Sparta, the capital of Laconia region, is right in the centre of northern Peloponnese, on an altitude of 200 metres. It sits on the west of imposing Taygetus, which has a height of 2,047 metres, and east of Parnon, inside a plain that is framed by Eurotas’ right shore. The southern and western border of the city is made by the torrent of Magoulitsa, and its northern border is the hilly area of the city’s archaeological site.
The fertile plain is full of olive, orange and lemon trees, and is the capital of the Sparta municipality, having absorbed other, smaller municipalities recently (that of Therapnes, Mystras, Oinountas, Pellana, Farida and Karyes Community). The city itself has about 16,000 residents.
The ancient city of Sparta was built to the north of the modern one. It was the home of mythic king Menelaus and Helen of Troy, both found many times in the Homeric epics since they were heavily involved in the Trojan War, but they are also mentioned by other historians such as Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon, who write about the role of the Lacedaemonians during the Persian Wars (502 to 449 BC) and the Peloponnesian War (431 to 404 BC). The legendary self-sacrifice of king Leonidas and his 300 Spartans in Thermopyles against king Xerxes (a Persian king who moved against the Greeks) in 480 BC is seen as an eternal and timeless symbol of loyalty and devotion to one’s country, and has been a source of inspiration since then. The discipline, martial readiness and doric style of the Spartans’ way of life has been made into a term, Laconic.
After the antiquity, the area was under the Frankish rule from 1210, and in 1249 king William II of Villehardouin, built his castle of Mystras in the area. The Despotate of Morea, as was the area known during the Byzantine rule, was conquered by the Turks in 1430 and was released during the Greek Revolution of 1821. In 1834, King Otto’s Regency decided to rebuilt the new city nearby the ruins of ancient Sparta.
Getting to Know the City
The modern city has a surprisingly good city plan, with large squares, wide avenues and sidewalks, all because of the Hippodamian city plan, onto which the German architect Eduard Schaubert based his own plans in 1834. The widest and most central road of the city, called Konstantinou Palaiologou, has palm trees on a central strip, a sight unto itself. The neoclassical buildings of the city give it a great beauty, the most important being the Sainopouleio Amphitheatre, the City Hall and the Court’s building. The tiled pedestrian street of Kleomvrotou and the central square of Sparta are great meeting spots, used throughout the day.
Sights and Activities
The visitor, during his stay, should visit the Archaeological Museum, which exhibits findings dated back to the Roman times, the Koumantareios Art Gallery, which is part of the National Art Gallery and exhibits oil paintings dated from the 17th to the 20th century, the unique Olive Museum, the New Sparta Museum, the Folklore Museum of Manousakis as well as the Camera Museum, in Mystras settlement.
Archaeological sights include the statues of Lycurgus the law maker that sits inside the city limits, and the statue of Leonidas, on the city’s southern edge, along with the Leonidaion, which is said to house the remains of the glorious king. A few metres to the west is the acropolis of Ancient Sparta, on which sit the ancient theatre, the Roman Agora and the Temple of Athena Chalkiotos. About a kilometre from the ancient acropolis is the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, built on the shore of Eurotas river, and about 5 kilometres from the city, on the Prophitis Elias peak, are ruins of the Sanctuary of Menelaos and Helen.
Activities out of the City
The path connecting Sparta and Mystras is about 2 hours long on foot, and is a hiking path of great beauty. The abandoned Byzantine castle-city 6 kilometres northwest of Sparta and a visit is greatly rewarding; its ethereal beauty is famed. Important sights inside Mystras are the Metropolis dedicated to Agios Dimitrios, where the last Byzantine King Constantine Palaiologos was crowned in the 6th of January 1449 and the Frankish Castle on the top of the site, offering an amazing view.
Other than Mystras, another archaeological site worth noting is the site of Ancient Pellana, 24 kilometres from Sparta, where one can marvel at the vaulted tombs of its Mycenaean cemetery.
For the more adventurous, near Sparta is Taygetus and Parnon mountains, both great spots for hiking and climbing, but also for walking. Anavryti is also a great spot offering similar features, as well as more extreme, adrenalin-filled ones. The extended area has a huge number of places available to the adventurous, with unmapped paths, caves, verdant gorges (like Skotia or Lagkada gorges or the cave-gorge of Kaiadas and the climbing park), waterfalls, rivers, chestnut and fir forests, castles, monasteries, byzantine churches and well known bridges (like Ksirokampi). The area is well-known for its great food (local delicacies include sygklino, a type of corned pork, lamb and kagiana, a fried meal), a fact that the village taverns will proclaim loudly (great spots for the foody are Trypi and Parori); there is no Greek city without its feasts, and Sparta celebrates with the Feast of Chestnut as well as the Olive and Oil Feast.