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General Information for Laconia

Laconia In this unique natural charm and incredible enchanting scenery, you could opt for a quest and pilgrimage or just a restful, relaxing vacation. The Byzantine and Frankish castles of captivating Mystras, the evocative midieval town of Monemvasia with its idyllic rock/castle, the legendary Mani with its natural wonder - the Dyros' Caves - its ancient stone towers, and naturally the historic Sparti, compose the lovely nome of Laconia that has become pole of attraction to tourists all year round. Whatever season you choose to be in Laconia, you will have wonderful memorable moments of serenity and rest combined with an inconceivable experience of enviable sights. Laconia's history is synonymous with the history of its most famous city Sparta. Through the passage of time (antiquity, middle ages, the occupation of the Venetians, the Franks and the Turks), Sparta was the center of gravity of Laconia and of the entire Peloponnesian region.

As Athens prospered, intense, progressive and steady economic ideological rivalry expanded in Sparta - another powerful city-state- which was a strong Athens ally during the Persian wars. In 431 B.C, the famous Peloponnesean War broke out between the two powerful cities and for 27 years this languishing conflict dragged on, involving most of the Greek world as allies of one city-state or the other.

Sparta with naval assistance from former foe Persia, blockaded what was known in antiquity as the Hellespont (today's Dardanelles) thus, cutting off Athens from its principal commodity, corn. The starvation and the heavy naval losses that followed proved to be fatal for Athens and Sparta declared total victory.

Thucydides, the historian, has left an extremely objective account of that dreadful period, by examining the immediate and superficial events that resulted in erupting hostilities between the two cities and by digging deeper he recounted a more profound, a more fundemental rationale, and that was the immense fear that Sparta had towards the expanding imperialism of Athens. His detailed chronology of events, the analysis of the causes and the antagonism of the combatant city-states and their struggle for dominance on the mainland, have greatly helped and influenced future historians.

Sparta This beautiful city 140 miles from Athens is built in the midst of the fertile valley next to the famous river of antiquity, Eurotas - where the Spartans were trained to be strong , resilient, stoical and highly disciplined. Sparta is a contemporary urban centre with wide streets and an attractive and lively central square (plateia), surrounded with charming cafes, good restaurants, shops and a small but excellent museum. The plateiais also well-known for the punctilious volta (stroll), every evening when young people are having fun, laughing, flirting and talking loudly to the point that someone would question the famed word ''laconic'' and its origin...This author fondly remembers her childhood friendships, the unforgettable voltes/strolls and all the high school activities taking place at the lovely plateia.

Sparta, according to Kazantzakis, and you will agree with him, is a landscape that combines tenderness and harshness, these two contrasting elements standing next to each other and in front of you Taygetos (the proud mountain) - arrogant, rugged, precipitous -and under its feet fruitful, very tender, enticing, lies the plain of Sparta. You will find very few ruins in the another time powerful city and for all its power and glory, architecturally, Sparta, left the least vestiges due to the fact that Spartans prided themselves on their simplicity, sedate character and frugality (thus the Spartan life). Ancient authors were fascinated by Sparta, its conservative political and social structure, but Sparta itself contributed little to Greek culture and has left virtually no meterial inheritance. Paraphrasing Thucydides we conclude with:
If this city (Sparta) was ever destroyed and only its temples and the foundations of its buildings were left, future generations would have doubted that its power was as great as it was claimed to be. For a variety of cultural and historical traces and an incredible heritage, visit the neighboring ghost-town of Mystras.

Mystras The one time capital of Byzantium, the medieval town of Mystras is mounted on Taygetos' slope. It is protected by an impregnable fortress (the Kastro), which was built in 1249 by the frankish prince Guillaume de Villehardouin.

This spot overlooking the plain of Sparta - was the perfect one. The castle was called Mistra (Myzithra in Medieval Greek) due to the fact that this perticular hill resembled the shape of the cheese called myzithra. Ten years later, when Villehardouin was captured in Macedonia fighting against the Byzantine emperor, Michael Paleologos, had to sacrifice his pride and joy - the castle as ransom. It was then that the hill was transformed into a beautiful Byzantine city with mansions, churches and monasteries that still stand remnants of that glorious intellectual and cultural center, the most important being the Cathedral of St Demetrios where the last Emperor of Byzantium, Constantine Palaeologos was crowned in 1449. It was considered as the most beautiful castle of Peloponnese. The ascending to the castle is a little exhausting, but it is worth it. The majestic landscape underneath will impress you. A day should be spent in Mystras in order to explore all the significant ruins. The site is divided into three sections: the fortress (kastro, on the summit), the upper town (pano hora), where the palaces and the homes of the wealthy were located (northern part) and the lower town (kato hora), where the rest of the residents lived (southern part).

Sites worth seeing: the kastro, naturally, and taking the path down to the upper hora you will see the palace church, Aghia Sophia, the steps leading to the main entrance - Nafplio Gate - and near it the Bishop's (Despot's) palace, a magnificent complex of several structures, built at different periods. Going down a winding path you find yourself at the Monemvasia Gate, which is the etrance to the lower town, where you will see the Pantanassa Monastery - with beautifully painted (15th century) Byzantine art frescoes.

