The Legendary Peloponnese
The Peloponnese occupies the southern tip of Mainland Greece, from which it is divided by the Isthmus of Corinth. But it was always considered as an island, the island of Pelops or the Peloponnese.
Recent discoveries in the Frachthi cave in Argolis and Malthi in Messinia confirm that the Peloponnese was inhabited since the Palaeolithic era (8,000-7,500 BC), while an increase in the population of permanent residents was observed in the Neolithic era.The first inhabitants were the Pelasgians or Proellines, followed by the Achaeans.
According to the legend, Pelops, son of Tandalos from Asia Minor, came to Pisa and after defeating King Oinomaos, he married the king’s daughter Hippodamia and Pelops became king of Pisa.
The descendants of the Pelopidians or the Atreides reigned in Mycenae and Sparta, cities that together with Tiryns and Pylos formed centers of the famous Mycenaean civilization between 1600 and 1100 BC. The era is combined with rich mythological elements that are a reference point of prehistoric Greece, such as the Argonautic expedition, the Labours of Heracles, the Trojan War, royal unholy intrigue and murders that led to the Curse of the Atreides, a beginning and source of inspiration for the so-called Mycenaean cycle of ancient drama.
During the archaic and the historical period in the Peloponnese, tough city states were growing, such as Sparta, Argos, Corinth, Messini and other smaller ones, which developed great prosperity. The frequent wars between themselves and the internal political contradictions have often been the cause of colonization of much of the Mediterranean, with particular preference in southern Italy and Sicily, southern France and Spain to the west, Asia Minor and the Black Sea to the east.
In spite of the tough wars, the inhabitants, conscious of their common origins and common language, felt the need for a ceasefire which they proclaimed during the athletic races that started from the Peloponnese. The right to participate in them was for athletes who spoke the Greek language, both from Greece and from the colonies. More prominent among the sports games were the Olympic Games, Nemea, Isthmia and Pythia in Delphi.
For the beginning of the Olympic Games, there is a great deal of controversy between the ancient writers. Among the views, the founder of the Olympic Games was also Hercules. However, according to the prevailing view, the Olympics were organized by Iphitos in 776 BC, and since then the races were held uninterrupted until 393 AD when they were abolished by the Byzantine emperor Theodosius.
During the Persian wars (5th century BC), the Peloponnese actively participated in the defeat of the enemy with the spirited strength of Sparta, which was later the winner of the thirty-year Peloponnesian war against Athens (431-404 BC ). The Peloponnesian war and the constant rivalry of Sparta and Athens, with different political systems, have been key points for the development of global political thinking and the shaping of modern political systems.
The Peloponnese had a prominent presence throughout the Greek history during the centuries that followed. In the Hellenistic and Roman periods, with the arrival of Apostle Paul in Corinth, during Byzantine times, culminating in the period of the domination of the Despotate of Mystras, which enabled the last reign of the emperor of Byzantium (Konstantine XA Palaiologos).
During the Ottoman domination the most rebellious area of greece was the Peloponnese, and eventually the liberal revolution of 1821 was to begin in this area.
Geomorphologically the Peloponnese is characterized by the large central massifs of Mainalon, Kyllini, Aroania, Erymanthos, Lykaion, Taygetos, Parnonas and other smaller mountain formations.
Mountain volumes and central plateaux form a large water catchment area. The water flows through gorgeous canyons and transforms into rivers that make the coastal lowland areas fertile. The larger rivers of the Peloponnese are Alfios, Ladon, Erymanthos, Pinios, Neda, Pamisos and Evrotas. The mountains and rivers of the Peloponnese have always been a natural border between the prefectures of the Peloponnese. They have always been a source of inspiration for Greek and foreign writers, combined with a myriad of mythological and historical elements. It is no coincidence that seven of the twelve of Heracles’ labors have a reference point in the Peloponnese, while the rest of them refer to distant mythical countries.
