The magic of the shores of the Argolid, the bald mountains, golden valleys, the grandeur of the monuments and the eternal quality of its myths will leave a lasting impression.
On this "flaming red Argive earth" celebrated by the poet, "where the poupy flames still brighter", you'll hear the most sublime voices of the Greek land - Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles.
The Argolid was the heart of Greece from 1600 to 1100 BC under the Mycenaeans. With their decline, the Dorians controlled the fate of the region until the conquest of the country by the Romans. During the Byzantine era the Argolid shared the fortune of the rest of the Peloponnese. It was ruled by the Franks and surrendered to the Turks in 1460, Nafplio, however, remained in Venetian hands until 1540. Nafplio was the capital of the newly formed Greek stale from 1828 to 1834, when this role passed to Athens.
In this little tour the approach to the district of Argos starts in the south, at Arcadian Astros. The little village of Mili is not far away
Ten kilometres further north are the ruins of ancient Lerna, where Herakles is said to have killed the Hydra, a dragon with the body of a snake and nine heads. Passing sometimes through valleys filled with vines and olive groves sometimes along the turquoise sea, the road leads to Nea Kios, a coastal town built at the back of the bay of Nafplio.
Tranquillity reigns on this sandy, shallow seashore. Here on the last Sunday before Lent there is a festival with free food and wine.
The coast road continues on to Nauplia (Nafplio), capital of the prefecture and one of the loveliest towns in all Greece. The old city with its neoclassic houses, picturesque streets, wooden balconies with cascading flowers, Turkish fountains, Constitution (Syntagma) Square with its fascinating mosques and outdoor cafe tables is like a fairy land.
Here, after centuries of struggle, happiness has finally settled. You feel like immersing yourself in its history, burrowing into its past - the house of the Regent Mauer, the Military Academy, it operates as a military Museum, the Army Ministry, Greece's first high school, Parliament House, St. Spyridon's, the church where Kapodistrias, the first governor of Greece, was assassinated. And the fairy tale world continues, whether you climb up the 857 steps to the Venetian fortress of Palamidi crowning the city, wander round the battlements of Acronafpia or pop over to the fortified islet, Bourtzi afloat in the middle of the bay. A new sight or sensatior keeps coming across your path.
Nafplio is full of the joy of life. it 15 the nobility and calm found in Minoan frescoes, it is Syntagma Square, which" strikes you as more gracious and delightful every time you see. It is the little restaurants on the walerfront the open-air cinemas, the bars and the music that every evening takes you closer to the people, the sea and the stars.
In Syntagma Square the Archaeological Museum, with its finds from various periods and frescoes from Mycenae (Mikines and Assini, is housed in an imposing Venetian building, while the Folk Art Museum, on Vas. Alexandrou street, occupies a neoclassical house.
By the sea
The first seaside village you meet on leaving Nafplio is Tolo, situated on a picturesque bay. Its seafood taverna overlook the water. You take a bite and inhale the sal breeze. You listen to the put-put of the little mortboat chugging over to the islet of Romvi opposite. The more romantic travellers will want to head for Assini which inspired one of Nobel prize-winning poet Georg Seferis'most beautiful poems. A sheer rock at the water's edge adorned with remnant of the distant past.
Here stood the acropolis of ancient Assini mentioned by the first Greek poet. Homer.
Ten kilometres from Nafplio the road passes through the coastal village of Drepano, drenched in orange and lemon trees, and Vivari, with its ruined Venetian castle. The view from here is enchanting. Next the road leads on to the much frequented villages of Kandia and Salandi, winding up in Kilada, a peaceful fishing village at the head of a closed bay. Just outsidf the village, one can see the large cave of Frahthi where mesolithic artefacts were found. Not far from Kilada - inland - the farming town o Kranidi stands out, spread out over the hillside of Agia, Anna.
The hill is sprinkled with Byzantine monasteries. Seven kilometres after Kranidi the road leads to Porto Heli, a big summer resort on a closed protected bay witt a natural harbour.
Brightly painted caiques and trawlers, little sailboats and motorboats repose in the harbour. Customers at the seafood tavernas are ordering triet and grilled fish. shrimp, octopus, and a big countn salad.
At midday Porto Heli is humming with people. The shouts and laughter mingle with the aromas wafting up from the coals. It's perpetual festival for people who delight in this miracle of nature, the Argolid perfumed by the sea, rich in fields, harbours and beaches; the Argolid with its translucent waters that reflect ancient and modern dreams; the Argolid, whose every village is a treat for the eye.
Kosta, Ermioni, Thefmissia, Plepi, Metohl, and Galatas with the dozens of lemon trees. The Argolid dream world.
