Vacation and accommodation in Greece
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According to Pausanias, the first king of the region was Aethlios, who was succeeded by his son Endymion and grandson Epeios. The later gave his name lo the inhabitants, who were called Epeians. When Epeios' nephew Eleios inherited the throne, the name of the district was changed to Eleia and the inhabitants Eleians, and that is what they have been called ever since.
Pirgos is the capital of the prefecture of Eleia. The town owes its name to the presence of a tall tower (pirgos)
erected by loannis Tsernotas (1512-20|. It was known by this name as early as 1687. Its chief landmarks are the two exquisite neoclassical buildings designed by Schiller, the Municipal Market and the Apollo Municipal Theatre. In the evenings the residents of this little town congregate in the flagstone paved main square lined by cafes and pastry shops. In the narrow alleyways, small tavernas and grills serve up local delicacies, savoury tidbits from Eleia's fertile soil.
Ancient Olympia lies 10 km east of Pirgos, in a valley between wooded Mt. Kronos, the Alfios river and its tributary, the Kladeos
A brief history of the Games
According to legend, this area was inhabited by the Pisans. Their King was Oinomaus, whose daughter Hippodameia had married Pelops. There are indications that already by 1000 BC, games were being held in honour of the couple. Though exclusively local at the start, the games began gradually to attract the interest of the other towns in the vicinity. In 776 BC, the leader ot the Eleians, Iphitos, rededicaled the games to the honour of Zeus. This date marks the first Olympiad, afterwards every four years panhellenic contests were held attracting athletes from all the Greek city-states. While the Games were taking place, the Olympic Truce was in force and all hostilities suspended. The victor's prize was a crown made from a wild olive branch, which was always cut from the same tree, the Kallistefano.
"Tinella kallinike" - Well done, glorious victor - shouted the crowd in praise of the winner. Back in his birthplace, people would knock down the city walls.
The Olympic Games, which included the foot-race, wrestling, the Pankration, the Pentathlon, chariot racing and horse racing, as well as artistic and literary competitions, came to an end in 393 AD, with the prohibitory edict of Theodosios I. Fifteen centuries later, in 1896, they were revived where they had been born, in Greece, by the French historian and educator Pier de Coubertin. Since then every four years a torch bearer, like the ancient heralds, starts out from Olympia bearing the sacred flame to the place where the Games are held. To overse the organization of the Games, an International Olympic Academy was founded with headquarters since 1961 in Olympia.
The Archaeological Site
The first building on the left is the Prytaneion, where ceremonies honouring the winners took place. Further south, Philippeion and next to it the Heraion, a Doric temple dedicated to Hera. Special running races, the Heraia, were held in her honour in which only virgins from Eleia could participate. Southwest of the Heraion lies the Pelopion, an altar dicated to Pelops, for whom the Peloponnese is named. Nearby is the Doric Temple of Zeus (472 BC); here stood the famous gold and ivory statue of the god, a work of Pheidias.
Outside the sacred grove of the Altis are ruins of other buildings: the Bouleuterion or Council House, where the athletes took the Olympic oath; the Leonidaion, used as a hostel for official visitors, the Pataistra (wrestling school), Gymnasion and the Baths. The Treasuries, placed at the fool of Mt. Kronos, were small edifices raised by each city to house sacrificial vessels. Next to them stands the Nymphaion, a semicircular marble tank that held Orympia's water supply. Just beyond the Treasuries lie the Stadium and the Stoa Poikile or Echo Colonnade, and near it Nero's house. Set in the shade stands the monument containing the heart of de Coubertin, the man who revived the Olympic Games.
The archaeological museum
Olympia's new museum lies in a shady grove opposite the site Here are displayed finds from the area, among them the stone head of Hera, Praxiteles' marble s of Hermes (330 BC), the Victory by Paionios (421 BC) Miltiades' helmet, the terra cotta group of Zeus carrying Ganymede, and the sculptures from the pediments metopes of the Temple of Zeus, among the most important works of Classical art.
There are also pottery, terra cotta and bronze figurines votive offerings from the sanctuary, etc.
Museum Of The Olympic Games
Very near the ancient site lies the modern villa of Olympia
. Here one of its prettiest buildings houses the Museum of the Olympic Games, the only one of its kind in the world. It contains mementos connected with the history the Games and a unique series of postage stamps, designed by Papastephanos-Provatakis commemorating the Games.
The Land, Scenery And People
Eleia is cris-crossed by roads. Each one leads to somewhere interesting; an ancient temple, a Byzantine monastery, a Frankish castle, a splendid mountain or an endless beach.
The Hills Of Eleia
From Olympia the road leads to the district of Lala and the mountains of Folois. The village of Lala
is built at an altitude of 600 metres, in a lush area filled with cherry and walnut trees. The village boundaries mark the start of the enormous oak forest of Folois, redolent with legends and traditions. Folois was the kingdom of the benevolent centaur, Folos, who gave shelter to Herakles.
At 800 metres, the settlement of Lambia
(Divri) stands out, drenched in greenery. It consists of seven neighbourhoods, each with its own name, church and fountain. A bit further on lies the village of Tripotama
. Eleia has so many delightful mountain villages. Dotting tree-filled slopes or tucked away in the heart of a forest, they seem like hamlets out of a fairy tale.
On the way to Andritsena and Basaae (Vasses), the first stop is Krestena
, a market town spread out in a pine-wooded area. On the top of the hill are the ruins of the Temple of Athena Skillountia. The road is good and as you drive along whiffs of wild herbs float
in the window. Andritsena is next, its houses jutting out from the tree-covered mountainside. Their walls are stone, their roofs tiled. A vast plane tree casts its shade over the main square. Take a stroll through the cobbled streets, everywhere you look you see latticed windows, enclosed wooden balconies and terraces lined with flowerpots.
