Mystras, Greece

Built atop Mt. Taygetos near the ancient city of Sparta, lies the historic fortified city of Mystras on the peninsula of Peloponnese, Greece. The capital of a Byzantine Despotate in the 14th and 15th century, Mystras experienced an era of prosperity and cultural enlightenment. The city was inhabited until the mid-1800’s when the site was abandoned in favor of the new town of Sparti which was built eight kilometers to the east. The region has a Mediterranean climate of hot summers and warm winters. Snow is rare along the coast but is common in the mountainous regions where Mystras is located.

Ruins of Old Town in Mystras, GreeceDuring its noted history, Mystras was for a time the seat of power for the Latin Principality of Achea. The principality was created after the capture of Constantinople by knights of the Fourth Crusade and a palace was constructed there. The principality was short-lived however. The city of Mystras and other fortified towns in Pelagonia were used as ransom for William II and fell under the control of the Byzantine Empire. Mystras achieved the status of being second only to Constantinople in importance and its palace being a residence for the emperors. It was during the Byzantine Era that the Church of Agia Sofia was constructed. The frescos located inside the church date from the mid-1300’s. These rare works of art provide a priceless insight into Byzantine art. The significance of Mystras is also enhanced by the fact that George Gemistos Plethon, an influential Neoplatonist philosopher, lived there with other philosophers who had a major impact on the Italian Renaissance. After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, Mystras was ruled by Ottomans, Venetians and finally the Greeks once again.

Today, visitors can tour the archaeological ruins of the fort, towers and mansions. They will be awestruck by the frescos in the church of Agios Dimitrios, where the last Byzantine emperor was crowned and those on the walls of the Monastery of Pantanassa, and its mix of Gothic and Byzantine architectural styles. The Archeologial Museum of Mystras displays clothes, jewelry and written documents that provide a revealing glimpse into the storied past of this region.

In the past, Mystras has served as a military and cultural center. Now, it is one of the most well known archaeological sites in the country. Due to its place in Western cultural history, the churches, monasteries and palace of Mystras were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989 and as a result, tourism has provided a boost to the local economy. Visitors can stroll the narrow streets of the picturesque old village, enjoy the shops, outdoor cafes and the annual Palaiologeia Festival of this scenic hillside location.


Peloponnese, Greece

Situated 90 minutes away from Athens, Peloponesse is a region at the southern point of Greece. As a peninsula it is barely attached to the mainland, but is often called an island as well. Travelers can drive to Peloponnese from Athens by traversing the Corinth Canal, or connect via the Rio Bridge from the eastern mainland.

The landscape of Peloponnese is dotted with Venetian castles, Byzantine citadels, Golden Age temples, Greek Orthodox churches, and Mycenaean domes. The region also has plenty of pristine beaches and sparkling waters, but offers seclusion and more serenity with fewer crowds than the well-known Greek tourist spots. Peloponnese’s ancient sites and natural beauty allow for tranquil explorations away from sightseeing tours. This makes this magical region a welcome destination for vacationers looking for an alternative to the hustle and bustle of Athens and the popular Greek Isles.Koroni Castle, Peloponnese, GreeceOne of the most recognizable and historically significant places is Olympia. Visiting this site of the first Olympic Games is an important part of the itinerary. Olympia also houses a museum that includes regional findings and exhibits. In addition, Epidaurus, Mystra, Mycenae, Nafplio, Mani, and Messinia all offer different vacation experiences with visually stunning scenes of Greece’s glorious history.The Ancient Theater of Epidaurus is still one of the most recognized open-air marvels. If traveling here during spring, you can experience re-enactments of classic Greek theatre performances during the annual Epidaurus Festival.

Originally constructed as a secular shelter, the well-preserved ruins of Mystra with its unassailable castle and inspiring churches are a viable reminder of the Byzantine Empire’s architectural and artistic marvels. Mycenae is another historically significant relic dating back to the Byzantine era. You will need to dress in sturdy hiking gear, but following ancient footsteps through the Lion Gate on the way to the Mycenaean Acropolis and the Tomb of Agamemnon are worth it.