Arcadia occupies the central mountainous Peloponnese and in ancient times its area was even larger, since Arcadia was considered to be the whole mountainous Peloponnese. According to mythology, the founder of Arcadia was Lykaon, son of Pelasgos and the nymph Kyllini, who founded the first city that the sun “saw” on earth, Lykosoura, at the foot of Lykaion, the holy mountain of the Arcadians. This mountain, the Arcadians, faced with awe. They believed that in Lykaeon the matter was losing its shade by overthrowing every reasonable explanation of the natural phenomena. They also believed, along with many other Greeks, that Zeus was born on the mountain of light, Lycaeon, and that the nymphs Neda, Thiesoa and Agno, nursed him and washed him on the river Lousios.
In the rugged mountains of Arcadia, Pan was born, the god of nature and fertility, protector of the shepherds, constantly wandering in the forests and rivers of the Peloponnese, chasing Arcadian nymphs with intense erotic mood or playing his souravli.
In a cave of Mount Killini the shy Pleiad Mea, one of the seven daughters of Atlas, gave birth to god Hermes, as a result of her union with Zeus.With these peculiar mythological beliefs, Arcadia became synonymous with a wealthy utopia, a place of peace and harmony, a dream country where a man could live without worries, meditating in the midst of a hedonistic dream. This bucolic archetypal has passed into the history of Western art and the world of ideas in many forms and expressions and became a theme of Baroque and neo-classical painters, with the most characteristic work that of the paintings of Nicolas Poussin “The shepherds of Arcadia” with the mystical inscription ET IN ARCADIA EGO.
The Peloponnese has a long coastline, 1400 km long, with large sandy beaches mainly on its western side, with many small bays in the east and south, steep rope-ends of Taygetus and Parnonas in the southern regions. The ever-improving road network and good hotel infrastructure make ” A Circular Tour around the Peloponnese ” an extremely interesting route.
Many modern visitors, avoiding the so-called mass tourism, increasingly prefer contact with nature, agrotourism, contact with the authentic man of non-tourist areas, adventure, culture.
The Peloponnese can cover many of the quests of today’s demanding visitor.
From Diakofto of Achaia, on the north side of the Peloponnese, start the last of the most interesting parts of the European path E4. Walking along the cog railway and the shores of Vouraikos, bathers in the waters of Styx, you discover the springs of Ladon river, you pass through the Arcadian highlands to the springs of Evrotas river and following the cloudy Taygetus mountain, you end up at Cape Tainaron,
at the cave of Hades which was guarded by Cerberos the three headed dog. The proposed route, with slight discrepancies, gives the opportunity to those who choose it as a whole or parts of it to come in contact with general or special interest searches that the nature and the different phases of Greek history have generously depicted in the Peloponnese.
Along the way, you will find the unique Cave of the Lakes, Kapsia, Diros in Mani and Kastania in Kavo Malia, all with intense stalactite and stalagmite decoration and with hydrogeological and paleontological interest.
Another popular route is the diagonal entrance to the Peloponnese from the isthmus of Corinth. Along with this route, the visitor can experience some of the most important archaeological sites and monuments, unique examples of the world’s cultural heritage. Ancient Corinth, Nemea, Sikyon, Mycenae, Tiryns, Epidavros, Argos, Epicurean Apollo, Ancient Messini, Pylos and finally Olympia.
Whichever route you follow, depending on your interests, the today’s Peloponnese will compensate you well.
An adventurer can also enjoy a range of dynamic sports in nature such as:
- Rafting on the rivers Lousios, Alfeios and Erymanthos,
- canoe-kayak on the Ladon River
- exploring the canyons of the Peloponnese with the impressive waterfalls with the most popular ones of Lousios and Alfeios in Arcadia, Neda, Ridomo, Koskaraga and Viros in Messinia, Vouraikos in Achaia, Fonissa in Corinthia, the gorge of Vothila in Epidaurus and the Katathiki in Ermioni.
