(CORINTH CANAL, ANCIENT CORINTH, THEATRE OF EPIDAURUS, NAFPLION, MYCENAE, ACROPOLIS OF SPARTA, OLIVE MUSEUM, ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM, THE BYZANTINE FORTIFIED CASTLE OF MYSTRAS, MONEMVASIA CASTLES, DIROS CAVES, ANCIENT OLYMPIA, MUSEUM, DELPHI ORACLE & MUSEUM, METEORA MONASTERIES) - OVERNIGHT STAYS IN SPARTA, MONEMVASIA, OLYMPIA, DELFI, METEORA & VERGINA .
The best of Argolis, Sparta, Monemvasia, Olympia, Delphi, Meteora, Mout Olympus seven days tour begins driving west along the National Highway, until we reach the Corinth Canal or else Isthmus completed in 1893 – 6 km length, 25m width, 8m depth- which connects the Aegean with the Ionian Sea. Our 15’ stop there gives us the opportunity to take some marvelous pictures and then continue our route until we reach the Ruins of the city of Ancient Corinth.You can see the long rocky wall of Acrocorinth leading to Lechaion (artificial harbor of the Corinthian Gulf) where the road leading to Ancient Agora starts. The Temple of Apollo (6th c. B.C. -restored 1st c. AD) is the only Greek monument standing, as all others are mainly Roman.
Another interesting spot to see is the museum of Acrocorinth which hosts many objects and findings like the head of Goddess Tyche (Luck), the Bema where Saint Paul preached, and the fountain of Glauke.
Continuing our tour we drive to reach Argolid Epidaurus, known for its sanctuary, as it was the birthplace of Apollo's son Asclepius the healer. The Asclepeion at Epidaurus was the most celebrated healing center of the Classical world. The prosperity brought by the Asclepeion enabled Epidaurus to construct civic monuments, including the huge Ancient Theater of Epidaurus worldwide known for its perfect acoustics to all 15.000 spectators, its symmetry and beauty, which is used again today for dramatic performances. The advanced design of the rows of limestone seats filter out low-frequency sounds, such as the murmur of the crowd, and amplify high-frequency sounds from the stage.
Driving through the citrus fruit Argolis plain we reach Nafplion a seaport city expanding up the hillsides near the north end of the Argolic Gulf. Count Ioannis Kapodistrias, first head of state of newly liberated Greece, made it the official capital of the First Hellenic Republic in 1829 until 1834. We will have the opportunity to see Acronafplia the oldest part of the city. Until the thirteenth century, it was a town on its own. Other fortifications of the city to visit are the Palamidi Castle with 999 steps to climb and Bourtzi island, which is located in the middle of the harbor. There we take lunch at a sea view restaurant.
Leaving Nafplion we visit Mycenae 'Rich in Gold', the kingdom of mythical Agamemnon, and the most important and richest palatial centre of the Late Bronze Age in Greece. Its name was given to one of the greatest civilizations of Greek prehistory, the Mycenaean civilization. Great Cyclopean walls surround the almost triangular acropolis, accessed through the famous Lion Gate, symbol of the Mycenaean rulers' power, like Pelops, father of Agamemnon and Menelaos. We can see Grave Circle A, whose six large shaft graves contained numerous gold objects and other works of art. Outside the fortification walls, west of the Lion Gate, is Grave Circle B, which encloses fourteen shaft-graves. The "Treasure of Atreus (Agamemnon)" the most impressive of the preserved Mycenaean tholos tombs, situated at Mycenae, on Panagitsa hill, was constructed in ca. 1250 B.C. and was in use for a long period.
Afterwards, we drive towards south-east Peloponnese until we reach the city of Sparta in Laconia for our overnight stay. Sparta or Lacedaemon, situated on the banks of Eurotas River was a very distinguished city-state of ancient times; a dominant military land power of unequaled reputation as well as a naval power proving its worth during the Greco-Persian Wars. Neither Philip II nor his son Alexander the Great attempted to conquer Sparta itself. Sparta was an Oligarchy ruled by hereditary kings whose duties were primarily religious, judicial, and military but above all it was a military state.
The next day we see the Tomb of Leonidas-Leonidaion in Sparta city (apart from his tomb at Thermopylae)to honor his legendary last stand at the Battle of Thermopylae against the massive Persian army.
Continuing we visit the Acropolis of Sparta to see excavation indications and ruins of The Temple of Athena Chalkioikos on the top, The Ancient Theatre of Sparta at the south, the Rotunda (circular building) and remains of a large Basilica of the Middle Byzantine period 10th c.A.D.
