Antiquity & Byzantium

Sights of Interest
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Findings at this archaeological site were unearthed by the pioneer excavations of the British School of Archaeology starting in 1910. Excavations resumed in the early 1990’s, primarily at the sites of the ancient theatre and the merchant stalls.

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The tomb of King Leonidas I in ancient Sparta. Located west of the Agora and opposite the theater, it served as the site of athletic games which were held there every year. It had a length of 12.50 m., a width of 8.30 m. and was divided into two chambers: the western chamber was 6.80 m. long and the eastern was 3.14 m. long. These chambers were connected by two gateways.

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One of the most significant religious sites of ancient Sparta was the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, built near the banks of the Evrotas River. Literary sources reveal that the temple was a religious center for the education of Spartan youth, an extremely important issue for the Spartan state where discipline and obedience to explicit rules was a matter of survival. The Mycenaean deity Orthia, a divinity similar to the Mycenaean goddess of fertility, was worshipped at the temple. During the historic period, the goddess was associated with Artemis. The sanctuary flourished in Roman times, as is evident by the extensions and renovations to the structure during this period.

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On the hill of Prophet Elias, just a few kilometers east of Sparta and opposite the Evrotas River, we encounter one of the most significant sanctuaries of Sparta. It is an area with precious Mycenaean relics. After Amykles, Therapnes is the second prehistoric site inhabited since the early Bronze Age. Its name was taken from Therapne, the daughter of King Lelex.

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Vafeio is an area 6 km. from Sparta. The famous ‘treasure of Vafeio’ was discovered here inside a great Mycenaean-type, tholos or ‘domed’ tomb (1500 – 1450 BC, with priceless artifacts, consisting of gold, ivory and precious gems). The treasure is now on display at the Archaeological Museum of Athens. In the aforementioned tomb, two cups, ‘the cups of Vafeio’, were unearthed. These golden cups, decorated with reliefs depicting the hunting of wild bulls, are a testimony to the high quality of metalwork produced during this era.

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A site unknown to most Greeks, the Sanctuary of Apollo Amyklaios lies approximately 5 km. from modern-day Sparta in the area of Amykles. Despite its obscurity, this sanctuary is perhaps the first organized initiatory and sacred worship site in all of Greece. It is still unknown when the sanctuary was established; however recent archaeological findings propose an approximate date circa 8000 BC.

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Pellana has been inhabited since the Early Helladic period. During the Mycenaean period, great vaulted tombs were built, demonstrating the power and wealth of the lords of the region. During the 4th or 3rd century BC, when Sparta was in grave danger, the acropolis of Pellana was fortified. In his descriptions of Lakonia, the geographer Pausanias mentions the wall, as well as the Sanctum of Asklepios and the Pellanida spring. He also mentions that a young girl fell into the Pellanida spring and disappeared, while her veil later emerged from another spring.

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On the northern slopes of Mount Taygetos, just 6 km northwest of modern-day Sparta, a steep foothill rises high and detached from the main body of the range. Mystras, reaching a height of 621 m., occupies an exceptionally strong position as it is physically inaccessible from the south and southeast where the slope drops dramatically into dark depths. As for the other sides which are just as steep, access was restricted with fortifications. The name ‘Mystras’ is etymologically associated to myzithra, from the conical shape of the mountain with its strict contours and dentelated ruins.

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The ‘Hellenic’ Bridge of Rasinas is an important archaeological monument in Xirokambi. It is believed to be the most ancient operating bridge in Europe.