The first thing you will hear about Argos is that it is the most ancient city of continental Europe. It has been consecutively inhabited for the last five thousand years, and it has been inhabited before King Agamemnon built palaces in Mycenae and before Adrastus, King of Argos, began his journey as one of the seven kings who rode to Thebes. For those who are not very good at History, these happened a thousand years before Acropolis was built.
Today, Argos is a lively town of 22.000 residents that is luckily, and unluckily, located next to Nafplio and for this reason it skips the attention of those who go on weekend trips in the area. If you give it a chance though, it will reward you with nice walks, lively squares, a beautiful castle that is visible from every corner of the city, and great sights that tell the story of the place’s long History to whoever wants to hear it.
The first dwellers of Argos were Pelasgians and in their strange language Larisa means Acropolis. The name remained and thousand years later it is still used, even if the castle today has the shape that the Byzantines first gave it, during the Middle Ages (in the 10th century), and later the Franks (in the 13th century). A winding road climbs the 287 meters of Larisa’s hill, revealing another amazing view of the Argolis plain behind every turn till it ends up on the plateau where you can park your car to explore the towers and the battlements you can see from miles away as you are getting closer to Argos.
Inside the castle are saved parts of gigantic limestones of the Mycenaean fortification, byzantine gates, and remnants of ancient temples, Ottoman towers and Frankish walls, all in an interesting puzzle that narrates the History of three thousand years and of four great civilizations. An equally good reason to climb up here is the fantastic view that leaves the eye to wander from Nafplio to the sea and from the fertile Argolis plains and the monasteries that adorn them to the great chaos of Argos that spreads on the mountain’s foot.
Full of life every hour of the day, Argos center might not look very picturesque at the first sight, but as you stroll around it you discover small surprises here and there: A two store neoclassical building with cute antefixes. An open square with an amazing castle view that at night, lit with yellow lights, looks magical. Debris of an ancient temple between two blocks of flats. The Kapodistrias Barracks that host the Byzantine Museum of Argolis. The “Kamares”, which is the wonderful Municipal Neoclassical Market Building, built in 1889 by Ernst Ziller- or someone with the same architectural style. The old Town Hall of Danaos Street that was built by Ioannis Kapodistrias in 1830. The big cobbled Saint Peter’s Square, with the water paths and its bridge. The walkways of Michael Stamou, Panagi Tsaldari and Eleftherios Venizelos, the cobbled paths of which are filled with tables of the city’s cafés and bars. So if you give it a chance, you will soon realize that it is a city worth visiting.
Almost in the heart of the city, not even a kilometer from the central square, the Ancient Theater of Argos is carved on the side of a green hill, under the shade of the castle. It is one of the biggest ancient theaters you’ll ever see, with a capacity of 20.000 viewers (Epidaurus’ theater has a capacity of 13.000 viewers) and it was built at the beginning of the 3rd century, when the Nemean Games were transferred here, as they were formerly held every year in Nemea to honor Zeus. The four distinct tiers you will notice on the theater’s stands represent the four tribes of Argos. During summer, the theater hosts theatrical performances and concerts.
Right across the Theater is the Ancient Agora of Argos on an evergreen space that hosts remnants of buildings from Classic to Roman era. The most ancient of all is the Vouleutirion, a hypostyle hall that dates back to 475 B.C., when Argos first acquired Democracy. About the first building you come across as you enter, Pausanias says that there was an inextinguishable flame, in honor of Phoroneus, the first dweller of Argos, son of River Inachus, who stole the flame from the gods and brought it to its people, like Prometheus. The picture is completed with heroic monuments, ancient temples, Roman roads, the Gymnasium and the “palaistra”, and parts of houses from the 4thcentury too. The site is perfectly signed in three languages (Greek, English and French) so that it’s easier for you to understand what it was and its use.
A nice twenty- minutes’ drive that you have to do outside Argos, is the one that ends up in Kiveri, a sweet coastal village with red- tiled roofs. The route passes by many orange groves before reaching Nea Kios, and then follows the coastal road with the palm trees, which is built right at the sea level, to end up in Myloi. A bit further from Myloi, you should make a stop at the archaeological site of Lerna with the prehistoric settlement (that brings to mind Hercules Labor of Lernaean Hydra) before going to Kiveri.
Seven kilometers away from Argos, near Hellinikon village and on the ancient road that connected Argos with Tegea, there is one of Argolis’ many surprises. An actual pyramid (yes, like the ones in Egypt but smaller) that is even known on the maps as Pyramid of Hellinikon. It is in much better condition than the one in Ligourio, as it only misses its top, it is built with huge limestones, and has an interesting dispute around it: The Ministry of Culture supports that it was built around 400 B.C. and it was a pyramid shaped fortified tower, while the antiquity and conspiracy theories supporters say that it is at least two thousand years more ancient or of the same age or perhaps older than those of Egypt.
Pausanias, on the other hand, writes about a pyramid in the area that was a burial monument, like the ones in Egypt, so we are not sure to which is he referring, this one or the one in Ligourio? Isn’t our ancient History somehow magically incomprehensible?