- Horse riding (in various locations of the Peloponnese-Sofiko, Arcadia, Parnonas, Ilia)
- Mountaineering and climbing in Ziria, Erymanthos, Parnon, and Taygetos mountains
- Parapente-paragliding in Kalamata, Epidaurus, West Peloponnese and Patras
- Bungee jumping in the Isthmus of Corinth
Ski enthusiasts can enjoy their favorite sports at the ever-modernized ski resorts of Ostrakina and Helmos.
Along the coast, experts can enjoy diving sailing, kite and windsurfing and other dynamic water sports.
The various phases of Greek history have left their traces throughout the Peloponnese. The gradual prevalence of Christianity created the first Christian churches, admiring Byzantine temples, steep monasteries and ascetics, enclaves of Christianity and Orthodoxy throughout the centuries.
The Franks and Venetians who occupied Byzantium in 1204, appreciating the strategic position of the Peloponnese in the Mediterranean, built castles on old or new different places. Many of them are kept in good condition to date.
During the Ottoman domination, many traditional settlements developed mainly in the interior areas of the Peloponnese and in Mani with the main building stone.
In the inaccessible Mani, in the southern Peloponnese, the peculiar social organization until recently and the fortification of the area led to the construction of family towers and tower-houses, which constituted an important deterrent to the aspiring conquerors, pirates, Turks and other invaders who vainly attempted to understand. The importance of the tower and the value of its family depended on its height. Many times, powerful families did not allow other, less important, erection of a tall tower and sometimes required lowering or demolition.
In the narrow streets of the traditional settlements you still find women kneading and baking bread in the ovens of their homes.
The main products of the Peloponnese are olive oil, wine, raisins, figs and citrus. Olive oil and wine are traditional agricultural activities of the Peloponnese, while the properties of these products have been mythological since the ancient years. As the philosopher Theophrastus states in his work “About Plants History”, the local wine of Irea in Arcadia when drunk by men makes them excited while when drunk by women it makes them pregnant (according to Theofrastus)
Peloponnese winegrowers, aware of their product dynamics, improved the traditional varieties of Agiorgitiko in Nemea and Moschofilero on the Arkadian Plateau, Rhoditis, Moschato, Malvasia and the Mavrodaphne variety, created visiting wineries and vineyards and put them in the “wine roads of the Peloponnese”, a special tourist route for wine friends.
In the summer the Peloponnese is rich in cultural events.
• In the ancient theater of Epidavros, ancient theatrical works are presented every friday and suturday, as well as modern foreign prominent productions.
• In Kalamata, in July, the International Dance Festival is held, one of the Mediterranean leading dance events.
• In Nafplio, in June, the Musical Festival of Nafplion is organized.
• In Corinth, the Opera Festival of Ancient Corinth,
• In Sparta the cultural events of the Municipality, in Patras, the famous city festival.
• Almost every Municipality of the Peloponnese creates its own “cultural summer” in cultural centers, squares and theaters.
With this wonderful combination of an unbeatable natural and built environment, myths, legends and history and with six unique UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Peloponnese is a popular destination where the visitor can combine ideal relaxation and recreation with an exciting encounter with its historical past.
The Peloponnese with numbers today
The total area of the Peloponnese Geographical Region is 21.385 km2 and covers 16.1% of the total area of the country.
Most of the soils are mountainous (50%) and semi-mountainous (30%), while a smaller part (20%) is occupied by lowlands.
The population of the Geographical District of Peloponnese is based on the latest census (2011) amounts to 1,063,583 people, accounting for 9.83% of the total population of Greece.
Peloponnese can be considered privileged from the point of view of the natural environment since it has one of the most important ecosystems of Greece (and one of the most important in Europe), as well as a particularly rich biodiversity both in flora and fauna.
Furthermore, in the Peloponnese there are many areas characterized as preserved monuments of nature, a National Park (Helmos-Vouraikos), protected aesthetic forests, as well as important landscapes of special natural beauty.
