Sparta. Why visit?

*by Martyn Shuttleworth*

THE HISTORIC TOWN OF SPARTA

WHY VISIT SPARTA?

If you want the traditional Greek holiday of sun, sea and cheap Ouzo, then Sparti is not the place to visit. If you prefer to sample Greek history and culture, and enjoy long walks in the mountains, then this relaxed town is the ideal destination. Situated under the imposing Taygetos Mountains, Sparti is the perfect base for exploring the whole of the Peloponnese, and visiting the plethora of historical sites.

The town has a very low crime rate and is very safe to walk around, at any time of day or night. Sparti is small, so most of the interesting tourist attractions are within easy walking distance. Public transport and taxis are reasonably priced, giving a visitor great freedom to travel and explore.

Due to the influx of Australian, American and Canadian Greeks returning to the area, many people speak English, so finding information is never a problem. If you are having difficulty making yourself understood, one of the helpful, English-speaking locals will be happy to help. Spartans believe in the Greek custom of ‘Filoxenia’, the love of strangers, and will do their utmost to help visitors to their town.

A BRIEF INTRODUCTION

The town itself was constructed in 1831, on the orders of King Otto, after the Greek War of Independence. The modern town was deliberately built upon the site of ancient Sparta, and was given the same name. The confusion between the names ‘Sparta’ and ‘Sparti’ arises from a variation in Greek dialects. Otto intended the town to be one of the most beautiful in Greece, and the wide, tree-festooned boulevards are a result of his vision. Walking down the streets in spring is a pleasure, with the intermingled scents of orange blossom and jasmine pervading the clear, evening air.

Sparta has a very laid back feel, due to its open plan and relatively small population, of about 19 000 people. Despite this compactness, it is the central town for of all of Laconia, and has everything you need, from modern fashions to agricultural supplies. The town lies off the main tourist track, so it is not overwhelmed by drunken package holiday groups, or cheap, tawdry hotels. It is relaxing to sit in the central square, and enjoy a peaceful drink and meal, without enduring the monotonous sound of late night discos and repetitive football chants.

IDEAL LOCATION

The central location of Sparti ensures that it is provided with excellent public transport links. Regular buses to Athens, Monemvasia and Gythio make it easy to get around, especially if hiring a car is not an option. Although the traffic can be a little manic, as in most Greek urban areas, the roads outside the town are of good quality and are very quiet, making driving a pleasure. In fact, some of the roads in the Taygetos Mountains have been used in car adverts, and they are perfect for touring by motorcycle.

In terms of historical attractions, Sparta possesses an abundance of riches. As well as the ancient acropolis and theatre, only five minutes walk from the centre, there are many other sites scattered around the town. From the Temple of Apollo, in Amikles, and the awesome world heritage site of Mystra, there is much to occupy historians. Other major sites, such as Mycenae, Monemvasia and Ancient Olympia, are within a couple of hour’s journey by car or motorcycle.

For nature lovers, the town is perfectly situated, with the Taygetos Mountains looming imposingly over the town. These rugged mountains are wreathed their ancient pine forests and blankets of colourful spring flowers. The unique Taygetos ecosystem has been certified as a site of scientific importance. The surrounding land is wholly agricultural, consisting of tranquil olive groves and huge orchards of orange trees. The area has a refreshing lack of heavy industry, and the olives and oranges are regarded to be amongst the finest in the world.

The Peloponnese is a major migration route for birds travelling between Europe and Africa, so the area is a paradise for bird-watchers and twitchers. Organic practices preserve a healthy population of wild birds, so the abundant flocks happily invade the town itself, squabbling amongst the orange trees.

CONCLUSION

For tourists wishing to enjoy a unique holiday experience, Sparti is a hidden gem. The Spartan experience is far removed from the tourist traps in the islands, but has enough richness and diversity to satisfy the sophisticated visitor.

*by Martyn Shuttleworth*