The city of Leonidas and Lycurgus. The city of the 300, of the phrase “with it or on it” that the Spartan mothers used to say to their sons when they handed them their shield, of the army that was defeated and surrendered only once in its History, the rival awe of Athena, and the awe altogether. An awe that you don’t see it in front of you, but rather experience it as a feeling and not as an image, since in Sparta today there are not many remnants of that civilization. Besides, the greatness of ancient Sparta was never captured in temples and buildings. The legends don’t need tangible images to survive.
Nowadays, Sparta may not be a vacation destination by itself, but it is a lively city of 16.000 people that it is worth a stop on your way to Mystras, Monemvasia, and Mani or to the villages of Taygetos Mt. that rise imposing and magnificent above it. The big, bright squares, the tree-planted streets, the charming old mansions that you can find here and there among the modern blocks of flats, and the feeling of vastness compose the image of a city that is very pleasant to walk and to discover.
One of the most interesting places of the city is definitely the C. Palaiologos Boulevard, which is the main road with the palm trees that were planted in 1930, where some of the most impressive neoclassical and stone buildings in Sparta gather, along with the central square that includes the neoclassical Town Hall, and the Lycurgus Street that has another beautiful neoclassical building of the city, the Courthouse.
Sights you should not miss
The ancient acropolis
On the low, wide hill that once was the center of the ancient city have been excavated the relics of the Temple of Athena Chalkioikos
(probably means “of copper”) of the 6th
century B.C., parts of the Roman Theater
that once was one of the biggest theaters in the ancient world, and a circular structure that has not been identified yet. Some say that it might be the ancient Skias, in which the gatherings of the people were held, and some others say that it might be the “Gasepton”, the sanctuary of the Earth, since the circular structures in classical antiquity were always about goddesses of the underworld and not of the world above.
They might not be as imposing as the archaeological sites that you are used to in the rest of the Peloponnese, but they worth a visit even just for their atmosphere and their view. These are the built on the banks of Evrotas River Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia
that was the most important sanctuary of the Roman era, the Menelaion
on the top of Prophet Elijah hill, 5 kilometers from the city of Sparta, which was a sanctuary dedicated to Menelaus and Helen of Troy that were worshipped as gods by the ancient Spartans, and Leonidaio
that the always enthusiastic but not always reliable Pausanias wrote that here were transferred from Thermopiles the bones of Leonidas- the archaeologists today insist that it was an empty tomb.
Leonidaio is the only structure of the Ancient Agora of Sparta that survived till today. There are researchers who support that it is even the temple of Apollo Karnio, and that it has nothing to do with Leonidas, the statue of whom has been proudly placed in front of it as a symbol of the city.
The Archaeological Museum
One of the first museums that was built outside Athens in the newly formed Greek state, the Archaeological Museum of Sparta is housed in an impressive neoclassical building, next to the public park. It has, among other, few but rather interesting findings from the excavations of the Temple of Athena Chalkioikos and the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, parts of the temple of Apollo Amyklaion, and Roman mosaics and statues, as well.
National Koumantarios Gallery
Two steps from the Archaeological Museum, there is one more beautiful neoclassical building of Sparta that hosts the National Koumantarios Gallery, in which there are oil paintings of Eastern European painters (Carlo Caliari, M. Hirsch, and Godfrey Kneller) from the 16th
to the 20th century. It is part of the National Gallery, collections of which often travel here and are displayed in periodic exhibitions.
The Museum of the Olive and of the Greek Olive Oil
Whatever you wanted to know about our relationship with olives and with the olive oil, the oil mills and their part in literally… everything, from nutrition to poetry, you will learn it here, in this peculiar pioneer museum that will excite both children and adults. The exhibits include 50.000 year old fossil olive leaves, byzantine oil mills and modern engines that operate normally so that you can see on your own how the olive turns into oil.
One of the nicest rides in the entire Greece…
It’s not a ride for beginner drivers or those who get car sick. It is though, one of the most fantastic routes that you will ever drive in your life. It is called Passage of Lagada, or officially Route 82. It starts from Trypi, 8.5 kilometers outside Sparta, and leads you to the astounding Lagada Gorge, passing by the archaeological site of Kaiadas, the cliff of which is breathtaking even if you know that the Ancient Spartans would not think of you as an intruder and throw you off it.
The route climbs the steep slopes of the northwest Taygetos Mt., turn after turn, winding among strange rocks and revealing fantastic views after each turn, until it reaches to a protected valley that especially during spring it is filled with flowers and it’s gorgeous, and then starts descending, and enjoying an amazing view to the Messinian Gulf. The route, if you follow all of it, ends up after 49 kilometers (or approximately an hour and a half) to Kalamata.