The ecosystem of the Peloponnese has been characterized as a botanist. Many areas of the Peloponnese, which are of high ecological value, have joined the NATURA 2000 protection network as well as other special protection regimes.
The length of coastlines reaches 1379 km.
Employment in the primary sector in the Peloponnese amounts to around 25% in 2011. This means that it is about an agricultural and livestock area with additional income coming mainly from tourism.
The unemployment rate increased highly in the Peloponnese after 2009, as a result of the prolonged recession that plagues the country.
Unemployment among young people during the crisis skyrocketed to terrible levels to start seeing now downward trends. But the new job creation is in the overwhelming majority of part-time work and wages are much lower than before.
In relation to the income, it is observed that in the period 2000-2009 the GDP of the Peloponnese increased, with the district of Korinthia far exceeding the average per capita GDP and the high lag of Ilia (65.4% in 2009).
This good period of prosperity followed by a dramatic fall in the years 2010-2016.
The level of development of the Peloponnese Region (Korinthia, Argolida, Arcadia, Messinia, Laconia) classifies it as a Transition Region (per capita GDP between 75% and 90% of the European average), while the Region of Western Greece (Ilia, Achaia) is classified as developing regions of Europe (per capita GDP <75% of the European average)
Two University Institutions are based in the Geographical Department of the Peloponnese, one in Patras and the other in Tripolis (University of the Peloponnese), whose infrastructure and organizational structure are gradually being developed in different cities of the Region.
There are also two technological institutions, those of Patras and Kalamata, while Patras hosts the headquarters of the Hellenic Open University (EAP).
Health services are provided by existing hospital facilities in all Peloponnese cities, Health Centers in their semi-pedestrian centers and their regional clinics in large villages with a fairly improved building infrastructure and equipment.
The road network of the Peloponnese is particularly extensive due to the extent and soil geomorphology.
The railway network in the Peloponnese has been abandoned with few exceptions on the northern axis. Previously there was a train linking Athens with Kalamata via Tripoli and Patras, but the line has been suspended for a long time.
An important role in the development of the northern part of the Peloponnese has played the operation of the Suburban Railway linking Attica (Airport) with Kiato.
Regarding the port infrastructure, the port of Patras occupies a prominent position with respect to the other ports in the Peloponnese because of its strategic position, being the Western Gate of the country to the Adriatic and Western Europe.
As far as air transport is concerned, the airports of Kalamata and Araxos operate in the Peloponnese. These two airports, although continually improving, can not be described as international. The main air services of the Peloponnese are covered by the National Airport of Athens “El. Venizelos “.
The rich natural landscape of the Peloponnese is complemented by a wealth of cultural resources that are scattered throughout. The cultural wealth of the Peloponnese is so diverse and of great value that it is rightly described as the “cradle of civilization”.
The findings show that its settlements date from the Paleolithic period and continues unceasingly in time with the presence of monuments of the Prehistoric, Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic period, the Byzantine period, as well as monuments of the modern era.
The most important cultural and archaeological sites of the Peloponnese are Ancient Epidaurus, Mycenae, Ancient Corinth, Nemea, Sparta, Mistras, Monemvasia, Ancient Messene, Ancient Tiryns, Pylos (Nestoros palace), Epicureus Apollo, Ancient Olympia, Ancient Ilida and Ancient Phigalia that give the Peloponnese a huge cultural potential, competitive on a global level.
It should be noted that the Peloponnese has 6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites! These monuments (and the date of their designation) are:
- The Temple of Epicurean Apollo at Vasses (1986). Built in the 5th eg. century and devoted to the god of the sun. It combines Archaic with Doric rhythm.
- The Archaeological Site of Epidaurus (1988). More widely known for its ancient theater, a place where theater plays of ancient drama are held, which take place every summer and attract worldwide interest.