Nafplio, once regarded as the center of ancient Greece, is a cheerful city with pictorial streets winding among neoclassic buildings, Venetian castles, mosques, Turkish fountains, and outdoor cafes. Highlights include Constitution Square, the Venetian fortress of Palamidi, and the fortified islet of Bourtzi.

The centrally located region of Mani has lots of Frankish castles, Byzantine churches, and buildings reminiscent of the Ottoman occupational period. Since Mani has an independent and isolated aspect, even by Peloponnese standards, this distinct society developed its own traditions and architectural style.

Situated at the extreme southwest of Peloponnese, the Messinia region is a beach lover’s paradise. You can take your pick from sandy, pebbly, and rocky beaches. The most popular areas in Messinia are Kalamata, Koroni, Methoni, Pylos, Filiatra, and Kiparissia. However, anyone can discover hidden areas for swimming, diving, and sunbathing pleasures.

Peloponnese, like the rest of Greece, is sparsely populated with a well-developed road system. This makes car or bus travel uncomplicated. Renting a car is a favorite travel method and allows for effortless exploration of Peloponnese’s natural beauty.


Olympia, Greece

Birthplace of the Olympics, the town of Olympia is located between the Kladeos and Alpheios Rivers in the western Peloponnese peninsula. Olympia is home to a sanctuary of ancient structures built over centuries at Kronos Hill. The sanctuary, known as Altis, is a treasure chest of ancient Western civilization dating back to the Geometric, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods of Greece. As a result, thousands of tourists flock to Olympia every year to take in the awe-inspiring ruins of the ancient world.

The monumental Temple of Zeus sits in the center of the sanctuary and is the largest temple in Peloponnese. Constructed in 450 BC by the Eleans, the temple was dedicated to Zeus. In a peripteral hexastyle, the temple was constructed with 13 columns at each side. Made of limestone and stucco, the columns are 10.40 metres high with a base of 2.25 metres in diameter. The east side depicts a chariot race between Oinomaos and Pelops, while the west side depicts the battle between the Centaurs and the Lapiths. Zeus dominates the composition as he is the master of the sanctuary. The Temple of Zeus is the finest representation of Doric architecture.Ancient, Olympia, GreeceThe Temple of Hera was constructed during the same time period as the Temple of Zeus. Hera was Queen of the Olympians and wife to Zeus. In a similar peripteral hexastyle, this temple was flanked with 16 columns on each side. However, the temple was divided into three chambers: the opisthodomos, pronaos and the cella. It is said the Olympic victor’s crown of olives were displayed in the cella chamber. It is in this temple that the first Olympian torch was lit. Today, several months before the Olympics begin, an acting ceremonial priestess lights the torch and carries it to an altar in the Olympic stadium. It’s a tradition the Greeks have continued in commemoration of their ancestors.

The Archaeological Museum of Olympia houses sacred finds from excavations of the Altis. It is one of the most renowned museums in Greece and its exhibitions range from the prehistoric era to Early Christian. One of the most extraordinary exhibitions is the 42 sculptured figures from the Temple of Zeus. These life size figures carved from marble were used to decorate the two pediments of the temple. It is a masterpiece of ancient Greek art. Another treasured marvel at the museum is the Nike of Paionios. This statue is carved from Parian marble and depicts a winged woman. The inscription at the base indicates the victory of the Messenians against the Spartans. It dates back to 420 BC and was the work of the famed sculptor Paionios.

Because of the historical significance of Olympia, it is a popular point of interest for travellers. From ancient Olympia, one can walk to the Modern Town Village Olympia. This town has a small population of 1,000; however, it is set up with many restaurants and accommodations for tourists. Accommodations include hotels, hostels and campgrounds. It is always recommended to book at least two months in advance due to the high level of tourism.