ITINERARY IN BRIEF
Today we arrive in Athens and transfer to our central hotel.
Overnight in Athens.
Today we enjoy a guided tour of Athens, the heart and soul of Greece.* A large part of the town's historic centre has been converted into a 3-kilometre pedestrian zone (the largest in Europe), leading to the major archaeological sites, reconstructing--to a large degree--the ancient landscape, thus allowing us to avoid the city's horrendous traffic.
We start at the Acropolis (with hopes to beat the heat/crowds), near the site of the Dionysos Theatre. Constructed in the 6th century BC, it is one of the world's oldest theatres and the place where the great works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes were first performed. We will also see a more recent theatre, the Odeon of Herod Atticus from the second century AD, which is still used for concerts and performances.
Ascending to the top of the Acropolis, we will see magnificent buildings dating from the 5th century BC, the Golden Age of Athens. On the highest point on the Acropolis is the Parthenon, often considered the finest monument to Greek civilization. The temple was dedicated to Athena "Parthenos," the virgin and patron goddess of the city.
After our Acropolis tour, we'll descend and enter the Ancient Agora located adjacent to the Plaka, the old town of Athens. Among the numerous sights in this archaeological park are the well-preserved Temple of Hephaistos and the landmark Roman era Tower of the Winds.
Our guided tour ends at the Acropolis Museum, located at the foot of the Acropolis. The museum was built to house every artifact found on the rock, from the Greek Bronze Age to Roman and Byzantine Greece; nearly 4,000 objects are exhibited over an area of 14,000 square metres. From here you are free to wander and explore on your own or make your way back to the hotel with your Tour Leader's assistance.
* The exact order of our sightseeing in Athens may be altered by your Tour Leader depending on several variables and their judgement on how best to run today's tour.
Overnight in Athens.
We board our coach to drive to ancient Corinth for a brief visit. Back in ancient times Corinth was one of the three major powers in Greece, and took part in all the battles against the Persians. It was from one of the richest cities and this is quite evident by its remains, including the huge Agora (market place) and Apollo's Temple (6th c BC).
We continue to Mycenae. The citadel occupies the triangular summit of a low hill between two gorges. The Mycenaeans excelled in this style of building using large, unworked stones. These massive fortifications were begun in the 14th century, followed by Tiryns and Dendra, Argos and Athens, as well as a host of subsidiary forts and eventually, a huge wall across the Corinthian isthmus. The famous Lion Gate, and similar constructions at Gla and Tiryns, were built in the 13th century BC. Here we will see vestiges of a kingdom that, for 400 years (1600-1200 BC), was the most powerful in Greece. We enter through the Lion Gate and see the Great Court where Agamemnon is believed to have been murdered in one of the chambers.
Later we travel to Epidaurus, a sanctuary of Asklepios, the God of Medicine. The sanctuaries of Asklepios, the healer god, were as much sanatoria, health farms or spas, as places of worship. This was the most prestigious centre of the cult in the Classical period and received a galaxy of splendid buildings spanning the whole of the 4th century BC. Epidauros came into prominence only in the later 5th century, when the cult was received at Athens in 420 BC and the tragedian Sophocles became its priest. There was a revival at the sanctuary in the 2nd century AD, and worship on the site continued in the form of a Christian basilica.
We continue toward Nafplio.
Overnight in Nafplio.
We will take some time this morning to stroll through the beautiful sea side town of Nafplio. We will also discuss the history of this town particularly relating to it importance in the early 19th Century. Greece won her independence from the Ottomans in slow painful stages throughout the 19th and into the 20th centuries. During the earliest years of the new Republic, Nafplio served as the first Greek capital. It was here that the first head of state of independent Greece, Ioannis Kapodistrias, tried to create a viable polity from the diverse and mutually antagonistic groups who had struggled for independence. But Kapodistrias failed to unite the ever-feuding factions and was eventually assassinated. The "Great Powers " of the day--Britain, France and Germany--stepped in and forced the Greeks to abandon their idea of a republic and instead to become a kingdom. They chose a German prince to rule over the Greeks, Otto of Bavaria. King Otto built his royal palace in the centre of Nafplio. His statue--not a particularly popular one these days--stands on a street in the seaside city.
