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Published: April 1st 2016
Early on Friday morning we anchored off the Greek mainland at the port of Gythion. From the ship it had quite an Italian look to it. The town seemed quite small and the buildings are mostly huddled against the water. A few were built on the hills that came nearly to the water. We had a choice of two tours from here and naturally I chose the one that took us to Sparta.
Not that the tour was to Sparta, for there is essentially nothing of the ancient city left. The Spartans didn’t build city walls, fancy temples or monuments. But we passed through the modern city of Sparta on our way to the last Byzantine stronghold of Mystras. The fortress was built by Franks in 1249 but after being conquered by the Byzantines it was one of the last to fall when they were conquered by the Turks and the Venetians.
This was sure to be a site where many in the group would need to take it slow because there were many steps and the surfaces were very uneven. Because of this, as soon as the guide gave us our tickets I grabbed a map and headed
out on my own. Well, not entirely on my own because one of the couples I have been friendly with on the ship also decided to do the same thing so we basically explored together. As a result, though, I am not really sure what everything was.
The big challenge for the day was going to be reaching the fortress at the top of the hill. I figured I wasn’t going to make it because we only had two and a quarter hours and it was really high up. Given enough time, it would have been great to visit as I expect the views would be unreal.
What I did see, though, was pretty damn good. Like Delos, the site was quite overgrown in places and the flowers were blooming. And being on the side of a steep hill meant there were plenty of great views into the valley of Sparta. The rocky pathways snaked up the hills, through plenty of arches and there were lots of little nooks and crannies to explore.
The first highlight was at the palace complex which looked to be a spectacular series of buildings. Unfortunately it was covered in scaffolding and
is off limits to the general public. I continued on and soon reached another highlight – Hagios Nikolaos. This was a Byzantine church with many frescos still on the walls. I was really surprised we had full access and nothing stopping us from touching the frescos if we so desired. I did not desire and I hope nobody else did, although there were a couple of school groups exploring the site so I expect some did.
The next place I got to was the Hagia Sophia. It isn’t quite as impressive as the church with the same name in Istanbul, but it was pretty cool. I spent quite a bit of time there because it was basically the highest building other than the fortress and I don’t think I was half way up the mountain yet. There definitely wasn’t going to be time to do the climb. Even if it was possible, I didn’t want to have to rush down to the bus on the treacherous pathways. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!
From there I headed slowly down and explored a couple of places in the lower town that I had missed in my rush
to get away from the crowds. Unfortunately there were plenty of things I didn’t get to see – two hours just isn’t enough time for a place like Mystras. What was even more frustrating was that we returned to Gythion and there I found out we didn’t have to be back on the ship until 6:30pm. So we had a free afternoon in Gythion where there wasn’t a lot to see. I seriously think we should have spent more time in Mystras. I just don’t understand what the rush to leave was for. Anyway, I will just have to add it to my long list of places I am going to have to visit again someday.
I had lunch in town and headed back to the ship because I wanted to get my photos done and these two blog entries written. There was a fascinating lecture and an excursion briefing, plus plenty of chats with fellow passengers so here I am finishing writing at 11:30pm again. With the slow speed of the satellite internet connection on the ship, I will no doubt be up well after midnight again. No worries though, I’ll be heading home in a
couple of days and there will be time for rest then.
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