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Peloponnese

General Info

The Peloponnese, Greece's historical as well as mythical heart, occupies the southern peninsula of the country and the mainland’s southernmost part. To say that the region’s history is eventful would be an understatement. The majority of Greece’s, if not Europe’s, most famous and emblematic classical ruins are located here, which hosts an unbelievable number of important archaeological sites among them Olympia, Epidaurus and Mycenae. Peloponnese is divided into 7 prefectures: Corinthia, Argolis, Arcadia, Laconia, Messenia, Ellis and Achaia. Corinthia, situated around the historic city of Corinth, is the closest one to Athens. Its attractions include the Corinth Canal, Ancient Corinth with its Acropolis Acrocorinth, the thermal springs of Loutraki, the archaeological sites of Nemea, Sicyon and the Heraion of Perachora. Argolis, to its south, is a blessed land, with breathtaking natural beauty and extremely interesting archaeological sights. Arcadia, the central and eastern part of the Peloponnese peninsula, is according to the myth the homeland of the God Pan, symbol of music and love. It is a historic land of old legends, strong traditions, ancient battles and magnificent wild nature. Laconia, from which the word "laconic" is derived, the principal region of the Spartan state, setting of many Hollywood blockbusters, is a very well kept secret, as it houses some of the most beautiful spots in Greece such as Mystras, Monemvasia, Gythio and Elafonisos. Messenia not only boasts a very beautiful landscape but many important archaeological sites, among them the Palace of Nestor, Ancient Messene and the Venetian castles of Pylos, Koroni, Methoni and Kalamata. The Prefecture of Ilia, where world-famous Ancient Olympia is located, has also some of the Peloponnese’s most amazing, golden sandy beaches and pine forests that stretch to the coast. Achaia, the main gateway connecting Greece and the rest of the European countries, through the port of Patras, one of the main industrial and commerce centres in Greece, combines the rich historical and cultural heritage with excellent modern tourism infrastructures.The Peloponnese is a rare instance of a land that within relatively short distances offers the best of almost everything Greek. It is a superb place to relax, wander and live the myth of Greece in its entirety.

History

The Peloponnese is, along with Troy, the main setting of Homer’s epics. In the region’s ancient ports, city states, forests and coasts many scenes from The Iliad and The Odyssey took place. Peloponnesian history goes back more than 3500 years, to the Bronze Age, when the people of the Mycenaean civilization, probably the area's first extensive settlement, lived there. The Peloponnese was also the epicentre of classical Greek civilization, as it was the location of the mighty, rich city-states of Sparta, Corinth and Argos. Later the Peloponnesian War brought the tragic, final end to the golden age of Greece. Its economic costs were evident across the whole of the country; poverty became widespread, Athens was completely devastated and never regained the prosperity it had had before the war, while Sparta became the leading power of the classical world. After the deterioration of ancient Greece, the period under Roman rule was one of peace and relative prosperity. The Roman Empire evolved into the Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire after 336 A.D. In 1204, after the fall of Constantinople to the crusaders of the fourth crusade, Mystras, west of Sparta, became the cultural centre of what was left of the super power of Byzantium, until its final conquest, in the 1460s, by the Ottoman Turks. The Turks held onto the region, with the exception of a small rugged mountainous part, Mani, which was ruled by Venetians, until the early 19th Century. The Greek War of Independence began in the Peloponnese, near Kalavryta, on the 25th March of 1821, when Bishop Germanos of Patra raised the flag of revolt. Unfortunately, the Egyptian army, being lead by Ibrahim Pasha, in 1825 ruthlessly restored Turkish rule. The battle that led to Greece’s liberation was fought and won in the port of Pylos on the Peloponnesian western shore in 1826. After many economic hardships following World War II and the Greek Civil War, the Peloponnese is a thriving region characterized by diversity, beauty and economic and historical significance.

Must see

The Peloponnese is enormous and offers a huge number of sights: The Acrocorinth is one of the best naturally fortified citadels in Europe and was the location of Corinth's famous Temple of Aphrodite, which had more than 1,000 prostitutes. Acronafplia has a series of castles: a Frankish castle in the east, a Byzantine castle inn the west, and the huge Castello del Torrione, built by the Venetians around 1480, also at the eastern end. Ancient Messene is one of the most impressive sites of ancient Greece, thanks to vast theatre arenas, long walls and famed entry gates. Epidauros was the most important healing centre in the ancient world - The Sanctuary of Asklepios attracted thousands of visitors searching for a cure, from every corner of Greece and the rest of the known ancient world. Today it is best known for the spectacular Theatre at Epidauros, and remarkably well preserved, as it was buried at some time in the distant past and remained untouched until it was uncovered about 150 years ago. The theatre is the setting for a highly acclaimed summer drama festival, with exceptional theatrical and musical productions. Its acoustics are so perfect that even from the furthest of the 55 tiers a whisper can be heard. Mystras, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has a spectacular complex of ruins that offer a majestic insight to the history of a city with a tragic yes glorious destiny. The Temple of Apollo Epikourios at Bassae is among the best-preserved classical temples in Mediterranean area, and it is believed that it was designed by Iktinos, the Parthenon's architect. Ancient Olympia is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world, home to a still dazzling sanctuary dedicated to Zeus, and of course is the birthplace of the Olympic Games. The Archaeological Museum of Olympia, a stylish marble and glass pavilion at the end of the ancient site, has magnificent collections, including sculptures from the Temple of Zeus and the Hermes Carrying the Infant Dionysus, sculpted by the great Praxiteles. The ancient citadel of Mycenae, with the famous Lion Gate, used to be world super power which ruled a large portion of the Mediterranean world, from 1500 BC to 1100 BC. Nestor's Palace consists of 105 ground floor apartments and is considered to be the best preserved of the existing Mycenaean palaces. Monemvassia, meaning "one entrance" is a unique medieval town on a sharp rock rising from the sea, connected to the mainland only by a narrow hill. All these are just some of the sights of the Peloponnese!

