see today was built in Hellenistic times (1st century BC). Slightly later, in the time of Augustus, Eurycles, the wealthy Spartan who was a personal friend of the Emperor and had close ties with Rome, presented the town with a new marble stage as well as other gifts. The Emperor Vespasianus (AD 69-79) had donated another, larger and more splendid stage - one that, with a few modifications, was to remain in use until the end of ancient times, until the reign of Emperor Theodosius (AD 379-395).

When a study wall was built round the acropolis of Sparta at the end of 3rd century AD to help it withstand Heruli raids, the theatre was included in the citadel and may have continued to function  for a time. It was later abandoned, ruined and buried under small Byzantine houses. Now preserves the orchestra, the retaining walls of the curvature with inscriptions of the rulers of Sparta during Roman times and part of curvature of the large theatre. The scene was used to be wheeled in metal bars fixed to the ground.

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   300 Spartans

The Final Glory of the
Medieval State.

Following the road from Sparta which passes through plane trees, cypresses, olive trees, mulberries and orange trees we reach Mystras. In the distance, mount Taygetos looms proudly. We scan its innumerable peaks, precipitous slopes and deep gorges until our gaze suddenly rests on a hill, detached from the mountain range. On the naturally defended hill of Myzithras in Lacedaimon, the ruler of the Frankish Principate of Achaia Guillaume de Villehardouin built in 1249 a strong medieval castle the "Oriokastro" which was to play an important role in the history of the last centuries of the Byzantine empire.

In 1262 the Byzantines made themselves masters of Mystras, inaugurating a brilliant period for the medieval fortress-state. Houses covered the hill, mansions and palaces, churches and fortified monasteries were built and the densely settled city was encircled by two enclosure walls. Co to Top
High on its summit stands an impregnable fortress and on its flanks extends the erstwhile glorious Medieval state of Mystras, now in ruins and silent. We go back into time, to the era of the Frankish Occupation of Greece, the time when the Crusaders, having conquered Constantinopole in 1204, shared the rest of the country between themselves, thus creating small states
 The most significant of these, the French Principality of Morea, was much retarded in spreading throughout the entire Peloponnese and so in 1249 the Frankish Prince of Achaia, Guillaume de Villehardouin, managed to take Monemvasia and so pass through the whole of Laconia. There it was that he came and built a castle on this wisely chosen inaccessible hill in order to rule over the whole of Lacedaemonia.

 However, the sovereign with his iron-clad knights did not enjoy this land for long. A decade later Guillaume was taken prisoner while fighting against the Emperor Michael Palaiologos at Pelagonia, nowadays in Yugoslavia, and was forced to surrender his castle in return for his freedom. So Mystras, a Frankish castle, once again became the seat of the Byzantine commander of the Peloponnese. The inhabitants of Sparta, who felt insecure in the undefended plain, moved to this spot which consequently started coming to life and developed into a city. Houses were built, a Metropolis, monasteries, palaces and ramparts. Mystras developed at such a rate that a hundred years after the building of the castle, in 1348, it became the capital of the Despotate of Morea with Manuel Kantakouzenos as first Despot, son of the Emperor John VI.

Later, in 1384, the Palaiologoi came and succeeded in the expansion of the Despotate virtually throughout the Peloponnese. During these years Mystras experienced its greatest fluorite. An intellectual centre developed were personalities in the arts and letters brought from the capital of the Empire, which was then in decline, congregated. Distinguished among them was the Neoplatonic philosopher Georgios Gemistos, Plethon who attracted many pupils around him and taught them the ancient authors as well as his own innovative ideas concerning the social and religious organization of the state. However, the disaster which dogged the sovereign was not slow in reaching here also and so when Konstantinos Palaiologos, Despot of Mystras, left for the capital wearing the martyred crown of the last emperor, his brother Demetrios who succeeded him after the legendary Fall of Constantinople in 1453, surrendered the castle to the Turks in 1460.

The splendor and grandeur of Mystras ceased but a commercial centre was created where in 1687, after Morosini had subjugated and plundered the area, 42.000 souls lived a life of comparative economic affluence based on the rich production of silk. In 1770, when Orloff's fleet anchored in the Mane, the Greeks were aroused and attacked the Turks of Mystras alongside the Russians.

They breathed the air of freedom for only a few months and then the wrath of the Albanians burst upon them. For ten years they butchered, broke down and burnt everything. It was liberated once again during the 1821 Revolution but in 1825 Ibrahem set fire to this much-tortured place for the last time. By the time Othon came and built new Sparta, Mystras was already dead. The gloomy world of the ruins remained as a testimony of a state which in its day constituted the unique hope of the revival of an empire which was slowly dying and which is today the sole example of a medieval settlement with its castle, the fortification walls encircling it, its palaces, churches and mansions.

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