Thursday, August 5, 2010

Five Greek ruins you can have all to yourself . . .

Apparently everyone on the internets loves a list. So here is the start of what I hope will be a regular feature in which ::drum roll:: I present you with a list. First up, and in no particular order, are five archaeological sites from the Peloponnese (the southern mainland of Greece) that, despite being stunning, hardly a soul ever visits. In any other country these would be major tourist destinations, but in Greece they await the solitary pleasure of the persistent few that seek them out.


The town of Megalopoli, with its two power stations belching steam, looks unpromising, but the surrounding peaks hide many delights. One is found on the slopes of a mountain once renowned for werewolves. Here the remains of a temple preside over a majestic view back down to the plain. Even the power stations look good from up here.



The ruins of this sanctuary dedicated to the Homeric couple of Menelaus and Helen (the ‘face that launched a thousand ships’) are pretty sparse, and to get here from nearby Sparta involves a walk or a 4x4. Once again the view makes it all worthwhile, stretching past Sparta to the medieval city of Mystra and the mighty Taygetos Mountains.


Lake Stymfalia
If the ruins of Menelaion are sparse, this site by the beautiful Lake Stymfalia is almost non-existent. It is worth seeking out, however, as the setting is mesmerising and evocative (Hercules completed one of his labours here). Reached by an easy walk from the road, you will feel a million miles from anywhere.

Ancient Messene

Gates of Messene
This one is on the cusp. In recent years a lot more work has been done on the site, unearthing new treasures, but also making it better known and more regimented. Last time I went there was even a ticket booth, but so far no one I know has ever seen anyone manning it. It deserves to be better known because unlike Olympia, a religious / sporting complex, and Epidavros, a healing centre and theatre, this is an entire classical Greek city, immaculately preserved. The walls alone are worth the trip, and you can even drive your car through the ancient gate as the modern road still goes through it; a weird and wonderful experience.


View from Geraki
To get away from the classical ruins, this is a medieval city, a sibling to the nearby Mystra. Unlike Mystra not many bother visiting, and getting in relies on you being spotted driving up by the Spurs-loving caretaker. You are compensated by yet more stunning views, and three well-preserved and intimate Byzantine churches, complete with frescos.

To find out more about these sites, and to explore this fascinating region more fully, I am forced to recommend my own book, the Bradt Guide to the Greek Peloponnese. It’s quite good, honestly.

1 comment:

  1. Just planning a weekend road trip to the Peloponnese. Thanks for mentioning Lykosoura. I had never heard of it before, so it's now on the list!