Bare Bones - The Peloponnese
Surrounded by the wine dark sea, the Peloponnese is the very heartland of mythical and classical Greece. Its great high-walled citadels, Pylos, Tiryns and Mycenae were the stongholds of the Bronze Age Kings who dominated the first age of Greek glory. Surrounded by legends, Nemea – where Hercules slew the mighty lion, Delphi where Apollo created oracular power, these fortresses set the foundations of the Hellenic world.
Later epochs added their own skein of thread to the dictates of the Fates, and visiting the Peloponnese leads one in many directions. Olympia where Greeks celebrated their exclusivity with games, or Athens, where thought, reason and empire, gave rise to democracy, and brutal nationalism. Later still the all-conquering eagle of Rome first destroyed and then rebuilt Corinth in its own image, a new imperial Greece, carried forward to our own era by Byzantine resilience and magic, seen in the scintillating churches and palaces of Mistra, capital of the Despots.
All of this can be yours, a chance to explore and experience the birth of our own world in the company of like-minded people, and sympathetic experts. Experience the hospitality of the towns of modern Greece, explore their cuisine and wine for yourself. ‘It is the wine that leads me on, the wild wine that sets the wisest man to sing, tempts him to blurt out stories never told…
- Visit the Corinth Museum and enjoy a specially arranged talk by the Museum Curator
- The land of Homer’s heroes and the great Bronze Age citadels from which they came
- The ‘big names’ of Classical Greece: Athens, Delphi, Olympia, Epidaurus, Mycenae and Corinth
- Historic Churches
- Great Cities
- Ancient Greek
- Special Access
We fly to Athens, and transfer to our hotel in Greece’s ancient capital. Legend states that the city was founded by King Theseus, a mythical figure best known for his Minotaur-slaying heroics on the island of Crete. Our Peloponnesian adventure starts here…
After breakfast we begin our day exploring ancient Athens on foot. The city has been continuously inhabited for at least 7,000 years, and boasts a treasure trove of historical gems as a result.
We climb the iconic Acropolis, where we discover the famous Parthenon, a masterpiece of classical architecture constructed on the site of an Athenian temple in around 500 BC. Here we also find the Temple of Athena Nike, the oldest purely Ionic building on the site. At the foot of the Acropolis is the Theatre of Dionysus, an impressive structure which once held audiences of up to 17,000 people.
This afternoon we marvel at the wonders of the Acropolis Museum. Opened in 2009, this enormous museum was built to house every artefact found at the Acropolis, and incorporates the Roman and early Byzantine ruins on which it was constructed. Its galleries contain a wealth of artefacts including votive offerings, intricate sculptures and fifty metres of the original Parthenon frieze.
We continue our discovery of Athens with a walk through the sites of the Agora, the political and commercial heart of ancient Athens. It is here that Socrates stood trial against charges of impiety and corrupting the young. This is also where free-born male Athenian citizens could come to cast their votes – the earliest known example of direct democracy in all of human history.
After an independent lunch we enjoy our first drive through the Peloponnesian hills to our hotel at Delphi, a location considered by the ancient Greeks to be the centre, or “navel”, of the world.
We spend the day at the Panhellenic Sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi. On this sacred site, at the foot of Mount Parnassus, the oracle was interpreted by the famous priestess Pythia, who would sit over a chasm in the inner sanctum and, inhaling the vapours which issued from it, utter god-given prophecies in a trance. A seat of unimaginable influence, frequently consulted by the rich and powerful.
Leaving these mystical ruins we cross the Rion-Antirion bridge to the Peloponnese peninsula, and make our way to Olympia, in the Valley of the Gods.
Today we get to know Olympia, home of the first and greatest Panhellenic Games. Here we find the ruins of the ancient stadium, first constructed in 560 BC, in which athletes would race to win the laurel crown. At that time it consisted of only of a single track for running, though was later expanded to include extra events such as chariot racing. Races exclusively featuring women, the Heraean Games, also took place at this site from the 6th century BC. Unlike their nude male counterparts, the female athletes wore clothes – though were forbidden to watch the main Olympic events on pain of death.