Romantic and calm, like a medieval lady. An old school building houses Andritsena's celebrated library containing rare editions from 1500 and later. Its folk museum is well worth a visit; its churches date from the 18th and 19th century. Just a bit outside town lies the ruined 13th century monastery of Isova.
The road continues on up the mountain to Bassae
. Greenery gradually gives way to rock, massive peaks and a few scrawny shrubs.
Amidst this tangled wilderness the temple of Apollo Epikourios, is a surprising sight. Designed by Iktinos, architect of the Parthenon, It was built in 420 BC, on the foundations of an older temple, by residents of the neighbouring settlement of Figalia. It was dedicated to Apollo, in thanks for the god's delivering them from an epidemic.
This is the best preserved temple in Greece, second only to the Temple of Hephaistos (the Theseion) in Athens. From here, a dirt road wilt take you to Figalia
, a tiny mountain village, surrounded by olive and orange trees, and boasting the ruins of a temple left over from the ancient Arcadian city of the same name.
Next comes Lepreo. The ruins of Ihe Classical temple of Demeter Leprea stand above the village on a hill.
Way below it flows the Neda river, with its waterfalls or "white waters" as the locals call them. In a short while you'll find yourself in a valley, on. a. fine road leading to Zaharo
Eleia's mountains are a unique experience, a sparkling spring to quench your thirst ior nature and antiquity. Men and women with faces hewn by the north winds offer hospitality, friendship and good cheer. Here hospitality is not just a feeling, its a virtue, a tradition as old time. Eleia's Valleys
The soil is fertile here, the land blessed, the fields endless. Every corner is cultivated with vines, olive groves, corn, wheat, vegetables. Every place well tended, nothing wild. It's nice to fall asleep next to a threshing floor or on a sandy beach. Zaharo is a market town enveloped in pines and olive trees bordered by an enormous stretch of beach with white sand and sparkling water. Heading north you come to Kaiafas
, a well known spa, and the islet of Agia Ekaterini, in the middle of a small harbour.
On the eastern shore, the famous mineral waters gush from two caves formed by crevices in the rocks. The larger one is called the cave of the Anigrides, the smaller the Geranion grotto, dwelling places of nymphs since antiquity. The place is strangely beautiful, delightful, though the odour of the springs does detract somewhat. Legend maintains that the centaur Nessus washed his wound here after being struck by Herakles' poison arrow, and that is why the water smells. Kaiafas is not only sulphurous springs, however; It is also pine trees, sand and sea and a long, long shore.
It's hard indeed to draw yourself away such a sea. But to continue our tour, you pass the Alfeios and its renowned dam, and then arrive at medieval Katakolo
, in the district of ancient Pheia (Fia). In the bay of Agios Andreas
, atop a hill, are the remains of a fortress called Pontikokastro (mouse castle), built by the Villehardouins.
Next the road proceeds to the village of Skafidia
and the monastery of the same name. A Venetian tower, dating from 1686, stands inside the monastery garden. Stop and eat fresh fish at one of the trim, newly painted tavernas in the vicinity, where you can watch the sea for hours. Chairs ana tables shaded by trees or grape arbours await you. Amaliada
is the name of a new town, built in the middle of an emerald green field planted with olives and grapevines.
The monastery of Frankavilla, erected'- during, ttie-Prankish occupation, lies 2 km. away. Another monastery with echoes of the Franks is Agios Nikolaos of the Frankopidima. It took its name from the perilous leap (pidima) made by a desperate knight to escape his pursuers. North of Amaliada the road branching to the right takes you to the ruihs of Ancient Elis.
Elis was where the athletes used to train before taking part in the Olympic Games.
Excavations have brought to light a theatre, traces of the Gymnasion and two shrines to Aphrodite. Continuing on, you come to the Pinios dam, one of the largest earth dams in Europe, Returning to the main road, you pass Gastouni
. The signpost indicates Andravida
to the north and Kilini
to the west.
Andravida, headquarters of the Principality of the Morea during the Frankish occupation, was the most brilliant, richest city in the area.
Here noblemen from all over Europe used to come to try their luck at jousting tournaments. As for Kilini, it was one of the Principality of Achaia's major ports.
The city was surrounded by a massive fortification wall with bastions and turrets. Near the harbour the Byzantine convent of our Lady of Vlacherna (13th c.) with its magnificent frescoes. Kilini is connected by ferry boat with Zakynthos.
Six kilometres further north is where the Franks had their castle, the fortress of HIemoutsi (Clairmont), the most beautiful and best preserved of all the castles in the Peloponnese It was built by Geoffrey I Villehardouin in 1220. A few kilometres beyond HIerroutsi, are the hot springs of Kilini, a well known spa, developed by the GNTO, with hotels, organized camping grounds and mineral waters. The waters bubble out at a temperature of 25.5 degrees Centigrade and are recommended for asthma, rheumatic and skin diseases The buildings are spread out among pine and eucalyptus trees. A truly tranquil and pleasant spot, where the sun's iridescent rays shine benignly and where the cicadas buzz non-stop. This place is paradise for young and old, brimming with joy and health. Leaving the spa and heading south, you reach Arkoudi
– with its fine sand - and Bouka
, while towards the north lie Lehena and Manolada
, noted for their watermelons and cheeses. From Manolada the road, cutting through a thick pine forest that extends to the water's edge, comes out at Kounoupeli
, identified with ancient Yrmine, mentioned by Homer.
A rock juts out of the sea from which more mineral waters gush. Above on the promontory you can make out traces Mycenaean and Frankish remains. A little further, you can see a small tavern, where you can seat looking the sea, for hours.