|A tiny bit of the medieval city Mystras|
It’s Saturday morning and welcome to Greece! I’ll be here every Saturday, god(s) willing. How I got here (to Greece and MIE) was explained on Wednesday in a piece I did filling in for Yrsa, so if you’re interested in that sort of history please scroll down to “What’s in a Name.” For a spot of more ancient history, please stay here.
|Frescoes at Mystras|
Modern Sparta is a place decidedly different in locale and life from its antiquity namesake. It sits on a plain along the Eurotas River between ribs of not so distant mountains running north and south. The community is one based on agricultural, not war, and its groves of oranges and olive trees support twelve thousand souls still proud of their ancient heritage.
|Modern Sparta Town Square|
|Mystras Castle Fortress|
The old city and castle are wonderfully restored and maintained, and Mystras’ history reflects that of much of the entire region. Following the Fourth Crusade the Franks built the fortress to defend the southeast Peloponnese, but by the mid-13th Century Mystras was in Greek hands and remained so for 200 years until the Turkish conquest. Let me put it simply: the goings on and battles during those years involving, emperors, knights, churchmen, and most other sorts would cross Dan Brown’s eyes.
|Hotel Pyrgos Mystra|
In a Trip Advisor moment of digression, may I suggest you head on to relax in the adjacent more modern village of Mystras. It has its own quaint charms and one of my new favorite inns of all time sits there.
From the mid-14th to mid-15th Centuries Mystras served as the heart and soul of the Peloponnese, so much so that at the end of that period some believed Mystras was the actual site of ancient Sparta, and by the 17th Century that was the generally held belief. It was not until the very beginning of the 18th Century that Mystras regained its status as a separate and unique place, a source of mythical inspiration to travelers and artists’ souls.
Which brings me to Goethe. In 1824, in his second part of Faust, he chose Mystras as the place for classic beauty “uniting” with romantic chivalry. Trust me, I know that only because I read it in a guide book, BUT, Goethe’s words caught the essence of it’s time, at least that’s how it seemed to me as I sat amid it all reading these words:
So many years deserted stood the valley hills
That in the rear of Sparta northwards rise aloft
Behind Taygetos: whence as yet a nimble brook,
Eurotas downward rolls, and then along our vale
By reed beds broadly flowing, nourishes your swans.
Behind there in the mountain dwells a daring breed
Have settled, pressing forth from the Cimmerian Night,
And there have built a fortress inaccessible,
Whence land and people now they harry as they please.
The one catching my contemplative Goethe moment as that imperceptible dot on the wall below the site's upper parking lot is waving from the very top of the fortress.
From Mystras it was on to Mani, a place the Turks could never conquer, and The Godfather would have called home had Mario Puzo been Mario Puzopoulos. But that’s for another week.
Jeff — Saturday