On the way north from Sparta, instead of talking the direct route to Tripolis, we'll turn east for Yeraki, a mini - Mystra, with its own beautifully restored Byzantine churches, crenulated walls and medieval castle. Then taking the road (not all of it paved) that winds over Mt. Patnon, we descend to Leonidion, hemmed in between its stunning red cliffs and the sea, and then wend our way up the dramatic west coast of the huge Gulf of Argos as far as Astros. All the way the beaches are stupendous, though nay all are easy to reach. Astros itself is a picturesque town, and Paralio Astros and Agios Andreas nearby are becoming popular resort areas. Continuing up the coast we meet the road which leads to Argos.
Now we're in the Argolid, one of the most important centres of Greece from the Mycenean era on. Now it's one of the areas most visited by and developed for tourists. The first site along the main road is also the oldest: Lerna, near Myli, conjuring up legends of Herakles and the Hydra. The House of the Tiles there is the largest Early Helladic building yet found. (At Myli the road forks and follows the shore to Nafplion). But we'll proceed to Argos to visit the archaeological sites in the area first. You may wish to rush past Argos's ancient agora, sanctuary of Aphrodite, and theatre, one of the three largest in Greece, but don't fail to visit the museum.
Another interesting side trip is up the mountain, the Larissa, whose summit holds the ruins of the ancient acropolis and a Frankish castle. The drive north through the plain of Argos to Mycenae cuts through a region inhabited since the third millennium BC. Mycanae, its foremost settlement, from about 1600 to 1200 BC, was so powerful and prosperous that it give its name to a whole civilization. Of course, it was here that Schliemann uncovered the extraordinary treasures belonging to the legendary commander who 1ed the Argives to battle for the ten long years at Troy. If you reread the Iliad and the Oresteia a visit to the Citadel of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra will be even more meaningful. But even without a literary backdrop, the site cannot fail to impress, from the Cyclopean Walls framing the Lion Gate to the famous "beehive tombs" of the House of Atreus and the Royal Palace within the Acropolis, not to mention the plethora of other ruins. You won't see any of Schliemann's or later archaeologists' treasures here, though; they are all on display in Athens at the National Archaeological Museum.
Nearing the main road, we could turn right for Corinth, but there's still so much to see in the Argolid, so back to Argos we go and then on to Nafplion. Just off this road there's another Mycenean fortress, Tiryns, with its humongous walls, fascinating vaulted galleries and secret staircase. The walls have been rubbed to a fine patina by countless generations of sheep.
Nafplion, capital of Greece during the early years of the Republic, retains all the charm of the last century and the early years of our own era, when neoclassicism was the preferred architectural style. It also retains several features left over from earlier times: an ancient acropolis (containing vestiges of Byzantine, Frankish and Venetian fortresses plus a modern luxury hotel), Venetian fortresses (the vast Palamidi erected as a last ditch effort in 1715 and the Bourtzi, a fortified islet in the harbour), Turkish mosques and lovely old homes and piazzas. There are thee archaeological and folklore museums to complete the picture, and if you're tired of culture, a varied selection of cafes, bars and restaurants lining the waterfront and scattered through the town.
On the other hand, if it's a swim you have in mind, there are beaches galore to the south and southeast on the east coast of the Gulf of Argos: a rocky promontory, to Tolo, with its celebrated sands, as far as Drepano, Vivari, Kandia and Iria. The south coast of the Argolid has also been well known to tourists for several years how. Take the road to Kranidi, turning right just before you reach it for picturesque village of Kilada, a major fishing port surrounded by attractive beaches, or pushing on to Porto Heli and its splendid natural harbour, Kosta with Spetses just across the waters, or Ermioni, Thermisia, and Plepi to the east with Iliokastro and its ruins somewhat inland to the north.
But in the heart of the Argolid there's still one site that mustn't be missed: Epidavros. The road passes through Lygourio to the immense pine clad site, where the famous theatre and Sanctuary of Asclepius formed one of the most popular pilgrimages in ancient Greece.
Here at Epidavros the art of theatre construction reached its apex. Test its acoustics by yourself when the place is empty and then return in the evening to see a classical comedy or tragedy performed. Rarely has something man - made benn so well adapted to its surroundings.
As for the Asklepion, it is considered the most important of the sanctuaries dedicated to the god of healing. To get an idea of idea of what rose upon the various stone foundations, pay a short visit to the museum where some scholarly models are on display. Among the ruins are the Temple of Asclepius and other temples, the Gymnasion, the Abaton (stoa where the patients slept and dreamt their cure), the Rotond and the Stadium.
We turn eastward on leaving the site, driving through lush hillsides to reach the shore and the citrus grove that give Palia Epidavro its charm. There are a few minor antiquities in the vicinity, pleasant waveless beaches, a lively waterfront scene and a port well stocked with yachts and the occasional ferry.
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