Beautifully preserved stone-built settlements and fortified towns spread all over Greece form a harmonious combination of local architecture and western influences.
The villages of TaygetosThe Taygetos mountain range stands out among all the other mountains in Greece for its history and the unique architecture of the surrounding villages. Peaking at an altitude of 2,405 metres, it is the highest mountain in the Peloponnese. Perched at the top is the famed church of Prophitis Ilias, where a service is held to celebrate him οn July 20th every year. Taygetos beckons exploration as a place of wild beauty, with forested slopes contrasting with barren landscapes of gray coloured rocks, steep paths and countless gorges.
The castle town of Mystras, located just 5 km northwest of Sparta, is the most important surviving medieval monument in Greece. With its stone alleys, monasteries, churches and countless mansions, Mystras takes visitors on a journey back in time to the era of the Byzantine Empire. The settlement is divided into three zones- Ano (upper), Kato (lower) and Exo (outer) Chora. The castle, which sits at the top of the town, was built in the middle of the 13th century by the Frankish Prince William II of Villehardouin, and affords stunning views of the Evrotas Valley. Mystras - or Myzithras as mentioned in the 14th century Chronicle of Morea - developed into a great settlement and thriving commercial hub which, at its peak, had about 45,000 inhabitants and was the capital of the Despotate of the Morea. It maintained its illustrious reputation through to the first years after the Greek Revolution. The last emperor of Byzantium, Constantine Paleologos, was crowned here on March 12, 1449 in the cathedral of Agios Dimitrios. The monastery of Pantanassa is also of special interest thanks to its Gothic architecture and impressive wall paintings. Not to be missed are the magnificent Palaces of the Palaeologans, and the Museum of Mystras which houses precious jewelry, traditional attire, handmade gospels, but also the intact hair of a young princess.
The archeological site of Mystras has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1989.
Located at an altitude of 770 metres in the northern part of the Evrotas valley, is among the area’s most beautiful and historic villages. Its roots stretch far back in time as archeological finds suggest the existence of a settlement here in the Late Bronze Age. This historical continuity is also reflected by the large number of Byzantine monuments in the village. The Byzantine monastery of Agios Georgios dating back to 1375 and the church of Ascension are among the most interesting places worth visiting. The ruined tower-house right next to the church only adds to the fairy tale atmosphere. A not to be missed highlight is the Palaeologue Castle of Loganikos (probably built in the first half of the 14th century) and a veritable trademark of Taygetos. Researchers have yet to arrive at a clear conclusion, whether it was built by the Despotate of Mystras or during the Frankish period.
Loganikos also played an important role in the organization of the Greek Revolution of 1821, as it served as a meeting point for wealthy lords and merchants to coordinate their actions against the Ottomans. Forest roads lead from the settlement to the highest points of Taygetos - Mega Pigadi, Timori, Steno, Limna, Koutouni and Rekitsa - making it an ideal starting point to explore the mountain.
Set amidst imposing trees, the small village of Arna is located slightly lower than Loganikos at an altitude of 700 metres. It is known for the big festivals (panigiri) that take place in the village’s central square. However, it is best known among hikers for the marked E4 path, which leads to the stunning wild forest of Vasiliki. The hike up to the church of Agios Dimitrios passes through a stunning fir forest at an altitude of 1,490 metres. The spellbinding route to the village goes by a old bridges and watermills. You will also find a large number of apple, chestnut and walnut trees. The village’s landmark is the tall plane tree that provides shade for all visitors at the traditional cafes.
The picturesque village of Parori is some 15 km from Sparta. The cobbled path that leads to the village passes through beautiful scenery and the small church of Panagia Zagounas, located at the entrance of a cave with breathtaking views.
Parori is literally surrounded by churches and monasteries. One of these, the monastery of Faneromeni, is located a little further down from the village at the end of a path passing through olive groves. An alternative route to follow is the uphill path that passes in front of the village springs and leads to the breathtaking gorge of Lagada. Next to it, the cave church of Lagadiotissa looks like an otherworldly geological phenomenon.
The now deserted settlement of Polyaravos with dozens of stone houses built on the rocks is situated at an altitude of 840 metres on a Taygetos slope. It has its own important history to tell as it was here in 1826, at the height of the Greek Revolution, where the people of Mani (Maniotes) defeated the army of Ibrahim, forcing him to order the end of the siege of Mani. Visitors who decide to make a stop here should walk up the hill of the village to the preserved 19th century church of Agios Konstantinos with its impressive bell covered with relief representations. Polyaravos is accessed by the road that passes from Sidirokastro to the Monastery of the Assumption of the Virgin. From there a demanding path leads to the settlement, which offers wonderful views of the surrounding mountain peaks.