The first lights from the shores of the Saronic islands across the way appear in the twilight. Taking the coast road north will bring you to lush Galata, just a stone's throw from the Argosaronic island of Poros. The narrow strait that separates them is alive with small boats ferrying passengers between island and mainland.
Further north, at the almost spherical peninsula of Methana lies the spa of that name, famous since antiquity for its hot sulphurous and saline springs. Melhana's waters are recommended in the treatment of dermatological, rheumatoid and neurological ailments. Visitor to Methana will find ample accommodation as well as numerous tavernas, restaurants, bars, discos and other facilities for tourists. The crystalline sea and lovely beaches altract holidaymakers all summer long. The town is linked year round with Piraeus by ferry and in summer by several hydrofoils (from Zea marina) per day. This is the magical Argolid. The first lights from the shores of the Saronic islands start twinkling in the dusk.
From Nafplio the road passes through a fertile, verdant valley to arrive at the village of Tirins. The ruins of the fortress-palace of Tirins lie just off Ihe road. Its cyclupean walls are older than those of Mycenae.
The ancients believed that these walls were built by the Cyclops, creatures with superhuman powers. Homer mentions the "wall-girl" cities that took part in the Trojan War.
Looking at these massive walls - the biggest boulders weigh 13 tons each - one imagines that any attempt at besieging them must have been in vain. Tirins flourished up to 1200 BC, when the acropolis was destroyed by fire.
In the enclosure below the acropolis are the famous tunnels (secret cisterns), among the most interesting architectural achievements of the period. The palace with the royal throne room at its centre occupied Ihe highest point on the acropolis. Fragments of wall paintings testifying to the wealth and luxury of the palace at Tirins are on display in the archaeological museums of Nafplio and Athens.
Argos, Midea, Mycenae
From Tirins the road continues through the Argolid valley to Argos itself.
Men and women are working in the fields, while earthy odours and the buying of a bee accompany you Farmers lending rickety roadside stands sell their wares to passers -by - juicy grapes, oranges and apricofs depending on the season.
The scenery alternates between grapevines, oilve grovt and apricot orchards.
Today the historic Peloponnesian city of Argos is the agricultural and commercial centre of the prefectur The city has retained some neoclassical buildings, the neoclassical market place and the army barracks datying from the time of Kapodistrias. The archaeological museum on Vas. Olga street has an interesting collection of local finds.
After the destruction of Mycenae (Mikines) and Tirin Argos began to develop, reaching its peak as one ' Greece's most powerful cities in the 7th century BC. Large works produced in the city's famous sculpture studios decorated temples and sanctuaries. The visitor will find some of them, weathered by time, the ancient agora (on the road to Tripolis).
Northwest of Argos, the citadel of Larissa stands on the crest of a low mountain, it is worth a visit - an aspallted road goes all the way up - to admire the Frankish and Venetian fortifications as well as the view, which is especiallly impressive at sunset, when the colours run riot.
There is a monastery on the hillside, the Virgin Concealed or of the Rock.
South of Argos the road leads to Kefalari a lush an with several springs. The spreading plane trees, runnir water and tavernas will hold you in their grasp for hours by offering those simple Greek pleasures: shade, fresh air, good food and relaxation.
To the east another road goes to the village of Merbaka (Agia Triada), with its 12th century Byzantine church and from there on to the hamlets of Manesi and Dendra. From Dendra a path takes you to the lop of a hill and the Mycenaean acropolis of Midea.
Here too you will find huge Cyclopean walls. According to myth, the walls at Mycenae (Mikines), Tirins and Midea were built by a tribe of men descended from tl Cyclops. Nine kilometres outside Argos the road leads to tt slopes of Ml. Evvia where, built onl an outcropping, star the ruins of the Heraion (Ireon), dedicated to Hera, one of the most important sanctuaries of antiquity. In the uncluttered beauty of the scenery, emotions and memories connected with the worship of the goddess still linger.
The Mycenaean treasure
The road leads from the Heraion to Mycenae (Mikines) "rich in gold".
The acropolis reveals itself in the heart of a landscape that is barren to the north, a bit tamer towards the south. A grey mound ol rock with the marks of the Cycle upon it.
One has to touch these gigantic rough-hewn slabs order to comprehend the deep sense of security they offered the Mycenaeans.
Within these walls the leaders heaped the booty from their extended wars, gold and jewels, bowls and purple rugs.
Mycenae was the most powerful, brilliant and sovereign influence in Greece up to 1100 BC when it was destroyed by fire.
Centuries later the tragic poets Aeschylus and Sophocles brought it back to life with the magic of their verses. One enters the acropolis through the Lion Gate, the oldest example of monumental sculpture in Europe. A secondary entrance, built in the same style, exists in the north side.
