There is a wealth of archaeological sites to explore in the area. These include the Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus; the legendary citadel of Mycenae and the Mycenaean cemetery of Dendra; the ancient citadel of Tirynth and its dam, constructed around the 12th century BC; the early Bronze Age settlement of Lerna at Mili; the Temple of Hera close to Argos; the village of Didyma; the lofty St. Dimitrios Monastery of Avgo; Monemvasia and its beautifully-preserved medieval churches; and numerous Mycenaean bridges, each a feat of engineering on the road trip from Amanzoe to Nafplion, amongst many others.
Epidaurus: Situated in the East Peloponnese, just 51 kilometres from Amanzoe, Epidaurus is home to the Sanctuary of Asklepios, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site – which includes a renowned amphitheatre – is surrounded by forest and has the ambience and seclusion of a retreat.
Built in the fourth century BC by Polykleitos the Younger, the theatre has a capacity of 15,000 people and is remarkably well-preserved. An architectural masterpiece with perfect acoustics, it was expanded from 34 to 55 rows by the Romans. The theatre is still host to internationally-acclaimed performances every summer. However, the main attraction at Epidaurus is the sanctuary itself.
The Sanctuary of Asklepios was the most renowned healing centre of the ancient world. The God of Medicine to the Ancient Greeks, Asklepios was considered a son of Apollo, given the gift of healing after his mother died giving birth to him. Consisting of temples, hospitals and other facilities dedicated to health, the sanctuary was visited by those looking for a cure from as far afield as Rome.
The sanctuary reflects not only the great history of the Hellenistic and Roman periods, but also the powerful nature of the ancient Greeks’ spiritual beliefs. The oldest buildings date back to the sixth century BC, and within the ruins are the remains of the Enkoimitirion. Here people would sleep in the hopes of having Asklepios appear to them in their dreams with a cure for what ailed them. Represented by the snake (hence the global symbol of modern medicine – a snake entwined around a rod), Asklepios was one of the later additions to the Hellenic gods. Treatments included “licks” from snakes, as well as entertainment. The Greeks believed in the power of theatre to heal the mind and spirit, hence the inclusion of the amphitheatre.
Mycenae: Founded by Perseus, capital of Agamemnon’s kingdom and an important commercial centre, Mycenae was the “golden city” of ancient Greece, and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, situated 100 kilometres from Amanzoe. The epicentre of the Mycenaean world, the city gave its name to a period and a civilization that spread as far as the Mediterranean basin between the 16th and 12th centuries BC.
The site itself is exceptionally well maintained, providing a clear picture of exactly what it was like to live within the city walls. A formidable city in its day, Mycenae is surrounded by mountains and fields offering glimpses of blue sea.
Situated about 300 metres away from the Mycenaean acropolis is the well-maintained Treasury of Atreus – also known as the Tomb of Agamemnon (son of Atreus and brother-in-law of Helen whose abduction by Paris started the Trojan War). Known as a tholos or ‘bee-hive’ tomb, it was built between 1350 and 1330 BC. It is the largest and best preserved of the nine tholos tombs found in Mycenae.
The colossal Cyclopean walls of Mycenae and the famous Lion Gate are other standout attractions – still impressive after more than 3,000 years.
Nafplion: The historic town of Nafplion is situated just 65 kilometres away from Amanzoe, and is full of spectacular monuments and sights that have stories ranging from ancient to medieval times. The town played a major role in the history and creation of modern Greece, as it hosted the first Greek parliament after the Greek War of Independence. It was also the town where the first pharmacy was opened and the first military school was founded.
Up until Greek Independence in 1832, Nafplion was ruled by a host of great conquerors including the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, and the Venetians. Over the centuries, the different occupying forces left their mark on the architecture and culture of Nafplion, imbuing it with the unique and cosmopolitan atmosphere it has today.
Renowned for its neoclassical architecture, the imposing Palamidi Castle overlooking the city and the Bourtzi Castle set on an island in the middle of the harbour, Nafplion is a charming town to wander. The quaint streets of the old town are shaded by bougainvillea and lined with restaurants and shops, while live jazz bars provide entertainment in the evenings.
Didyma: The village of Didyma lies in a small valley surrounded by a mountain range. Two of the most impressive sights in the vicinity of Didyma are the Small and Big Caves, geological crater-shaped formations created thousands of years ago and shrouded in myths and local stories. The Big Cave is a wild place, a rocky home to many different species of birds. To reach the Small Cave you have to descend some steps into a cave, cutting directly through the rock. A lovely 10-minute stroll takes you around the inside of the crater where you come across two tiny churches that are built directly into the rock and dedicated to St. George and St. Sotira.
St. Dimitrios Monastery of Avgo: Behind the mountains of Didyma on a mountain called Avgo, stands the monastery of St. Dimitrios. Avgo is the Greek word for ‘egg’. Built in the 14th century, this two-level monastery is built into the rock face about 850 metres up, and overlooks the gorge through which the Rados River plunges to the sea.
Monemvasia: Nicknamed ‘the Gibraltar of the East’ or ‘The Rock’, Monemvasia is situated on a small peninsula off the east coast of the Peloponnese. The peninsula is linked to the mainland by a 200-metre causeway, and consists mostly of a large plateau – 100 metres high, 300 metres long and one kilometre wide. The town and its famous fortress were founded in 583 by Greek refugees fleeing Slavic and Avaric invasions. The town became an important trade and maritime centre in the 10th century and was controlled in turn by the Byzantines, the Venetians and the Ottomans over the next few centuries. Today the town’s walls and many of its Byzantine churches remain from the medieval period, and walking its cobbled streets is like strolling back in time.