Moreover, we visit the Archaeological Museum of Sparta (7 rooms -500m2) housing thousands of findings among which the Temple and Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, Athena Chalkioikos, Menalaion and the pyramidal column depicting pairs of figures (Orestes and Clytemnestra Menelaus -Eleni).
Additionally, we visit the Museum of the Olive and Virgin Greek Olive Oil in Sparta. It highlights the culture and technology of the olive and olive oil production, which is inextricably linked with the Greek and Mediterranean identity. We are informed about the olive in Greece, its contribution to the economy, its role in nutrition, body care (cosmetic, pharmaceutical uses) and lighting, while special mention is made of its symbolic dimension in religion, mythology, customs and traditions as well as olive’s presence in art. We discover the olive oil production technology from Antiquity until the early industrial era and the know-how of soap-making, domestic and industrial.
Afterwards we take the route of magnificent view towards Mystras Byzantine fortified citadel listed on UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. Mystras fortress on a steep foothill of Mt. Taygetos, was founded in 1249 by the Frankish leader William II de Villeharduin. After 1262 it came under Byzantine control, and at the middle of the 14th century became the seat of the Despotate of Moreas. In 1448 the last emperor of Byzantium, Constantine XI Palaeologos, was crowned at Mystras. In 1460 the hill was captured by the Turks. It was one of the first castles of Greece to be liberated in 1821. The foundation of modern Sparta by king Otto in 1834 marked the end of the old town's life. The most important monuments of the site are: The Castle, The Cathedral of St. Demetrios, the Church of Saints Theodore, Church of Our Lady Hodegetria (the Leader of the Way), Church of Aghia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), Monastery of Our Lady Peribleptos, Church of Our Lady Evangelistria (of the Annunciation), Monastery of Our Lady Pantanassa (the Queen of all), Palaces of the Mystras Despots (Kantakouzenoi and Palaeologoi) and Urban buildings.
We continue by having lunch at a local traditional restaurant and take the route to Monemvasia where we spend the night.
Monemvasia meaning “Only Entrance” is a small medieval fortress town in Lakonia, eastern Peloponnese, in fact a small island of 400m connected by a bridge to the Laconian coast. The surviving buildings are castle structures including defensive fortifications, important churches, houses, public buildings, Ottoman hamams, cistern, which had attracted the attention of the scientific research, indicate Monemvasia's glorious past and highlight its historical route. The main road to the Byzantine path leads to the central square with the old cannon and the Church of Christ towed. Monemvasia fortification castle was conquered by Greeks at the beginning of their independence in July 23, 1821.
Afterwards, we visit the Caves of Diros in Mani. The Diros stalactite and stalagmite caves, near Oitylo, are also popular tourist destination. It is an underwater river and until today 6000m. have been explored. The cave was formerly a land, but over the centuries the water level went up from the sea and so the formations of stalactites resemble white columns coming out of the water. Visitors that tour them in gondola-like boats remain speechless admiring this magnificent gift of nature.
Departing Monemvasia in the afternoon we follow the route through the mountains to reach Olympia where we have our overnight stay. After our breakfast we wonder at Ancient Olympia site, the place where the worldwide known Olympic Games took place in antiquity to honor Zeus. The Altis is the sacred enclosure of the main part of the sanctuary includes the sanctuary of Zeus, the Temple of Hera where the Olympic Flame lights up every 4 years and the many buildings erected around them used as athletic premises for the preparation, celebration, administration needs of the Olympic Games, as well as treasuries, baths, hostels and monuments for the crowds that over flew Olympia during the games. Such examples are: Bouleuterion or Council House, the Prytaneion, the stadium of Olympia, the Ancient Gymnasium, the Palaestra, the Hippodrome, the Workshop of Pheidias where the great sculptor crafted the gigantic chryselephantine statue of Zeus, listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, the Pedestal of the Nike of Paionios, the remarkable Classical statue e.t.c.
We continue our visit with the Archaeological Museum of Olympia reorganized in 2004, one of the most important museums in Greece, exhibits in its 12 exhibition rooms objects excavated in the Altis. Such findings are: the statue of Hermes of Praxiteles, the statue of Nike Paionios, figures of east and west Pediment and Metopes of Zeus Temple, the clay Complex of Zeus with Gnymedes and Miltiades’ Helmet.
Leaving Olympia we take a scenic coastal route of towns Pyrgos, Rio - Antirio Bridge connecting Peloponnese with central Greece-, Nafpaktos, Galaxidi, Itea to arrive to Delfi and stay for the night.