- Mystras (1989). The castle city of Mystras is famous for its late Byzantine churches, which are scattered in the archaeological site and for the museum with significant Byzantine exhibits.
- The Archaeological Site of Olympia (1989). It is located in a valley inhabited since the prehistoric period. It was the center of worship of Jupiter. It has a number of temples and sports facilities that have hosted the Olympic Games since 776 BC every four years.
- The Archaeological Site of Mycenae (1999). It is located in a privileged geographical position in the central Argolida near Argos. Here was the center of the famous Mycenaean civilization.
- The Archaeological Site of Tiryns (1999). The site is also located in a geographic location that allows visitors to easily reach. It is one of the most important Mycenaean citadels where the stages of the civilization of the prehistoric and historical periods of Argolida are depicted.
Moreover, Pavlopetri (Elafonisos) is the most ancient underwater city in the world, located 4 meters below sea level opposite Elafonisos. The impressive monuments with excellent architecture have been on the seabed for over 5,000 years.
Also the Peloponnese is full of churches and monasteries. Most of them are works of the Byzantine period and are unique architectures. Several of these have played an important role as spiritual centers during the Revolution, such as the Philosophos Monastery in Arcadia, the Monastery of Megisti Lavra in Kalavrita and others. Most Monasteries have remarkable libraries that store important theological and philosophical books, as well as rare manuscripts. The area of the Lousios River Gorge in Arcadia is also called “Mount Athos” in the Peloponnese due to the existence of many graphic monasteries.
In the Peloponnese there is a large number of institutionalized traditional settlements, which in many cases form the basis for the development of mountain tourism. The largest concentration of institutionalized traditional settlements is observed in Mani.
There is also a significant number of museums. These include archaeological, Byzantine, folklore and thematic museums and collections. The most important archaeological museums are of Ancient Olympia, Epidaurus, Nafplio, Tripolis, Ancient Corinth, Nemea, Sparta, Pylos (Eglianos) and Tegea. The most important Byzantine museums are Mystras and the Byzantine collection of Monemvasia. In addition to the above museums, there are remarkable thematic museums such the open-air water power museum in Dimitsana, the Olive Museum in Sparta and the Railroad Station in Kalamata. Particularly from the Byzantine and post-Byzantine period, a great number of remarkable monuments have been preserved, which have also been proclaimed as protected monuments by the state. These mainly concern churches, sacred monasteries, castles, fortresses, fortification walls, settlements and towers.
The main castles of the Peloponnese that have been built mainly in the Middle Ages (some of them in the place of older ones) are those of Akrokorinthos, Palamidi in Nafplion and Larissa in Argos, Karytaina in Arcadia, Monemvasia and Mystra in Laconia, Koroni, Methoni and Pylos in Messinia, Killini (Chlemoutsi) in Ilia and Patras.
In the Peloponnese, some of the most significant cultural events of the country take place. The most popular World–class Festival is that of Epidaurus that is organized in the ancient theater of Epidavros and attracts the interest of Greek and foreign visitors. Other events with an institutional dimension include the International Dance Festival in Kalamata, the Patras carnival, and other actions aimed at promoting mainly the local products of the Peloponnese, such as wine (“Wine Roads”) and the olive tree ( “The Olive roads”).
As for the tourism sector the share of Peloponnese’s participation in the country’s total arrivals is decreasing over time dropping to 7.88% in 2015, as well as overnight stays down to 5.08% in the same year.
But earlier, when tourism was purely touristic, the Peloponnese was the most popular among the Greek regions.
With the rise of mass tourism, however, it gradually lost ground in favor of island clusters that had direct aviation access, since a large area of the Peloponnese is located outside of nearby air services.
The Peloponnese is mainly dependent on domestic tourism, since 65% of the arrivals in the Peloponnese are Greeks. One of the reasons for this is the easy accessibility of the residents of Athens, as they can now be in the southernmost part of the Peloponnese in about three hours.