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Things to do, Archeology

If you enjoy visiting some of the ancient sites in the area then there are several possibilities.
You can book an organised trip at one of the agencies in Stoupa, Aghios Nikolaos and Kardamyli. They will bring you to the site and home again. There is usually a guide who can explain more about the site and often a meal is included.
Another option is to go there yourself. This will give you more freedom and will cost less but if you want a guide you will have to arrange for one yourself.

There are a number of sites that you can each visit in a day. For instance:

A first glympse of Mystras This Unesco World Hertitage Site was founded in 1205 and is definitely worth a visit!
Mystras is an abandoned fortified town on Mt. Taygetos and of great value as part of Byzantine history and art. It is close to Ancient Sparta. You can explore all the empty houses and churches and imagine how people used to live there.

Mystras consists of three parts. The lower and middle city form the Byzantine city, the upper city leads to the oldest part and Villehardouin's castle.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, Mystras served as the capital of the Byzantine Despotate of the Morea, experiencing a period of prosperity and cultural flowering.
The site remained inhabited throughout the Ottoman period, when it was mistaken by Western travellers for ancient Sparta. It was abandoned in the 1830s, when the new town of Sparti was built, approximately eight kilometres to the east.

Frescos in Mystras

The frescos in the Peribleptos Church, dating between 1348 and 1380, are a very rare surviving late Byzantine cycle, crucial for the understanding of Byzantine art.
Mystras was also the last centre of Byzantine scholarship; the Neoplatonist philosopher George Gemistos Plethon lived there until his death in 1452. He and other scholars based in Mystras influenced the Italian Renaissance, especially after he accompanied the emperor John VIII Palaeologus to Florence in 1439.
The last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI, was despot at Mystras before he came to the throne. He was crowned in the Agios Dimitrios Cathedral. The double eagle carved stone in the floor of the church was the offical sign that the emperor had declared this the most holy of places in all of Greece at that time.
Demetrius Palaeologus the last despot of Morea, surrendered the city to the Ottoman emperor Mehmed II in 1460.
The Venetians occupied it from 1687 to 1715, but otherwise the Ottomans held it until 1821 and the beginning of the Greek War of Independence. It was abandoned by King Otto for the newly rebuilt Sparti.
In 1989 the ruins, including the fortress, palace, churches, and monasteries, were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Getting there:
Mystras is signposted in and around Sparti.
From there it's about 6 km's driving from the plains towards the mountains.
You will see Mystras perched on the mountain slope overlooking the valley.
For info about the towns of Gytheio and Sparti that you will pass on the way, go to Places to go or click on Gytheio or Sparta.


Agios Dimitrios: the oldest cathedral in Mystras and the place where the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI was crowned     View over Mystras and the valley in the background      The Palace of Despots

view of Ancient Messene from the village of Mavromati Ithomi
Ithomi is appr. 1,5 hours from Stoupa, just outside the village of Mavromati.
This is the site of ancient Messene that was built in 369 B.C.. For centuries the Messinians had been unwilling subjects of Sparta. Then in 371 B.C. Sparta was overpowered by Thebes and the Messinians could build their own city. In doing so they took extra care in finding the right location where they could easily see enemies approaching. They also built a huge wall that is 9 kilometers long and that you can still see snaking across the countryside. Archeologists are still working on the site and have done so for the past 15 years. Messene is now one of the best laid-out sites in Greece.
It has two theatres, a stadium, an agora, a roman villa with mosaics and more. Too much to see everything in one visit. And most surprising: entrance is free, although I don't know for how long. There is a museum outside the grounds.
When you've finished exploring and are ready for a drink, go back to the village of Mavromati. From the restaurant there you have a perfect view of the whole terrain!

Getting there: From Stoupa you drive North to Kalamata. In Kalamata head for the direction of Athens and the Kalamata Airport. After passing the airport continue to the town of Messini. Take a right at the first roundabout in Messini and follow the signs for Ithomi/Messene/Mavromati (forgot which one but it's easy to find!).

excavating the site     The Asclepion      The ekklesiasterion (meeting-place), the mini-theatre in the corner of the Asclepion

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