Ancient Modernity: This...is...SPARTA!
Last October it was decided by the family to go back to Greece for the Summer of 2019. Since I'm the Travel Genius (you'll laugh at the kick in the pants karma would give me on this later, trust me), it was up to me to figure out the logistics of getting us and our mountains of luggage from one continent to another in relative comfort and ease.
One of the stops I was immensely looking forward to is the two weeks in Sparta, my Dad's hometown (yes, he is a true, real life Spartan). I had visited Sparta quite a bit in the past, usually with my Mom, but in my 37 years, I'd never made the trek with my Dad. I was seriously looking forward to this. But enough about me, let's get down to brass tacks.
Modern Sparta is a far cry from the ancient powerhouse it was. Modern Sparta is a medium sized city with a population of roughly 17,000 people, 213 kilometers (133 miles) Southwest of Athens, on the Peloponnese Peninsula. Easiest way to get there from Athens is by road, and private transfers, public transport, and the obvious rental cars are available from Athens Airport and elsewhere. Some tour operators consider it a day trip from Athens, but I don't, considering the speed limits and traffic considerations. You're looking at a good 3 hour drive each way, and if it's one of the holiday weekends, the drive will be even longer.
Origins for modern Sparta go back to 1834, when Greece regained it's independence from the Ottoman Empire. It was decreed the new city of Sparta be based on the neo-classical architectural model, with large squares and wide streets (for it's time) lined with trees, all eminating from the Center Square and City Hall, the most imposing building in the city.
There's quite a few things to do in the area, most often go overlooked by a majority of US travel agencies and tour operators. The biggest collection of local archaeological finds are in the center of town in the Archaeological Museum, opened in 1876 to house the artifacts found by Panagiotis Stamatakis, from the beginning of the Neolithic Period up to the Roman Period. It was also the first Greek museum built outside Athens or Thessaloniki. It is definitely a must see.
Another place that is a must see is the fortified town of Mystras, right on Mount Taygetos, the 2nd highest mountain in Greece. Mystras was the capital of the Laconian Province from the Byzantine era right through the Ottoman occupation, when the capital shifted back to Sparta in 1821. In 1989, the entire area within the outer walls was protected and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Other more modern places to see in the city are the Statue of Leonidas just north of the town center, and where the finish line for the annual Spartathlon is (The Spartathlon is an ultra-marathon covering the 253 kilometer distance from Athens to Sparta, and has been held every year since it started in 1983). The Statue of Lycurgus, the lawgiver is a few blocks West of the city center, on the grounds of the Evangellistria Church. You'll want to wear your walking shoes, as it's hilly climb to this beautiful park.
Other museums to see in the area are the Museum of Olive and Greek Olive Oil (Laconia's Olives are as world reknown as neighboring Kalamata's are), the Manousakio Museum of Urban and Folk life in Laconia, the Koumantareios Art Gallery, and my personal favorite, the Angakis Art Gallery, showcasing the permanent art exhibition of three amazing Spartan sisters. Given enough time, I wouldn't be surprised to see Sparta transform itself into a major player on the art scene.
There's also quite a bit of outdoors activity to partake in and around Sparta, with campgrounds, trails and mountain paths to exhilarate and challenge hikers, bikers, and campers of all skill levels.
As with most Greek cities and villages, cafes and tavernas abound, with no shortage of dining options from central Sparta up to Mystras and it's surrounding villages like Parori and Agios Yannis (where you can dine next to gushing springs and waterfalls, tell them I sent you).
As i said above, it's easy to get there, just a few hours ride from Athens, and with over a dozen lodging accomodations on the center strip alone (not to mention dozens of others sprinkled throughout the city and up by Mystras), a room isnt hard to find. So c'mon down and enjoy, as with all the destinations I feature on my website and on social media, I can get you there, just hit me up, and let all your vacation worries and stress melt away, and you can relax and enjoy your trip.
All photos are author's own, except where credited.