This last summer I went for the first time in my life to Greece. Even if this amazing country is so close to my home country, Romania, for many years it wasn’t on top of my priorities. But before saying what a shame or what a wasted time, I need to say something more than this. After my visit to the amazing Greece and indirectly Sparta, I done a DNA test – only because I wanted to know my roots since a long time – and I discovered that I’m 40% Greek. And that was the moment I understood why I trully felt like home while there. My roots were stronger than I thought!
I admire Greece exceedinlgy, as it gave so much to the humanity. To mention a few, they gave us the democracy and they made huge contributions to philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, literature, theater and many more. However, in my heart, I always had a special place for Sparta, the city-state of Ancient Greece. And who didn’t heard about Sparta, who didn’t saw “The 300 Spartans” movie and thought about paying a visit to Sparta at least once in their life?
To me, Sparta is an example for some of the most valuable things we should treasure in life. And this are not material things by far. The first one and one of the most important things I treasure in life is loyalty. What’s more important than being loyal to something you love? While this days we tend to be loyal to people, in those days, loyalty for Sparta was supreme. The loyalty to the state it was more important even than the family. And this should be one of the reasons they were able to build such a strong state, with a reputation that shakes our imagination even today.
Linked to loyalty, I see Sparta as a loving state. What made them fight and train for this all their life was not only the love to the state, but also the love for freedom, the love to their lands, to their families. So they teached us one of the most valuable lessons, to never give up on the things we love. And even if the price is death, sooner or later we will all die, so we’ll all get there. But if the dignity, the principles and the believes we have die, we die even if we live.
And are many more things that Spartans treasured and was part of their DNA, and hopefully now mine. They have mastered the self-control and they built courage inside their vaines. They considered women as equals, as only them could give birth to true Spartans. And last, but not least, they believed in freedom. We are nothing if we’re not free, and I think now we can admit this even more than ever, when this awful virus (covid-19) took the freedom away from us.
Now, I know “The 300 Spartans” movie is quite powerful, but we need to distinguish between what is fiction and what is reality. And thanks God, Sparta and the Spartans did exist and this is not a legend or a story. In antiquitiy, the city state was known as Lacadaemon and the name of Sparta was only reffering to its settlement. Around 600 BCE it became one of the most important military land power in ancient Greece, and it was a powerful rival to the Greek state. It is well known for its contributions in the war against the Greeks & Persians, which led to the unified Greece – same as the movie itself ilustrates. Unfortunatelly, the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BCE ended the Spartan era, and since then, things were never as before. Of course, apart from our hearts, where Sparta will always live.
That beeing said, let’s discover together what can still be seen today, during a visit to the city of Sparta.
Sparta of today is a small quiet city in the region of Laconia, in the Peloponesse Peninsula of Greece. Here, its people are still called spartans, as they do live in Sparta! But, are not anymore divided – as in the old times – in Spartiates, Helots and Perioeci. Therefore, they can all share the city in a peaceful way, doing what they want as full time citizens and not as soldiers.
At a first glance, the city itself may not look too atractive. We need to consider that it was built in 1834 by the order of Otto – the king of Greece – on the old ruins of the ancient Sparta. Therefore, after so many years of decline, what is meant to be seen today are the path of history, and not a modern city of the 21st century.
However, if you’re coming, you won’t regret if you love history and small charming cities off the tourists path. If you don’t have much time to visit Sparta, in one full day you can cover the most important points of interest. But, I would recommend to spend 2 days in order to trully enjoy the city and interact with the spartans!
That being said, you cannot get lost in Sparta as the city is easily walkable. Start your journey with a quick stop at the tourist office, located in front of the Archeological Museum. The lady there made my day and I need to say I won’t forget her easily. She provided me tons of information, maps, brochures and even a memory stick with videos about Sparta! Between us, I always look for a tourist information center, as they are always up to date with everything going on there. From events to discounted tickets, transportation information and opening hours, they are all at your finger tip – so don’t miss it!
Once you’re informed and well equipped, start exploring. Get lost on the streets that no tourist takes and create your own memories. The best places are always hidden behind a wall or a narrow path, well kept for hungry eyes.
After you finished exploring the town, don’t stop there. Get a bit outside and try to get a better view with the surroundings. Personally, I followed the road to the olive museum and then I continued going down. Like this, I got a great view with the mountains and I could admire the pomegranades orchards and olives . Not mentioning that was nobody around so I had the place all for myself – so peaceful and refreshing!
After exploring the new city streets by foot, it’s time to start exploring the old Sparta. And without a doubt, the first place to start with is Leonidas statue. Look at him, at the king of Sparta. Try to feel the courage still running through his veins – cause for me he is not a past. He is alive and his memory will never die as long as we pass its values from a generation to another.
Acropolis of Ancient Sparta
After seeing the king of Sparta, continue your journey with the Acropolis of Ancient Sparta. The area of the Acropolis and the Agora were the administrative and religious centre of the city from the 8th century BC until the Roman period. Many historical documents are mentioning the great numbers of temples, monuments and public buildings in the area. While all we can see today are traces of the past, use your imagination to see the temple of Athena Chalkioikos (the patron godess of the city), the Archaic stoa, the round building with the impressive technical work or the bizantine church. Last but not least, admire the Roman theatre – one of the most important monuments of the site and probably the most impressive one today.