Other attractions at this compelling site include the remains of temples such as the Pelopion. This was the alleged tomb of Pelops, the mythical chariot-racing king who gave this region its name. It was the veneration of Pelops which ultimately led to the Games’ creation.
We travel to Chora and have the chance to explore the Archaeological Museum, full of Mycenaen material from the excavations at Pylos. We continue our journey and visit the famous Palace of Nestor in Pylos. Most of the artefacts that have been discoevered here date back to 1300 BCE.
This morning we explore Messene, one of the most beautiful ancient cities in Greece. Founded by General Epaminondas in 369 BC as a home for citizens exiled by the Spartans, the settlement was never totally abandoned. Careful excavations of the city have been ongoing for over a century, revealing a well-preserved stadium, odeon and many other buildings, such as defensive walls and watchtowers.
We travel through the verdant mountains to the Byzantine town of Mystras next, where tomorrow our adventures continue...
We wake to explore the enchanting ruins of Mystras, a fortified town which was at one time second only to Constantinople in terms of its importance to the Byzantine Empire. The town is famed for its churches, and offers a fine insight into the upper echelons of Byzantine culture, as well as astounding views across the countryside.
After an independent lunch our journey continues with a visit to the ancient city of Epidaurus on the Argolid Peninsula. Epidaurus’ magnificent theatre dates from the 4th century BC, and is prized for its acoustics, which continue to enhance many on-site performances to this day. As the reputed birthplace of Apollo’s healer-son Asclepius, this city became the most celebrated centre for healing in the ancient world, and included a sanctuary built to contain over 160 guest rooms.
After breakfast we begin our day at the religious sanctuary of Nemea, where, according to legend, Heracles fought the Nemean Lion. By special arrangement we visit the site in the company of its former director, who personally shows us highlights such as the ancient stadium – site of the renowned Nemean Games – the Temple of Zeus, and the Apodyterium, a changing room for the public baths.
In the afternoon we continue to the archaeological site of Tiryns, a Mycenaean hill fort thought to have been the mythical birthplace of Heracles. Reaching the height of its power in around 1300 BC, the city went into decline and was not rediscovered until the 19th century. Since then, excavations have revealed structures such as the fort’s “cyclopean” walls, a citadel, a richly-decorated arcade, and a Doric temple.
In the morning we travel to the great Bronze Age hilltop site of Mycenae, another major hub of Greek civilisation. According to legend, this was the capital of King Agamemnon, and was originally founded by Perseus, the gorgon-slayer. Excavations support Homer’s claim of a city “well built and rich in gold”, and have revealed a large palace complex, defensive walls, royal tombs and the mighty Lions Gate, which now stands restored in its former location.
We round off the day at the gorgeous seaside town of Nafplio. Here we visit the excellent Archaeological Museum, which showcases local finds from the Neolithic to Roman periods within an old Venetian barracks. Don’t miss its unique collection of Palaeolithic altars.
We begin the final day of our tour with a drive to Corinth, which owed its prosperity to the isthmus linking the Peloponnese with the mainland. This ancient city-state has been inhabited since at least 6500 BC, and became a significant centre of trade in the early Bronze Age. It was destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC and rebuilt some 200 years later, after which it was designated the country’s provincial capital.
Returning across the gulf we arrive in Athens this afternoon and make our way to the National Museum for an encounter with many of Greece’s most significant archaeological discoveries. This world-class museum was established in the early 19th century and among its peerless collections are the golden Mask of Agamemnon, and amazing finds from the shipwreck of Antikythera.
Our Peloponnesian journey comes to an end. We depart Athens and fly home.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
- Field Notes
- Hotels - Bed & Breakfast
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