Sparta, Greece

When the term Sparta is mentioned, it often brings to mind the expression of Spartan living. Indeed, ancient Sparta’s society, especially between the ninth and fourth centuries B.C., was centered on a rough and highly disciplined lifestyle that truly embraced the survival of the fittest mentality. Frail children were taken away from their mothers and cast into the Kaidas ravine. Inhabitants were separated into three castes: The Spartiates (warriors), the Perioikoi (artisans, farmers, and traders) as well as Helots, which were serfs without legal standing.

Regardless of the class system, even the men who were highly trained warriors and did not have to engage in manual labor led harsh lives with little freedom. However, the women were educated, had higher status, and enjoyed more liberty than other Greek females. The government consisted of two kings, 28 elders, and five executives. Despite its intensely disciplined structure, especially after losing the Battle of Leuctra in 371 B.C., Sparta’s military empire went into decline.

Ancient Theater and Sparta GreeceHowever, Sparta has even deeper origins dating back to 3000 B.C. During Neolithic times it included five settlements. These joined under the name Lakedaimon. In Mycenaean times, none other than Helen of Troy’s husband, Menelaos, ruled over Sparta.

In 1834, King Otto re-founded the main street close to the Euortas River and started developing the modern town, named New Sparta or Sparti by the locals. Situated 15 miles near the Gulf of Messenia on the Laconian plain of the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece, Sparta is surrounded by Mount Párnon and the Tayegetos range. According to the annual census, in 2001 it had a population of around 18,000.

Other than location, sleepy Modern Sparta has little in common with its ancient origins. Today’s serene parks and tree-lined streets co-exist peacefully with the ancient ruins of its volatile history. Much of New Sparta functions as a farming site for olives and citrus production. While buildings here lack the impressive scale of Greek architecture, their low statures allow for fabulous views of the surrounding orchards and mountains.

The actual ruins are situated north of the modern city. The most famous Spartan was Leoniadas, a famed king who barely survived a last battle against Xerxes. His tomb near the ancient theater is still a popular attraction. A contemporary monument of Leonidas is located at the top of Stadium Street. Perhaps one of the most famous structural remains in Sparta is the Acropolis, although visitors also come here to view temple fragments and the low ruins of a few Byzantine churches.

Like in the rest of Greece, the weather rarely changes in Sparta. The climate is subtropical, but dry and hot with long summers. Summers commonly pass with no rainfall at all. If it does rain, it usually falls in the mornings, leaving the afternoons suitable for outdoor living and recreation. Even the brief winters, which are considered the wettest season, only see mild precipitation, although it does snow in the mountains. Climatically, autumn and spring are even shorter and usually see rain or heat.


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