Following Greek History: A Journey Through the Peloponnese
Following Greek History: A Journey Through the Peloponnese
By Annika Dash
“Hello. Welcome. Come on up,” the elderly couple beckon us up the steep stairs.
They show us to our room and explain it is their daughter’s old room. The room is bright and a large crucifix hangs above the door.
We are ushered into the kitchen where boiling mugs of tea and coffee are placed into our hands. We pore over old photo albums while Georgia and Tassos regale us with stories of their life here in Greece.
The young children in the photographs are grown up now with families of their own. Tassos beams with pride as he tells us his son is a doctor. Georgia’s eyes fill with tears and she wrings her hands when she tells us her daughter has just had a miscarriage. Georgia and Tassos have lived in the same town their whole lives and are childhood sweethearts.
This is our first experience of the Peloponnese after spending weeks on the islands and we are relieved to finally meet some real locals instead of other tourists.
We are in the fishing town of Gythio. As soon as the ferry drew into the harbour we could see it was different from the barren islands. The seafront is lined with buildings of various colours. There are blues, greens, yellows and reds.
The bright buildings face the ocean and taper up the hill. The locals stare at us trudging up the hill with our backpacks. We spot a welcoming sign advertising rooms and decide to give it a shot.
The house is a faded green. Paint is stripping from the walls and there is a large balcony overlooking the ocean. The hinges on the doors creak and the rooms are crowded and cluttered with furniture, ornaments and paintings, but Georgia and Tassos make us feel very welcome.
We only stay one night, as we have to catch a bus to Olympia early the next morning. Georgia rises before seven to cook us a Greek breakfast. The table is laden with shortbread, cakes, deep fried pastries and coffee. Georgia shuffles with each step and her wrinkled hands shake with age. Despite this she still takes painstaking care over the meal. She packs up the leftovers for us to carry on the bus and they bid us a warm farewell.
There so much history crammed into the Peloponnese. Ancient Olympia is a fantastic place to visit. You can see where the first Olympic Games were held in 776 B.C.E. Some of the ruins are incredibly well preserved including the large stadium which could seat almost 30,000 spectators. The start and finish line of the sprint track are still visible.
The ancient city of Mycenae is also very well preserved. The ruins stand in the foothills of the mountains. The Neolithic people settled here in the 6th Millennium B.C.E. but when they were invaded by Indo European people, who brought an advanced culture with them, Mycenae became the most powerful kingdom of its age.
You can still see the intricate carving of a lion in the rock above the entrance, but the tombs are the best aspect of the site. The tombs are built like enormous beehives and have passages leading to them.
Perhaps the most impressive historical sight in all of the Peloponnese is the ancient theatre of Epidavros. The 3rd-century theatre has amazing acoustics and performances are still held there today.
I am in awe while I sit watching a performance in the back row. The stage has a backdrop of dramatic blue mountains and the sun is setting. I can’t understand the play because it is all in Greek but I am moved by the music and feel on top of the world. The theatre can hold up to 14,000 people.
The former capital
The pretty town of Nafplio is a great place to be based while exploring the ancient sites of Mycenae and Epidavros. The narrow streets lead to the waterfront of the former capital which is lined with bars, clubs and restaurants that are all hopping at night with European travellers. The nightlife can rival any of the islands and Nafplio is filled with cafes where you can sit and watch the passing parade.
There is a small fortress in the middle of the sea that can be visited by boat and the foreboding Palamadi fortress towers above the town on a steep hill. We reach the fortress by climbing 999 steps but the view of the rocks plunging into the ocean is definitely worth the walk. The people swimming in the sea below are the size of ants. Boats chug through the clear blue water and the town looks insignificant and small from up here.
On the bus ride out of Nafplio and back to Athens we wonder why the Peloponnese is often overlooked when the islands attract thousands of travellers every year.
I grab tight onto the seat in front of me as we careen around another windy bend. We are all tightly crammed in the aisle. There is the smell of sweat in the air, the sound of laughter and loud Greek voices and my stomach lurches with fear.
We are the only tourists on the bus and the Greek people seem completely oblivious to the erratic driving. They are only interested in what brought us to the Peloponnese and whether we think their country is beautiful.
For information on Ancient Olympia and Mycenae, including prices and opening times visit the Hellenic Ministry of Culture website.
For information on Gythio, including accommodation visit Gythio.net.
Nafplio Tourist Office
Greece – tel. (27520/24-444)
After completing a journalism degree, Annika Dash left Australia to see the world. Since then she has worked in London, studied in Barcelona, travelled extensively throughout Europe and the Middle East and combined her two loves – writing and travelling.
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