Situated in the southernmost region of Greece’s mainland, the Peloponnese offers far more than sea and sand. It is home to some of the world’s most precious Classical remains – magnificent temples, outstanding amphitheatres and ruined walls are the order of the day. The region has dozens of impressive sites, it is difficult to pick which ones to visit, so we've drawn up a list of our favourites.
The Philippeion at Olympia © Alberto Loyo, Shutterstock
Olympia is easily the most famous site in the Peloponnese, and for good reason. Set in a peaceful river valley, it is the birthplace of the greatest games in the world: the Olympics. In ancient times, they ran uninterrupted for 1,000 years, where events included sprints, boxing and even chariot racing. Although the games were banned in AD393 by Theodosius for their pagan nature, they were revived in their modern form in 1896, and every four years the Olympic torch is lit on this site. Highlights include the Temple of Zeus, set on a massive platform, as well as stadium itself, but be warned,: it gets very busy in high season.
© F8grapher, Dreamstime
Nowhere else does the medieval, and especially the Byzantine, world seem to come alive as it does at Mystra. The setting itself is breathtaking enough. The Chronicle of the Morea, the romanticised account of the Franks in the Peloponnese, calls it a ‘strange hill, as though cleaved from the mountainside’. On this spur of the Taygetos are the ruins of an entire city, the old Byzantine capital of Morea, with its lanes and alleyways, palaces, castle and, above all, churches calling out for exploration. Even on the site’s busiest day it is not hard to find a quiet corner where you can drink in the combination of natural and manmade beauty, and try to commune with the ghosts that walk the streets of this once-great city.
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Epidavros is most famous for its theatre, one of the best surviving buildings from the Classical period. Along with the Parthenon itself, this probably stands as one of the major symbols of all that is admirable in Classical Greek art and science. The theatre is as impressive today as it was in Pausanias’ day when he complimented its supposed architect. It is a masterpiece of harmonious and technically clever design. Most famously it has incredible acoustics – drop a coin or rustle up a ball of paper in the middle of the circle at the centre of the theatre and the noise can be heard clearly from any of the seats, right up to the last tier.
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This is the citadel of Agamemnon, and like many ancient sites in the Peloponnese, one of the best things about Mycenae is its setting. Perched on a triangular plateau slung between two mountains, the citadel is an imposing sight, even if the impressive walls tend to blend into the rocks around them. Most of the ruins date from 1350–1200BC. The site is a dramatic one, offering a stark contrast to the normal perception of ‘Greek ruins’. If the white marbled temples and theatres speak of philosophy and high art, then the walls and remains of Mycenae are redolent of something darker: a blood-stained, myth-haunted past.
© TakB, Shutterstock
Standing by the thin isthmus that separates the Peloponnese from the rest of the mainland, Corinth is a rather off-putting introduction to the region. Don’t be fooled by the unattractive streets of the main town – look beyond the concrete and you will find the site of the old Roman town, where you can tread the same streets as St Paul, and above it the imposing bulk of Acrocorinth, a more than worthy guardian to the secret delights of the Peloponnese – you can see its bulk as you approach the isthmus.
For more on these ancient sites and others in the region, see our new guide to the Peloponnese.