“Next to that island over there is where the Greeks fought the Persians in a great battle, during the Peloponnesian War,” said Cristos as we drove toward our first destination in the Peloponnese Peninsula. This war took place more than 400 years before the birth of Christ, but when you’re touring around Greece that’s not such ancient history. The first stop on our tour with Cristos’ company, Discover Peloponnese, is the tomb of Agamemnon, which was built some 1,000 years before that. It has a doorway 18 feet high and then the inside of the beehive-type tomb is 44 feet high. When someone was whispering on the far side, I could hear them perfectly on the other.
The citadel of Mycanae across the valley was the center of power then, described in The Iliad as the place where King Agamemnon sailed from to go fight the Trojans. There’s a small museum explaining the history, with some artifacts found in the area. I come from a country just a few hundred years old though and am used to visiting Mesoamerica’s oldest ruins, most with an A.D. year tacked onto them. It’s hard to wrap my head around the history here.
Later we visit the ancient healing center and theater of Epidayros, which thrived between the 6th and 4th centuries B.C. (It’s also listed as Epidavros or Epidaurus.) Theater was so central to Greek life that it was considered an essential part of the curing process. Those with poor health and with mental problems stayed on site here and took part in performances. The theater is massive, but with acoustics good enough that any seat was a good one for hearing what the actors were saying and what the musicians were playing.
We go on to visit towns that have been here as long as written records have existed. I’m especially taken with Dimitsana, a hillside town of stone paths and stone houses, the kind of place where I think it must be a glorious spot to wake up in each morning. The air is crisp at 1,000 meters altitude, the smell of wood smoke in the air. My shoes occasionally squish on bright green moss covering the stone paths in areas the sun never reaches.
Just outside of town we visit the well-done open-air Water Power Museum. It demonstrates how people have used flowing water throughout history to power mills and factories. There are units demonstrating the grinding of corn, processing of leather, and the making of gunpowder.
From near here we start a spectacular hike through the Lousios Gorge from Filosofou Monastery to Prodromou Monastery perched on the side of a mountain, reached only by foot. It’s around 1,000 years old, but Zeus is said to have washed in the river where we have a picnic after visiting.
We stop by Nafplio for lunch one day and wander the town. It has several castles and forts built in different periods, being a powerful seaport held by the Byzantines, the French crusaders, the Venetians, and the Ottomans. Now it’s a place conquered by tourists in the summer, sipping Greek coffee and eating fresh fish.
It seems fitting that we end our trip at Kapsia Cave, which was forming before humans ever walked these lands. But then before heading back to Athens we go to nearby Kalogri Winery. We make think of Italy and France first when it comes to wine, but they have been making it in what is now Greece since, oh, about 3,500 years ago…
If you go, Discover Peloponnese offers scheduled or custom trips in the region, with sightseeing, hiking, or biking options. Or explore the region independently with your own vehicle through a car from Enterprise in Athens.