In the morning we visit the Pan-Hellenic Sanctuary of Delphi which was the most famous oracle of ancient Greece. Delphi was regarded as the centre- the navel of the world. According to mythology Zeus sent out two eagles from the ends of the universe to find the navel of the world and they were met at the point of the oracle. It was for many centuries the cultural and religious centre and symbol of unity for the Hellenic world. Following the Sacred Way, leads to the temple of Apollo with its famous Adyton, where Pythia delivered her oracles and priests of Apollo interpreted them. The archaeological site of Delphi includes- among other buildings- the Treasury of Athenians, and two sanctuaries, dedicated to Apollo and Athena. We first encounter the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia and within the walls we see the famous Tholos, the symbol of Delphi today. Going northwest we come across the Gymnasium the Palaestra, the Baths, the Castalian spring, the Theatre where the theatrical and musical contests of the Pythian Games took place every four years and finally, the Stadium where the athletic contests were held.
Moreover, the 2270m2 Archaeological Museum of Delphi, with 14 exhibition rooms, 558m2 of storerooms and conservation laboratories, of the most important in Greece, exhibiting by architectural sculpture, statues and minor objects the history of the Delphic sanctuary from its birth to its decline.
Next we have lunch at a traditional Greek local restaurant before we drive to reach Kalambaka village to spend the night. In the morning we visit Meteora, the biggest and most important group of monasteries in Greece after those in Mount Athos. Huge, cut off rocks reaching 400 m. of height, covering an area of 30km are a unique geological phenomenon. The Rock Monasteries of Meteora listed on UNESCO's World Heritage Sites as a unique phenomenon of cultural heritage as well as natural beauty. Six monasteries are in operation today: The Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron, The Holy Monastery of Varlaam, The Holy Monastery of Rousanou, The Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas, The Holy Monastery of St. Stephen, The Monastery of Holy Trinity. We visit 3 monasteries available depending on visitation day.
We end up our visit to Meteora having lunch at a traditional Greek local restaurant and we take the way via Egnatia Odos to Vergina to spend the night.
Vergina listed on UNESCO's World Heritage Sites, is a small town in Veroia – Imathia of northern Greece, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Macedonia, birthplace of Alexander the Great, about 80 km of Greek Macedonia. In 1977 the town became internationally famous as archaeologist Manolis Andronikos unearthed the burial site of the kings of Macedon, including the tomb of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great at the site of Aegae. We visit the underground Museum of Vergina to see the Tomb of Philip II, his golden larnaka (coffin) with the famous Vergina Sun - Star, his Golden Oak Crown, the Tomb of Persephone, the Tomb of Alexander IV – son of Alexander The Great, the mosaic of Persephone’s abduction from Ades and numerous magnificent findings of 4th c. B.C.
We continue our tour driving to Litochoro at Mount Olympus, a popular destination for those wishing to climb Mount Olympus as almost all climbing routes begin to the southwest of the town. Mount Olympus is the 2nd highest mountain in the Balcans, the first National Park of Greece, since 1938, and a World's Biosphere Reserve. It is the seat of ancient Greek Gods and at his foothills the ancient city of Dion where festivals and sacrifices were offered to Olympian Zeus and the Pierian Muses, theatrical and gymnastic competitions were held and Alexander the Great sought the aid of the king of the gods before setting out for the East. In the excellent squared town plan we can see the Villa of Dionysos, the Sanctuary of Olympian Zeus, the Sanctuary of Dimitra, the Sanctuary of Aphrodite Hypolympidia, the Sanctuary of Egyptian Gods Sarapis, Isis, and Anubis, Public Baths, and Ancient Greek and Roman Theaters.
After having lunch, at a traditional restaurant we take our way back to Athens, making a stop to see Thermopylae (Hot Gates). The monument stands opposite the historical hill of Kolonos and represents Leonidas in full armor with the inscription Molon Lave (Come and Take). It was designed by B. Phalereus, and was erected in the 1950s at the expense of Greeks living in America. The monument was built to commemorate the battle at Thermopylae of Greeks (300 Spartans included) against Persians in 480 B.C., and is located at the centre of the pass, where the final phase of the battle took place. A restricted excavation on the hill of Kolonos, in 1939, revealed fortification works of several periods, Roman and Byzantine graves, and ruins of Byzantine buildings. We also visit the Thermopylae Museum whose five rooms and a covered patio host findings from the Neolithic to the Late Roman period, tombs of the Middle Bronze Age (2000-1600 BC) and the so-called Tomb of Plataeans 5th century. B.C.
In the end we continue our drive until we arrive back to Athens...