The Peloponnese (“Island of Pelops”) is the name given to the large peninsular which dominates southern Greece. It is an area which is extraordinarily rich in history and is home to five UNESCO World Heritage sites. It also features prominently in Homer’s epic poems.

The Peloponnese has always played a leading role in the evolution of Greece. It was the setting for the great centres of the Mycenean civilisation, the location of such major city-states such as Corinth, Argos and Sparta and the scene of famous battles during the Peloponnesian War. During the Byzantine period, Mystras was second in importance only to Constantinople. It is also in the Peloponnese that Greeks first rose up against the Ottomans at the start of the War of Independence.

The sites presented here reflect all aspects of the long and tumultuous history of the Peloponnese including Neolithic settlements, Bronze Age citadels, ancient religious sanctuaries and stadiums, classical temples and monuments, Byzantine churches and Frankish castles.

 

Mycenae, the centre of Bronze Age Greece

 

The Bronze Age kingdom of Mycenae dominated mainland Greece and gave its name to the Mycenaean civilisation which flourished in the second millennium BC and which went on to overwhelm the Minoan culture in Crete and the Aegean. Described by Homer as the “city rich in gold”, Mycenae played a central role in the Iliad as home of King Agamemnon who led the expedition of one thousand ships against Troy. Along with nearby Tiryns, Mycenae is listed as a World Heritage site and is one of the most visited sites in Greece.

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Olympia, birthplace of the Olympic Games

 

Olympia is situated in the fertile valley between the Alpheios and Kladeos rivers, an area which has been inhabited since the late stone age. By the 10th century BC it had become a sanctuary for the worship of Zeus and in 776 BC the Olympic games were first staged. These were held every 4 years until the 4th century AD and marked Olympia as a major religious and athletics centre. The Olympics were the preeminent panhellenic sporting event attracting competitors and visitors from right across the Greek world.



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Epidaurus and the Sanctuary of Asclepius

 

The world famous theatre of Epidauros is an integral part of the Sanctuary of Asclepius, the first organized healing centre in the world and the birthplace of modern medicine. The area had long been associated with the worship of healing deities. On a nearby hill there was a Bronze Age sanctuary dedicated to a female fertility goddess followed in the Archaic period by one devoted to Apollo. The theater itself is an artistic masterpiece both in terms of its stunning acoustics as well as its perfect architectural proportions.



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The medieval splendour of Byzantine Mystras

 

Just a few kilometres north west of Sparta are the spectacular remains of the Byzantine city of Mystras, built on a steep foothill of Mount Taygetos. Originally the site of a fortress built by the Franks, Mystras was to become one of the most important centres of Byzantium and the seat of power in the Morea (Peloponnese). It was inhabited for 600 years from the 13th to the 19th centuries and visitors today can wander through the remarkably well-preserved cobblestone streets, churches, monasteries, palaces and residential buildings of this period.



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The powerful city-state of Corinth

 

Corinth was one of the largest and most important city-states of ancient Greece and for centuries was second only to Athens in power. Located on the isthmus which connects mainland Greece to the Peloponnese and which separates the Gulf of Corinth from the Saronic Gulf, Corinth has always been of great strategic relevance and over its long and tumultuous history has played an active part in the numerous wars that have affected the region. It has also been a significant site for Christians and was the home of early Greek Christianity.



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The legendary city of Argos

 

The first human settlement in Argos dates to around 5000 BC making it one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. Favourably located in the fertile Argolid plain, it was a major Mycenean stronghold in the late Bronze Age and remained important through the Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods. At its height in the 7th century BC it was the largest city in Greece and could rival neighbouring Sparta in military power. Today the city is dominated by the Frankish castle built on the site of the old Acropolis at the peak of Larisa hill. The magnificent theatre (still in use) and the Roman Baths and Agora to the South of the city are testament to its illustrious past.

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The well-preserved remains of ancient Messini

 

Ancient Messini was founded by the Theban general Epamonindas two years after his victory over the Spartans at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC. It became the capital of the newly liberated region of Messenia after over 300 years of Spartan servitude and was populated by freed helots as well as returning members of the exiled Messenian community from Italy and North Africa. The city was well planned and grew to become one of the major Greek cities in antiquity. It flourished throughout the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods.