After finishing your free visit to the Acropolis of Sparta, your journey didn’t end, but it just started. As you can imagine, the old Sparta wasn’t spread only on this hill, but all across the new city. Therefore, a series of archeological sites and visible antiquities are spread across the city’s streets.
Follow the map and start exploring sanctuaries, churches, bizanthine baths and many more. For history lovers, they probably appreciate more this sites than the others, as nothing has been reconstructed to its original plan – so all you can see are the ruins.
Leonidian, “Tomb of Leonidas”
Stop by the only preserved monument of the Ancient Agora, so called Tomb of Leonidas. It couldn’t be 100% confirmed, but it is believed to be the tomb of Leonidas. According to Pausanias, the remains of the king were brough back to Sparta and buried after the battle in Thermopylae.
The Sanctuary of Orthia Artemis
A bit outside the town stands the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, the most signifiant sanctuary of the Spartan cult, associated with the education of the young Spartans. The deity of Orthia was considered the protector of vegetation and crops, the godess of salvation and fertility. However, archeology shows that later on it has been used as a center of religious education for the young boys, below 13 years old.
And now I’ll make the only complain about Sparta. This area, leading to Orthia is was like a landfill. I saw clothes, toys, garbage, but why? I can’t understand how the municipality left this place so dirty and nobody cares about it. If somebody from Sparta will read this article, please do something. Speak to your authorities to improve this situation. There is so much history here, it cannot be left behing.
Archaeological museum of Sparta
After exploring the archeological sites, continue your journey with the archeological museum. Here you’ll be able to see the artifacts found during the excavations of the sites previewsly visit and around the municipality of Laconia. This is one of the oldest museums in Greece and it hosts collections from Mycenaean to the Roman era, including mosaics, clay masks, laconic sculptures, votive offerings , and so on. The most famous piece of art of the museum is the statue of a Spartan warrior, so called Leonidas, so be sure to not miss it! The entry ticket to the museum costs 3€ and you need maximum one hour to see the place.
Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil
If you love olives but you don’t wanna stop here, explore the museum of the olive and the greek oil to learn how this green fuel it is done. The museum has been created by Piraeus Bank Group Cultural Foundation and it stands on the fondation of the old electricity company. The two levels of the museum will take you through a complete journey in order to discover one of the most important goods of the country. You’ll learn about the importance of the olive oil during history, the morphology of the olive trees and its cultivation, the development and its production in Greece, its extense usage and much more. My favourite part of the museum was the one showcasting the olive presses and the outside exhibition, where you can really feel the engineering behind the taste.
To have access to all this information you’ll need to pay an entry ticket of 4€ and allocate between 1 and 2 hours, which is totally worth in!
Coumantaros Art Gallery of Sparta
If you have more time to spend in the city, allocate half an hour to this tiny art gallery. For only 3€ you can admire some nice modern Greek Art history, from the 19th & 20th centuries.
I didn’t had the chance to visit more museums than the ones mentioned above, as were closed during my stay. However, I can tell you there are a few more to see and I hope you’ll be able to see them (the Museum of Modern Sparta, the Museum of Ecclesiastical Art, Manousakion Museum of Urban and Folk life and The Public Central Library of Sparta).
If you want to feel part of the local community, go to the church. I was lucky enough to be there during the service, so I could spend some time with the locals, praying all together.
Food & drink
You can’t go anywhere in Greece without enjoying the food and the drink, as it will be a totally waste. I didn’t tried anything local for the food, but I enjoyed a Sparta beer which was absolutely “delicious” if I can say so – so don’t miss it!
If you’re travellig by car, it must be easy to reach Sparta. On the other hand, if you’re travelling by public transportation it may be challanging. And the reason I said it may be, is that it matters where you’re coming from. From Athens you have direct buses circulating every single day. But, I came from Kalamata, so I had to adjust all my travelling schedule based on the bus schedule.
Are you wondering why? Because there are only two buses going from Kalamata to Sparta, on Friday or Sunday afternoon, that’s it. So, even if the bus ticket was very cheap, only 8.7€, I would prefered to pay double or tripple and have a regular bus on this route. Who knows, maybe the demand for this route is not high or everybody hasa car. I don’t actually know the reason behind but I wish I knew that before.
One more thing I should maybe tell you is that I tried hitchhiking. When I initially saw that the departure for Sparta is on Sunday 3pm and it will ruin my day, I tried different alternatives. My hostel’s host made me a nice placard with “Sparta”, but I didn’t had much luck. There were almost no cars taking that road while I stayed there. I spent about one hour trying to find a car, but in the end I gave up and took the bus later. Who knows, maybe you’ll be luckier than I!
The accommodation in Sparta is relativally cheap I would say, even if there are no hostels in the town for solo travelers. In my case, I spent one night in Appolon Hotel for 30€, for which I got a very nice room and above all, a great view with the mountains from the balcony.
Well, that’s it from my side. I hope I convinced you to visit Sparta as this will give you the opportunity to say THIS IS SPARTA!, like in the movie! If you haven’t seen the movie, add it on your to do list, as this may accelerate your desire to buy a ticket to Greece with the first opportunity!
Meanwhile, get more travel inspiration by clicking here.