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Via Sparta to Zacharo on the Peloponnese

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Friday 22 June, via Sparta to Zacharo on the Peloponnese

An empty highway on the Peloponnese Statue of Leonidas, SpartaWe set off on time, first in the direction of Sparta, where we also passed in 2014, but then we skipped the excavation of the old Sparta. The first part we drive on the toll road towards Kalamata and again the motorway is almost empty. If we ever encounter a car it is a truck or a tourist. Even though it is partly a toll road, at this rate they will not quickly earn back the costs.
The old and new Sparta are situated right next to each other and in between is the statue of Leonidas I, a legendary king of Sparta who was killed in the war against the Persians when he, with a few hundred men, tried to stop the Persian army (who were in the majority with thousands of men) at the Thermopylae pass in 480 BC.
But the terrain of the excavation seems closed, all fences are closed. Yet we see in the distance some people walking. We linger at the gate when a boy comes walking up to the fences in a school uniform, looks at us strangely, opens the gate and walks on. He looks back a few times and we feel rather stupid, we have not tried the door in the gate at all.
Ancient Sparta Remains of a church in ancient SpartaThe brown signs here refer to the right direction for once and on the site itself there are a number of paths with direction indicators. In the Mycenaean period (1,600-1,100 BC) Sparta was already a city, but the Sparta, which we have learned about in the history lessons, started only in the 10th century BC. with the conquest of the area by a Doric tribe. The uniqueness of the situation was that Sparta lies on an open plain and there was not a city wall, so the Spartans always had be ready to defend themselves against the hostile surrounding residents. The fact that they were hostile is quite understandable: if they were captured, they were enslaved by the Spartans.
This is probably one of the reasons why the Spartans received a 'Spartan' upbringing: babies were inspected for health and if a deviation was found, the baby was thrown out of a mountain without any problems. Both boys and girls lived in barracks from the age of 7 and were trained in all kinds of sports. At a later age everyone, girls and boys, got a heavy training to become a soldier. This was something inconceivable for the other Greek city states where women had no rights and were seen as totally unimportant (except for giving birth to their children).
Remains of the old stoa, SpartaAnd so the image of a Spartan came into being as a hardened fighting machine, whoh lived soberly and maintained a strict discipline.
When in the 8th century the population rapidly increased in the entire Greek world, Sparta did not establish colonies as the other cities did, but conquered increasingly larger parts of the Peloponnese and thus became the largest military power in the region. That led in the end to 2 wars between Athens and Sparta where every Greek polis had to choose a side. And even though Sparta eventually emerged victorious, all parties never revived to their old grandeur due to the devastating wars.
The amphitheater in Sparta The amphitheater in SpartaOf course there is also an amphitheater, every Greek city had one, although the remnants that can now be seen are the 'modern' theater from the Roman era that gave place to 17,000 spectators. Certain ceremonies and meetings were probably held here. It certainly did not fit in with the Spartan culture to hold theater performances, or they had to be about war.
View of new Sparta Olive grove at SpartaFrom the theater on the south side of the excavation you have a view over the contemporary Sparta, a city with broad lanes and many orange trees and rose bushes, and the fertile plain between the mountains. Sparta is about 50 kilometers from the sea but because of the conquests of the area they still had their own harbor and even a large military fleet.
Although the excavation site is not very large, we still walk around for about 2 hours in the heat. Fortunately, there are enough trees that provide some shade.
Roman and Byzantine bathhouse, SpartaAs we drive along the edge of the new Sparta we pass the remains of a 10th century Byzantine bath house, just in between residential buildings. The Turks later adopted this custom and thus the hamams bathhouses were created which also had an important social function. A bit further we see the foundations of a 10th century church, in the same street. There must still be a lot of things hidden in the ground here.
The mountain road from Sparta to Kalamata The mountain road from Sparta to KalamataWe then drive to Kalamata via the shortest but also most time consuming route (the 82). The fastest route is 100 km and makes a big curve around the mountains. Our road is only 55 kilometers but takes half an hour longer because of the winding mountain roads. Through narrow gorges we cross the Taigetos mountains and the warning for falling stones is quite right because we see quite a few pieces of rock lying along the road.
Taygetus mountain range Taygetus mountain rangeHere is also the highest point of the Peloponnese, the Prophet Iliad summit at 2,404 meters. Near Sparta, Mystras, an important Byzantine center from the Middle Ages, lies against the steep slopes. That is certainly worth a visit, but we did that already 4 years ago, so now we skip that. The vegetation consists mainly of fir and pine trees and lower shrubs, but on the west side it is a lot more barren due to heavy fires that have raged here in 2005 and 2007.
Monument for victims from the civil war The mountains from Kalo NeroSomewhere in the middle of the mountains we come again across a war memorial, now for soldiers who fought in the democratic army during the civil war that lasted from 1946 to 1949. Greece did not have it easy in the 20th century and got only after 1974 a normal democracy, quite late compared to many other western countries.
After a stop in Kalamata, a city we didn't find very attractive, we drive to the west coast where we still see the Taigetos rise up like an imposing massive.
A beach full of turtle nests, Agiannakis Here the loggerhead turtle breedsIt is still pretty warm and we decide to find a beach to cool off in the water and just relax. On the beach we see sticks coming out of the ground everywhere and sometimes there are signs put next to them. If Elisabeth goes nearer to inspect them, she finds out that these are the nesting place where sea turtles (caretta caretta, the loggerhead turtle) lay eggs. We have not yet come across the turtles themselves.
When we have finished sunbathing, we drive to Zacharo where we are very enthusiastic and warmly received by Theodore, the old boss of Theodore Apartments. When he learns that I speak some Greek, he gets even more enthousiastic and keeps on telling stories, in Greek, of course. We get a spacious room with a large balcony. And of course we have to eat in Theodores restaurant where the whole family is at work. Although there is not much business, it takes a very long time, it takes at least 20 minutes before we can order something to drink and only an hour later we get our food. The staff (the family members) run around as if they are very busy and stressed, but probably they try to convince themselves that they are really busy. It is entertaining to see though the chairs are very uncomfortable and we would rather have had our drinks and food a bit faster.
The food is fine, by the way, only the waiting time is not. From now on we better eat elsewhere.


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