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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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).
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.
The Final Glory of the
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.
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.
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
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.
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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