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The Mycenaean citadel of Tiryns

 

Just north of Nafplion and 20km south of Mycenae are the well-preserved ruins of the ancient citadel of Tiryns which has a history dating back seven thousand years. A hill fort since Neolithic times, Tiryns later became one of the most important centres of the Mycenaean world and functioned as a major Mediterranean Bronze Age port as the sea at that time was just 2km away. Described by Homer as “mighty-walled Tiryns” it is also famous as the site from where Heracles performed his 12 labours. Tiryns was first excavated by Heinrich Schliemann in 1884–1885, and was recognized as a World Heritage Site in 1999. With its excellent state of preservation, Tiryns is a superb example of Mycenaean palatial architecture and fortification and should not be missed.

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Pylos, home to Nestor’s Palace and two major sea battles

 

Pylos features prominently in the history of Greece and is best known for Nestor’s Palace, the centre of the Mycenean civilisation in the western Peloponnese. It is also famous as the site of two major naval battles, the first between Athens and Sparta during the Peloponnesian War and the second in 1827 which resulted in the defeat of the Egyptian-Ottoman fleet and preceded the emergence of the independent Greek state. The natural harbour is the largest in the Peloponnese and has attracted Franks, Byzantines, Turks and Ottomans who have taken turns to occupy it and strengthen coastal fortifications including the construction of two castles .



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The medieval coastal fortress of Methoni

 

Located at the extreme South West of the Peloponnese, Methoni with its natural harbour has always been of great strategic importance to rival regional powers. The area has been inhabited and defended since ancient times but the Castle of Methoni (actually a fortified city) was built by the Venetians in 1209 and over the next 600 years repeatedly changed hands. It was liberated by French forces just after the Greek War of Independence following which its residents were relocated to the adjacent new town of the same name.



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Ancient Nemea

 

Nemea is a popular destination for visitors to the Peloponnese and in Greek mythology is where Hercules is said to have killed the Nemean lion. It is also famous for being the location of the Panhellenic Nemean Games and is similar to Olympia in that it was never itself a city-state but functioned purely as a religious sanctuary. The site is split into two parts with a separate entrance for each. One includes the Temple of Zeus and several other structures along with the museum. The other site, about 400 metres away consists of the stadium and the tunnelled entrance (a single ticket covers both sites as well as the museum).



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The ancient Arcadian city-state of Tegea

 

Just 10 km southeast of Tripoli in the village of Alea are the imposing remains of the site of ancient Tegea. This was one of the most powerful cities in Arcadia which at its height it had several thousand citizens and even struck its own coins. It is also mentioned by Homer as one of the cities which sent soldiers to fight in the Trojan War. Tegea was the location of the Temple of Athena Alea which was one of the most important religious centres in ancient Greece. Just a short walk (200m) from the site itself is the museum of Tegea which displays many fascinating exhibits found in the area.

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The fortified acropolis of Asini

 

Just outside Tolo and 9km from the town of Nafplion are the ruins of Asini on a triangular hill jutting out into the sea. Asini has been inhabited since Neolithic times and is mentioned by Homer as having sent ships to Troy.  The site has always been of strategic importance due to its location at the head of the Argolic gulf and its superb natural defences.  Ancient Cyclopean walls dating to the Bronze Age were rebuilt and extended by the Macedonians in the Hellenistic period.  In the Second World War the Italian forces occupied Asini and built a number of defensive structures to prepare for an allied invasion..

 

The majestic temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae

 

Located in a rocky inaccessible area in the western Peloponnese province of Messenia, the 5th century BC Temple of Apollo Epicurius (Apollo the Healer) is unique in many respects. Although not so well known by tourists it is in fact one of the most impressive and interesting temples in Greece. It is very well-preserved, thanks to its remote setting as it was neither destroyed by war or converted for the use of Christians. Bassae was the first Greek site to be awarded World Heritage status.



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The historic battleground of Mantinea

 

Located 13km north of Tripoli, are the remains of Mantinea, one of the most important cities of classical Arcadia and the site of two major battles.  The history of Mantinea is closely tied up with that of the nearby city states of Sparta and Tegea as relations between them were often troubled. Over its long history Mantinea has at times flourished and at others has been destroyed only to be rebuilt. Next to the archaeological site is the extraordinary architecture of Agia Fotini, one of the strangest churches in Greece.

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The impressive prehistoric settlements of Lerna

 

Located in the village of Myloi, 12km south of Argos, Lerna is one of the most important prehistoric sites in Greece. Dating back to the early Neolithic period, evidence has been found of successive settlements up until the end of the Bronze Age. Among other structures, excavations have revealed the foundations of a large two story building from the Early Helladic era known as the “House of Tiles”. In ancient times Lerna was a region of springs and the site of a former lake (“Alkyonia”) which was believed to be an entrance to the underworld and was where Heracles is said to have killed the many-headed Hydra.

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