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Prefecture of Lakonia

With the mountains of Taygetos and Parnonas to the west and east, the prefecture is fertile and abundant with citrus and olive groves. King Menelaus and his beautiful wife Helen (of a thousand ships fame) held court here, until Paris of Troy kidnapped her. This dastardly dead started the Trojan Wars of Homers “Iliad”. The ancient city lies now beneath the modern town and makes exploration difficult.

Sparta : this modern town surrounded by lush orchards and olive groves, with a backdrop of mountains, has little again of ruins from its past, and do not reflect the importance of this once powerful city. The town’s small archaeological museum has on display artefacts from excavations around the region. Moreover, you are interested in the history of the olive, then a visit to the Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil, where the history of the humble olive is on display, along with old olive presses and working models.

Mistras: once a fortress of the Byzantine Empire , the ruins of Mistras lies 6km from Sparta , and consists of palaces, monasteries and churches from the 13 th century Frankish occupation of the Peloponnese . Founded in 1249 by the Franks, it soon became an important town under the rule of the Byzantines. In the 14 th century, the Despots of Morea controlled the town, and it became a major cultural centre in the region, attracting scholars and artists from other countries. The whole area gives the visitor some idea of the glorious past that once thrived here. Mistras consists of two towns, the upper and the lower. Mitropolis, in the lower town is the oldest church in the town. The 14 th century Moni Perivleptou, clinging to the rock face also decorated with frescoes, as is the monastery of Moni Pantanassas. The Despots Palace is under reconstruction, after years of neglect. The Kastro in the upper town is flanked by massive ravines, built in 1249 the Kastro was altered during the Byzantine and Turks.

Monemvasia: this massive rock soaring 350m out of the sea locally known as Greece’s answer to the rock of Gibraltar. This fortified town had a population of 50,000 in the 15 th century, and was a semi-independent city-state, with a large fleet that traded with other regions and the occasional acts of piracy. The town is in two parts, the lower and upper towns. The upper town is in ruins today, with only the small church of Agia Sofia taking pride of place, they are some frescoes in the church but they are badly faded. The remains of the fortress with its barracks and stores are visible. In the lower town, winding streets lined with tavernas and souvenir shops, weave there way between small houses and churches. With some small hotels and decent restaurants, the island makes a pleasant break, especially after the main tourist season is over and the crowds are less.

The Mani: this region is in two, the outer Mani and the inner Mani. The region was fiercely independent, and ruled by clans who fought over the less than fertile land. The clans built high tower’s from which they could fire and hurl rocks onto their rivals. These blood feuds could last for months and years, with only short breaks, so they could harvest their crops. The feuds ended when the rival clan submitted. The region been invaded by foreign powers, the Turks decided not to rule the region directly, but let them fight among themselves in the hope that later they could take over the region. They appointed overlords to try to control the clans and instigate feuds, but in 1821, the clans finally joined forces in the War of Independence against the Turks.

Inner Mani: this region is barren with only pockets of fertile soil, where a few olive trees and fig trees grow. The landscape is dotted with the towers of the clans, some of which are under restoration. The churches in the region are good examples of the local architecture.

Gytheio: the ancient port and naval base of Sparta , and is reputed to be the site where Paris and Helen of Troy fled to Egypt . The town is an ideal base from which to explore the district, and the Caves of Diros. The Museum of Mani has on display finds from excavations in the region and items of local folklore. The Castle of Passava 12km southwest of the town, built in 1254 is the site of a terrible massacre, when the nephew of a man who was killed, sought revenge by killing 1,000 Muslim villagers inside the castle. The Caves of Diros, have wonderful formations of stalactites and stalagmites, a short guided tour takes in inside the cave.

Outer Mani: this region is more fertile than inner Mani is, and is very popular with walkers, numerous trails in which one can explore the countryside and enjoy the views.

Itilo: this sleepy village once infamous for its slave trade is a shadow of its former self. Above the village is the Castle of Kelefa , from here the Turks tried to subdue the inhabitants of the region. Nearby is the Monastery of Dekoulou, with some fine frescoes inside.

Stoupa: this former fishing village is a popular resort with good beaches for the tourist seeking a less hectic destination and looking for the true feeling of Greece . The author of the celebrated book and film, Zorba the Greek lived here for a while and a local coalmine worker called Alexis Zorbas was the blueprint for the main character in the film and book.

Kardamyli: this village along the coast with a backdrop of the Taygetos Mountains and overlooking the Gulf of Messina is charming and makes a good base to start walking in the mountains.

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