Less than an hour’s drive from Athens in the country’s southernmost region, Peloponnese is a wide peninsula linked to the mainland by bridge. It’s renowned for its unspoiled landscapes that once helped it keep invaders at bay, including soaring snowcapped mountains and vast rugged gorges, part of what draws visitors of another kind from around the world today. It also hosts frequent cultural events, including many festivals along with fascinating ruins, like Olympia the site of the very first Olympic Games in honor of Zeus.
While it’s often skipped by visitors to Greece, Peloponnese is really a must-experience destination, especially for those who are interested in the myths and temples of Greek gods and the ancient beginnings of the Olympics. This region boasts three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Olympia, Mystras and Mycena/Tiryns. It’s the essence of myth all immortalized in Greek legend as perhaps the mythical heart of Greece. In fact, it’s from Peloponnese that Paris of Troy is said to have eloped with Helen. It’s not hard to imagine, with the jaw-dropping scenery that giving nature enthusiasts of all types lots to love. Not only are there towering mountains, but glistening lakes, magnificent falls that cut into deep gorges, valleys filled with vineyards or citrus groves, cypress forests and extraordinary sandy beaches edged by turquoise waters.
The dining on Peloponnese is some of the very best you’ll indulge in while in Greece, while the region’s vineyards mean you’ll be able to find plenty of outstanding vino to go along with it. Here it’s easy to fuel your exploits for discovering the many fascinating treasures here from Mycenean palaces and Byzantine cities to Venetian, Ottoman and Frankish fortresses along with the unforgettable scenery.
Peloponnese History in a Nutshell
The peninsula has been inhabited since prehistoric times, with its modern name derived from ancient Greek mythology, meaning “Island of Pelops” for the legend of a hero who conquered the region. The first major civilization here and throughout Europe was the Mycenaean civilization which dominated in the Bronze Age. Its destruction was just before the turn of 3000 BC, with destruction noted during archaeological research of palaces and cities throughout the region. Excavations have confirmed the legend of Homeric Mycenaean. In Pylos, ruins there match the references for the well-known King Nestor’s palace in the peninsula’s western region.
The Greek Dark Ages followed with little in the way of written record found for this period though we do know that around 1200 BC, Aetoli and Dorian arrived to construct Sparta, Argos and Korinthos. In 776 BC, Olympia hosted the very first Olympic games, a time when the Peloponnese was one of the centers of ancient Greece and saw some of the country’s bloodiest battles fought on its grounds. In the early 5th-century, it was the site of the Peloponnesian War, with the entire Peloponnese, other than Sparta), joining the expedition under Alexander the Great against the Persian Empire. It collapsed under the expansion of the Roman Republic with the rest of Greece in 146 BC, with Romans razing the city of Corinth, massacring its inhabitants. While the peninsula continued to be prosperous, it was cut off from the affairs of much of the Roman world, becoming provincial backwater. While Corinth was virtually destroyed it managed to regain some of its former status when Julius Caesar founded a colony at the site in 44 BC, which lead to the region becoming an important trade and administrative center. Not long after, following a visit by St. Paul, it was the center of early Christianity in Greece. But in fell in decline once again, when the Alaric and Germanic Heruli tribes attacked in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD.
Under the Byzantine Empire, the Peloponnese suffered numerous repeated attacks by these warrior tribes from the north. In the 13th-century, it was it was taken by the Franks, who held it for some 200 years before it was reverted to the last Byzantine emperors and then conquered by the Turks in 1460. Patras, in the northern Peloponnese, has continued to gain commercial importance ever since the end of the War of Greek Independence which took place from 1821 through 1829. Throughout much of the 19th and early 20th century, the region became economically isolated and increasingly poor. Much of the population emigrated, moving to larger cities in Greece like Athens, or to other nations like Australia and the U.S. It was significantly impacted by World War II and the Greek Civil War, but things improved here and throughout the country in 1981 with its accession to the European Union.
Peloponnese At A Glance
Average Flight Time from the UK to Peloponnese 4hours 45mins
Population of Peloponnese 630,000
What to See in Peloponnese Take a cable car and enjoy spectacular views, Discover the City Walls, Discover the magic of the Old Town, Game of Thrones tour, Sea Kayak Tour, Lokrum Island
Towns or islands to visit near Peloponnese Daytrip to Montenegro or Bosnia Herzegovina, Mljet National Park, Korcula Island, Lopud Island, Sipan Island