Later today we will travel south, stopping to visit three fascinating sites: Sparta, home of legendary Spartans and dating from the 8th to 4th centuries BC; and Mystras, a Frankish-built Byzantine fortress town dating from the 13th century AD which served as the Byzantine capital of the Morea as the Peloponnese was known; and the recently-opened regional Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil located in the modern town of Sparti.
After these visits, we head southward, continuing towards Cape Maleas. This isolated peninsula, located off the east coast of the Peloponnese, is home to a stunningly set town often called the Gibraltar of the East: Monemvasia. Accessible only by a long causeway, the town is an enormous and ancient fortress.
Overnight in Monemvasia.
This morning we will have time to stroll through this wonderfully-located ancient town, which reflects influences of the Byzantine, Frankish and Ottoman presence. Famous for Malvasia wines--Malvasia being the Italian pronunciation of the town's name--and olive oil. Monemvasia has some excellent museums and churches; we will have a half-day walking tour of Monemvasia and some free time here in the afternoon.
This morning we travel in a westerly direction to the southernmost peninsula of Greece, known simply as the Mani. We will enjoy a driving tour down this rugged finger of land towards Cape Tenaro, the mythical entrance to the underworld. While on the Mani Peninsula, we will visit the amazing cave systems at Pyrgos Dhirou and learn why this region was often overlooked by invaders. The Dorians never made it this far south; the Romans passed it by as unimportant; the region did not even accept Christianity until the 9th century AD. Later, the Venetians and French, and even the Russians left this area alone. Even the Turks left the Maniots to themselves, reckoning that they would eventually do themselves in with the violent blood feuds they fought among themselves. Instead, in 1821, the feuding tribes united, rebelled against the Ottomans, and initiated the Greek Wars of Independence which eventually lead to the formation of the modern Greek state.
We will overnight near Vathia in the south of the peninsula.
Overnight in Vathia.
Our drive this morning is a dramatic one, taking us along the far west of the Peloponnese coast with a stop to visit Nestor's Palace, an impressively situated ruin that has only recently been excavated. The palace was the legendary home of wise King Nestor described in Homer's Odyssey.
Further north we come to the ancient site of Olympia, home of the original Olympic Games. We will spend some time visiting the extensive ruins, with its monument Temple of the Olympian Zeus, included in the enumeration of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the museum that outlines the history of these games that first started here in the 776 BC.
Overnight in Olympia.
We drive across the Rio-Antirrio Bridge en route to Delphi, arriving in the early afternoon. On arrival we will have a guided tour of this spectacular site and its excellent museum.
According to mythology, Zeus released two eagles at opposite ends of the world and they came to rest at Delphi, the 'navel of the world.' Delphi is known as the centre of worship for the God Apollo, son of Zeus who embodied moral discipline and spiritual clarity. But even before the area was associated with Apollo there were other deities worshipped here including the earth goddess Gea, Themis, Demeter and Poseidon, the well known god of the sea. By the end of the Mycenaean period Apollo had displaced these other deities and became the guardian of the oracle.
Delphi was the site of the Delphic oracle, most important oracle in the classical Greek world, and it was a major site for the worship of the god Apollo. His sacred precinct in Delphi was a Pan-Hellenic sanctuary, where every four years athletes from all over the Greek world competed in the Pythian Games, the precursor to the Olympic Games.
Overnight in Delphi.
Today we drive from Delphi to Kalambaka. Our route takes us through the central plains, a rich agricultural land often referred to as the "bread basket" of Greece.
Later this afternoon we have a panoramic drive around the Monasteries of Meteora, built upon rocks that rise vertically from the plains below. These "Rocks of the Air" are visible for miles around and are crowned with old monasteries that cling to their summits. The afternoon light provides ideal conditions for photography; making our roadside photo stops today allow us to spend more time on the sites tomorrow when we visit the monasteries.
Overnight in Kalambaka.
The Meteora comprise one of the largest and most important complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries and is second only to Mount Athos. The monasteries are built on natural sandstone rock pillars at the northwestern edge of the Plain of Thessaly. This morning we visit several monasteries* (usually 3 in total; periodic closures determine which ones we visit).
Later today we return by road to Athens visiting Thermopylae, where the great historical battle between the Spartan King Leonidas, the ultimate soldier-king, and the huge army of Persians took place.
Overnight in Athens.
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