Inside the walls excavations have uncovered the palace complex, grave circle A with six royal tombs, courtiers' houses, sanctuaries and other important buildings. Outside the acropolis lie the ruins of private houses. Grave Circle B with 14 royal tombs and 12 tombs of private citizens. On the nearby hill of Panayitsa archaeologists brought to light the most stunning edifice ot Mycenaean architecture, the Treasure of Atreus, also known as the beehive tomb of Agamemnon. Most of the more exceptional finds from the site are on exhibit in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. These include frescoes, gold jewellery, and the gold mask said to have belonged lo Agamemnon, among other priceless pieces.
The road from Nafplio to Epidaurus (Epidavros) passes through vineyards and age-old olive groves with the mountains looming hazily in the distance, but for Mt. Arahneo, which rises directly above EpIdaurus. Arahneo - that's just how Aeschylus called it in his tragedy, Agamemnon.
The breeze carries waves of sweet fragrances from the woods, resin and turpentine.
On a hillside, within the sanctuary, lies the theatre of Epidaurus (3rd c. BC), the most famous and best preserved of all the ancient theatres in Greece. Built of limestone, it can seat 12,000 spectators. Every summer it comes alive. Attending a performance of ancient drama in this theatre is almost a mystical experience. Never to be forgotten. A catharsis of the soul. At Epidaurus the actors don't need to shout or speak loudly. The acoustics are so perfect that the merest whisper can be heard in the last row. Trie entrance to ihe sanctuary lies to the north of the theatre. Asklepios was worshipped here. Though he was a god, Zeus struck him down with his thunderbolt because he wanted to destroy death, Among the ruins, one can see the foundations of the temple of Asklepios (Doric, 4th c. BC), the guest house, the tholos, the Abalon or sleeping porch, the temples of Artemis and Themis, the gymnasion, etc. The museum is near the entrance to the site and contains various artefacts plus a helpful model of what the sanctuary must have looked like. The town of ancient Epidaurus occupied the same location as the present village of Palia Epidavros (Old Epidaurus), a seaside settlement wit a small harbour, nestled in plain thick with olive and orange trees, rimmed with scenic beaches and several tavernas. Seven kilometres further north, at the foot of Mt. Akros, the road arrives at Nea Epidavros (New Epidaurus), an inland village an then proceeds several kilometres on to the lonely rnonastery of Agnounda with its Byzantine frescoes.
West of Nea Epidavros, you come to Ligourio, a moder market town much frequented by tourists. There are tavernas everywhere you look, and coaches, cars and motorbrikes.
Over the wind waft tempting smells of roasting lamb and kokoretsi.
Theatre buffs and lovers of archaeology from all corners of the globe gather here to eat and chat under a starry sky.Carefree crickets are trilling in trie trees. This land is an endless song. This is where out travelling through the Peloponnese, the old and the new one, ends.
-By rail: From Athens to the main cities of the Peloponnes.
Athens terminal: Peloponnese Station, tel: (210) 5131601
Information: 6, Sina St., tel: (210) 3624402/6
17, Filellinon St, tel: (210) 3236747- 3236273
1, Karolou St. tel (210) 5297777
-By bus: From Athens to all over the Peloponneae
Buses run by KTEL, Athens terminal 100 Kifissou St.
Information'tel: (210) 5124910-11
By plane: From Athens to Kalamata Athens to Kithira
Olympic Airways, tel: (210) 9666666 (Athens)
(0721) 22376 (Kalamata)
a) Piraeus- Kiparissi - Gerakas - Monemvassia-Neapolis - Ag. Pelagia (Kithira) - Elafonissos - Githio - Kapsali (Kithira) - Andikithira - Kasteli (Crete).
Information Piraeus Port Authority, tel. (210) 4226004-4 and 4226011-2
b) By hydrofoil sailing from Zea Marina - Ermioni Porto Heli - Tolo - Nafplio - Kiparissi - Gerakas - Monemvassia - Neapolis - Kithira Tel (210) 4527107
c) From Kilini to Kefalonia, tel. (26230) 92211
From Kilini to Zante, tel (26230) 92211
From Patras to Ithaki, Corfu, Paxi, Kefalonia, tel. (2610) 341002
d) Patras is connecting by sea with the following ports of Italy:
Angona (tel. (210) 4110461, 4110777, Piraeus)
Brindisi (tel: (210) 4174341, 4133835, Piraeus or (210) 8214171, (Athens)
Bari (tel. (210) 4181001, Piraeus)
Taranto (tel: (210) 4520135, Piraeus)
Trieste (tel: (210) 4133835, Piraeus)
e) By car ferry from Rio to Antirio and vice versa (very often), tel: (2610) 991203
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