Further down you meet another convent of Perivleptos with 14th century frescoes in excellent condition, continue towards the Metropolis you'll encounter a typical Byzantine house, the Laskaris Mansion and then the cathedral of Aghios (Saint) Demetrios (the Metropolis) which again is an elaborate complex of structures encircled by a high wall and a charming courtyard. The decorations are very impressive and most of them exemplify the intricate work of that era. This is the place where Emperor Constantine XI, was entroned and the Aphentiko.

There is also a museum that houses, items and remnants of sculpture of the various Mystras' churches. You could visit Mystras, in the summer (protect yourself from the sun, though), every day from 8 am to 6 pm and any other season from 8 am to 3:30 pm. Admission is approx. $ 5.00. Leaving the Pompei of Greece, Mystras, we are heading towards the Medieval town of Monemvasia - which is about 59 miles from Sparta. We are traveling through lovely small towns and villages, we reach Krokees a very attractive small town - known for the Krokeatis lithos (a green granite stone), which was widely used in many expensive homes during the Roman era and still in demand today.

There is a lovely plateia (square) surrounded with cafes. Rest for a while and enjoy a cup of coffee, among very friendly and hospitable people. This is the hometown of the ''Poet of Peace'' Nikiphoros Vrettakos, an excellent poet and an admirable human being. This town, along with its history, customs and traditions carries lots of memories to this author, since a great part of her early childhood was spent here.

At the edge of Peloponnese, deep into the sea, stands a somber island linked to land by a causeway, 164 yards long. A Byzantine fortress, built on a rocky promontory had been occupied by a succession of foreign conquerors, deriving its name from having only one entrance.

Its famous churches, Rennaissance houses, fine fortifications, stone-paved alleys will bring you back to other times to other cultures. Everything seems to be swaying over the sea, presenting a unique scenery. When you finish your tour of the fortress and the other notable sites - one of them being Aghia Sophia, one of the finest churches in the country, and you enjoy the superb view from its courtyard - cross the causeway to Gefyra or Nea Monemvasia where you can enjoy delicious food in the tavernas of Bobou; Matoulas; Marianthis and others. Evenings at the Castle bars offer an enchanting experience.

Monemvasia claims as her native son the superb poet, Yiannis Ritsos, whose poems have been translated in many languages.

Leaving Monemvasia take the scenic coastal route to Gytheio, a picturesque fishing town, which had been inhabited since pre-historic times and had served as the commercial center of the Phoenecians.

During the Sparta-Athens conflict, as the naval base, was destroyed repeatedly by Athens. According to myth, the town was founded by Hercules and Apollo and it was there (on Marathonisi (Kranai), an islet - just across town - today linked to land), that Helen of Troy and Paris spent their first night after fleeing Sparta. The Modern town has an insular character and its neo-classical structures surround a bustling waterfront. Behind it, old Turkish houses clamber an abrupt green hill, crowned by a callapsed castle.

North to the entrance the ancient town, with its ruined acropolis and the Roman period theater, is located. Gytheio has some fine restaurants and tavernas along the harbor, some of them, however, are tourists traps (avoid them) and very good beaches, one of them being Mavrovouni - a 4 mile sandy beach - from Gytheio you could ferry to Kalamata, Kythira, Antikythira and to Crete, once a week. Also Gytheio is the link to Laconian Mani - the Dyros Caves.

Laconian Mani The Caves of Dyros-Approximately 20 miles from Gytheion and five miles south of Aeropolis - you reach a picturesque town, with many interesting sites - the village of Pyrgos (known for its towers) where the extraordinary caves are located. The famous caves of Alepotrypa (Fox hole), Kataphighi (Retreat) and Glyfada (in Mani's west coast), were first inhabited in the Neolithic period. An earthquake destroyed them and when they were rebuilt human bones, fossils, weapons, tools, vessels, even human skeletons of the pre-historic period were found. The Glyfada cave is toured by rowboat along the cave's subterranean waters. The tour lasts about half an hour and it takes you through narrow tunnels, chambers, enormous caverns and winding passageways to bring you to a wonder of natural beauty of stalagmites and stalactites superbly illuminated and fabulously shaped carrying idyllic names such: Palm Forest, Crystal Lily and the Three Wise Men. The last part of this incredible journey is on foot.

The caves could be visited daily from 8am to 6pm - during the summer months - and from 8am to 4:30pm from October through May. Admission is approximately $10. For further information call (2732) 52 222/3. North of Pyrgos (at Itilo) you enter the border of Messinian Mani, where the coast is serene and the barren plains of the Laconian Mani are transformed to fertile, verdant valleys. Itilo, itself is absolutely gorgeous. You could enjoy a good swim there, or if you would like to stay overnight the well-known hotel Limeni Village - adjacent to the sea - offers a majestic view. You follow this lovely route to Messinia nome.