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This is Greece:This is Sparta! Ancient Spartans and Byzantine Mystras

Spartan warrior
Spartan warrior

Recently my travels around the Peloponnese have been plagued by bad weather, namely, torrential rain, so when the chance arose to visit Sparta, I didn't jump at it!

Then I had second thoughts and had a look at the weather forecast, I’m not one to easily let the opportunity of a trip pass me by, lo and behold, there was a little picture of the sun, so, we set off on the road to Sparta, home of the fearless Spartans, home of Leonidas and his three hundred.

Leonedas King of Sparta
Leonidas King of Sparta

By the fifth century, Sparta, a militarist state, was the most powerful nation in all of Greece.

Soon after birth, male babies were bathed in wine, if they survived this, they were taken, by their fathers, to the elders, who decided if the child was strong enough to become a Spartan, if there were any visible defects, or the child looked weak, it was taken to mount Taygetos, and left to die.


Mount Taygetos
Mount Taygetos

Until the age of seven, they were schooled at home, after that; they were educated by the state, the emphasis being on athletics and physical fitness, even the women were well educated, the thought being that an educated women would produce strong, intelligent children, thus making the Spartan women, the most educated women of Ancient Greece.

On going off to war, wives and mothers presented the men with a shield, saying the words; “he tan, he epi tas" (Ή τάν ή Επί τας) translated as; with this, or, upon this.

This meant, come home with your shield, in other words, there were only two ways to return from war; victorious or dead!

In 480, King Leonidas of Sparta, lead his three hundred warriors against the Persians at the battle of Thermopyle, and, when Xerxes (King of the Persians) demanded the Greeks surrender their arms, Leonidas  replied Μολών Λαβέ ("Come and get them"), triumphed, against all odds and became a legend.

King Leonidas of Sparta
King Leonidas of Sparta

Even today, the people hailing from Sparta, Mani and surrounding regions, still maintain the reputation of being wild, strong and fearless.

By the way, MGG (My Greek God) hails from Sparta!

Back to my trip, the landscape on the way to Sparta is mountains, lots of them, covered mainly with pine and cypress trees, if you don’t much care for mountains (me for example!) it can be rather monotonous, but the picturesque villages and towns, when you reach them, do make it all worthwhile.

On the road to Sparta
On the road to Sparta

Today, being early spring, the scenery was quite colourful, rows and rows of almond trees were in blossom giving a pale pink hue to everything.

On the road to Sparta Almond trees in blossom.
On the road to Sparta
Almond trees in blossom.

 Wisps of blue smoke could be seen, heading skywards, olive farmers, pruning their trees, were burning the cast off branches.


Passing a tiny village, nestling in the mountains, on the way to Sparta.
Passing a tiny village, nestling in the mountains, on the way to Sparta.

Once in Sparta, we decided to forego the town, we know it well.

  My son was stationed there whilst doing his national service;

many a weekend, was spent there, visiting him.


Soldier Johnny.Sparta.
Soldier Johnny.Sparta.

We would visit Mystras, a small town, situated on Mount Taygetos.

 Here, a Byzantine fortress and the palace of Prince William II Villehardouin( a grand-nephew of the Fourth Crusade historian Geoffrey of Villehardouin) tower above Sparta.


Mistra
Mystras


Looking across to Sparta from Mistra
Looking across to Sparta from Mystras

We drove, in sunshine, through the lovely little town of Mystras, onwards and upwards towards the ruins and the archaeological site, the higher we got, the gloomier the sky looked!


Modern village of Mistras
 Mystras


Road up to Ancient Mistras
Road up to Mystras

On arriving at the top, we paid our five Euros and entered into another world, a mysterious, intriguing Byzantine world of arches, tunnels and passage ways, the palace taking pride of place above us.

palace of Prince William II Villehardouin
Palace of Prince William II Villehardouin

Ancient Mistras
 Mystras

Ancient Mistras
 Mystras


  Wherever you turned, or so it seemed, there in front of you, were well-preserved Byzantine churches and monasteries.

 Some of them contain the most wonderful
wall paintings.


Ancient Mistras
 Mystras


Ancient Mistras
 Mystras


  Entrance to the fortress of Ancient Mistras
Entrance to the Byzantine fortress of  Mystras


Fresco in church at Mistras
Fresco in church at Mystras


Fresco in church at Mistras
Fresco in church at Mystras


Byzantine Church. Mistras
Byzantine Church. Mystras

Ancient Mistras
 Mystras


Ancient Mistras
 Mystras

By now, the sky had darkened considerably and I was sure that I had felt a spot or two of rain.
  We pressed on.


Ancient Mistras
 Mystras


Ancient Mistras
 Mystras





Byzantine Church.Mistras
Byzantine Church.Mystras 


Ancient Mistras
 Mystras


Ancient Mistras
 Mystras


Ancient Mistras
 Mystras

Soon, we couldn’t ignore it any longer; it was raining, really raining, not being organised, but rather optimistic, we had no umbrella, nor were we wearing clothes or footwear suitable for a downpour, nothing for it, we had to turn back.


Ancient Mistras
 Mystras


Ancient Mistras
Mystras

Ancient Mistras
 Mystras

Ancient Mistras
 Mystras

Ancient Mistras
 Mystras

Once more, 
my foray into the Southern Peloponnese had been thwarted by rain!

Can you spot me in the picture below?
I seem to blend in quite well!



Me, getting rather wet!
Me, getting rather wet!

I just know, that once home, my family, who laugh every time that I head off towards Morea (The medieval name for the Peloponnese), will ask me:

“Did it rain?”

They will be very happy about my affirmative answer!

Read more more about Mystras HERE


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