Things to do

The Peloponnese attracts many tourists who visit it again and again in order to enjoy the impressive number and the wide variety of attractions it offers: beautiful lively and idyllic towns, traditional stone villages, imposing churches and old monasteries, archaeological sites and some of the most beautiful, endless beaches of Greece, as well as mountain resorts. North of the town of Pylos, on the Messinian peninsula, Costa Navarino is a super luxurious five-star resort, with two hotel complexes and the Dunes golf course, the first 18-hole one in Greece. It was designed by the former Ryder Cup Captain and US Masters Champion Bernhard Langer, in association with European Golf Design. The village of Kardamili on the Mani peninsula, where author Patrick Leigh Fermor lived, gives a great insight to the life of the people of the area. The mountain villages of the Peloponnese like Kalavrita and the whole of the Mani are among the most scenic parts of Greece. The cave of Diros is an unusual one as it is half-filled with water, offering a unique spectacle. The Corinth Canal, that cuts nearly 500 nautical mile off the trip from the Ionian to Aegean Sea, was conceived in the 6th Century BC, but was completed in the late 19th century. The town of Dhiakoftó in Achaia is the starting point of one of Greece’s first and most spectacular railway lines, along the dramatic Vouraikós Gorge, up to Kalávryta. Patra, the largest city of the area, is famous for its joyful Carnival, the best in Greece, a very beautiful beach promenade, many historical monuments and one of the most vivid and diverse nightlife scenes in the country. Kalamata, the perfect base for those who want to discover the magic of Messinia, is a prosperous city, has many must-see attractions and is host to the renowned annual International Dance Festival. Sparta, the kingdom of Menelaus and his beautiful queen Helen of Troy, is a modern city with a romantic essence, quite different form the cruel reputation of the old city-state that destroyed Athens in the Peloponnesian War. Nafplio, one of the most charming cities of Greece, was the first capital of the newly born Greek state between 1823 and 1834. It is a picturesque town with a plethora of places to visit, including the medieval Old Town, the Italianate Constitution Square, Palamidi Castle, Akronafplia and of course Bourtzi, the Venetian fortress on the rocky isle of Agioi Theodoroi. Finally, the small but fun city of Loutraki, a charming coastal resort famous for its spa as well as its casino, is a very popular holiday destination, not only because of its friendly character but also due to its proximity to Athens.

Beaches and nature

Sandy or pebbly, cosmopolitan or secluded, the Peloponnese beaches are pristine and will satisfy every taste. There are many of them around the coasts of the region - Ionian and Aegean, and some are among the most irresistible ones of Greece, if not Europe - maybe because technically the Peloponnese is an island. Voidokilia is a natural treasure and one of the prettiest sandy beaches in the world, according to the New York Times. Kalogria Beach is not only delightful but very well-known as the beach of famous Zorbas the Greek. Kourouta is a very popular blue flag beach, located in Ilia. The most alluring Peloponnese beaches are located in acclaimed Elafonissos, a petit island south of the prefecture of Laconia, with golden sand and clear, refreshingly cool crystal water. The long and sandy bays near Zacharo and Kaiafa are among the finest in the area. In Nafplion the most popular beaches are Tolo, Kandia and Nea Kios, offering water sports and all modern facilities. And let’s not forget the easy access to the neighbouring Peloponnese islands: cosmopolitan Spetses, enchanting Hydra and famous Zakynthos. Apart from the stunning endless beaches and the rejuvenating sea, the Peloponnese is full of wonderful rivers, gorges, green forests, caves, and paths perfect for trekking or biking. It is an excellent all-year destination for most outdoor activities and sports such as climbing, horse riding, rafting, sailing, surfing and kite surfing, scuba diving and snorkelling. Scenic alpine villages like Stemnitsa, Dimitsana, Karytaina, and Vytina are a paradise for either spring or winter excursions. In Kalavryta is located one of the best ski resorts of Greece.

Need to know (practical info)

The Peloponnese is the most popular touristic region of the Greek mainland because of its closeness to Athens, and the fact that it is a perfect destination for all seasons, with rich history and amazing nature. Excellent highways and roads link the region with the Greek capitol, Athens international airport, as well as with all its major regions.
As far as gastronomy is concerned, this area is world-famous for its Kalamata olives and the sweet, tasty oranges of Sparta and Argos, the superb wines of Nemea, Mantinea and Monemvasia (the local regional sweet wine Malvasia is also known as the nectar of the nobles). Other local delicacies are: the homemade pasta called goges; Mani’s olive-cheesepie, and Neapolis’ cheese-bread. Arcadia is known for its handmade hilopites and its rustic pasta “trahana”. All these and other delicious food products such as the seedless, delicious Tsakonian eggplants, honey and chestnuts are sold in little shops scattered around the Peloponnese scenic towns and villages.
From the port of Kyllini in the north west of the Peloponnese, ferries travel to the beautiful Ionian Islands of Cephalonia and Zakynthos, whereas from the port of Patras there are daily ferries to Italy. The Rio – Antirrio Bridge which was completed in 2004 for the Olympic Games, is the world’s longest multi-span cable-stayed bridge and connects the Peloponnese with the central part of mainland Greece.

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