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HI, I'M RICK STEVES,
BACK WITH MORE OF THE BEST OF EUROPE.
THIS TIME, WE'RE IN GREECE, CLIMBING 999 STEPS
TO BRING YOU THE BEST OF THE PELOPONNESIAN PENINSULA.
THANKS FOR JOINING US.
PELOPONNESIA WAS THE HEARTLAND OF ANCIENT GREECE.
ITS WILD AND MOUNTAINOUS LANDSCAPE HAS HOSTED
THE INTERMINABLE RISE AND FALL OF CULTURES,
WHICH MAKES FOR FASCINATING SIGHTSEEING TODAY.
THE PENINSULA IS DOTTED WITH STRIKING RUINS,
FROM ANCIENT MYCENAEN DOMES
TO GOLDEN AGE TEMPLES
TO OPPOSING VENETIAN FORTRESSES.
AND WE'LL ALSO SEE STUNNING SEASIDE SCENERY,
A GREEK ORTHODOX SERVICE,
AND THE BREATHTAKING REMAINS OF A BYZANTINE CITADEL.
IN THE EXTREME SOUTH OF EUROPE IS GREECE,
AND IN THE SOUTH OF GREECE,
A SHORT DRIVE FROM ATHENS,
IS THE PELOPONNESE,
A PENINSULA BARELY HANGING FROM THE MAINLAND.
OUR TOUR INCLUDES MYCENAE, NAFPLION,
EPIDAVROS, OLYMPIA, KARDAMYLI,
THE RUGGED MANI PENINSULA, AND MONEMVASIA.
PELOPONNESIAN HISTORY IS GREECE'S HISTORY.
WARRING TRIBES, PAN-HELLENIC GAMES,
GOLDEN AGE GREEKS, ROMAN RULE,
CENTURIES OF BYZANTINE RULE.
THEN, WITH THE FALL OF CONSTANTINOPLE
TO THE OTTOMAN TURKS IN THE 15th CENTURY,
THE PELOPONNESIAN PENINSULA BECAME PART OF
THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE.
FINALLY, IN THE 19th CENTURY, AFTER 400 YEARS,
THE GREEKS THREW OUT THEIR TURKISH OVERLORDS
AND ESTABLISHED AN INDEPENDENT MODERN NATION.
GREECE, WITH A RELATIVELY SPARSE POPULATION
AND A FINE ROAD SYSTEM,
IS EASY TO COVER BY BUS OR CAR.
WE'VE RENTED A CAR IN ATHENS,
AND IN 90 MINUTES,
WE'RE CROSSING THE CORINTH CANAL.
THE CORINTH CANAL CUTS THE PELOPONNESIAN PENINSULA OFF
FROM THE REST OF GREECE.
2,000 YEARS AGO,
THE ROMAN EMPEROR NERO BROKE GROUND FOR THIS CANAL.
BUT THE FOUR-MILE-LONG DITCH WASN'T ACTUALLY DUG
UNTIL ABOUT A CENTURY AGO BY MODERN GREEKS.
OUR FIRST STOP IS ANCIENT MYCENAE,
THE OLDEST SITE YOU'RE LIKELY TO SEE
IN THIS LAND DOTTED BY SO MANY RUINS.
THE MYCENAENS, WHO DOMINATED THE GREEK WORLD
BETWEEN 1600 AND 1200 BC,
WERE THE FIRST BRONZE AGE SOCIETY
TO EMERGE ON THE EUROPEAN MAINLAND.
AS THE TORCH OF CIVILIZATION MOVED WESTWARD,
THEY PICKED IT UP FROM THE MINOANS,
AN EVEN EARLIER CIVILIZATION THAT THRIVED
ON THE GREEK ISLAND OF CRETE.
WHILE THE MINOANS ENJOYED THE LUXURY OF PEACE
ON THEIR REMOTE ISLAND, THE MYCENAENS
WERE A MILITARISTIC SOCIETY SURROUNDED BY ENEMIES.
THEIR CAPITAL WAS HEAVILY FORTIFIED
AND STOOD ON AN EASY-TO-DEFEND HILL
FLANKED BY STEEP RAVINES WITH VIEWS
ALL THE WAY TO THE SEA.
MYCENAE FLOURISHED BECAUSE IT WAS
IDEALLY SITUATED FOR TRADE
BY BOTH SEA AND LAND.
IN ITS DAY, THE MIGHTY LION GATE
WOULD HAVE BEEN AWE-INSPIRING.
STANDING STRONG HERE FOR OVER 3,000 YEARS,
IT WAS THE SYMBOL OF MYCENAEN POWER.
THESE WERE THE EARLY GREEKS HOMER WROTE OF
IN THE ILIAD AND THE ODYSSEY.
KEEP IN MIND, THESE PEOPLE LIVED
1,000 YEARS BEFORE THE RISE OF ATHENS.
THEY WERE AS ANCIENT AND MYSTERIOUS
TO SOCRATES AND PLATO
AS THOSE GOLDEN AGE GREEKS ARE TO US.
WHILE THE RUINS ARE STARK AND SCANT,
WITH A LITTLE IMAGINATION, YOU CAN ENVISION LIFE HERE.
FOR EXAMPLE, TO FETCH WATER, RESIDENTS WOULD DESCEND
INTO THIS CLEVERLY CONSTRUCTED
MINE-LIKE SHAFT AND CLIMB WAY,
WAY, WAY DOWN.
I'M 60 FEET BELOW THE SURFACE.
THIS IS THE CISTERN WHERE THE WATER WAS COLLECTED,
PIPED IN FROM A SPRING THAT WAS
500 YARDS OUTSIDE THE WALLS.
EVEN BACK THEN, YOU COULDN'T HAVE
A GOOD FORTRESS WITHOUT WATER.
MYCENAE WAS AT THE PEAK OF ITS POWER
AROUND 1300 BC, AFTER WHICH
IT AND ITS EMPIRE SEEMED TO DISAPPEAR
VIRTUALLY OVERNIGHT.
A CIRCULAR WALL OF STONES DEFINED THE CEMETERY.
MYCENAE LAY UNAPPRECIATED UNTIL THE 19th CENTURY,
WHEN A TREASURE TROVE OF GOLD
WAS UNEARTHED IN THIS NECROPOLIS.
TODAY, THOSE TREASURES ARE THE STAR ATTRACTIONS
BACK IN ATHENS AT THE NATIONAL
ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM.
THIS DISCOVERY AFFIRMED THE ARCHAEOLOGISTS' THEORY
THAT MYCENAE WAS HOMER'S FABLED CITY RICH IN GOLD,
AND THE ELABORATE DETAIL MAKES
THE SOPHISTICATION OF THE MYCENAENS CLEAR.
THESE GOLDEN CUPS ARE EXQUISITE.
THE SO-CALLED MASK OF AGAMEMNON WAS A DEATH MASK
PLACED ON THE FACE OF A DEAD KING IN HIS COFFIN.
THE MYCENAENS TOOK GOOD CARE OF THEIR DEAD --
AT LEAST THEIR IMPORTANT DEAD.
THIS PASSAGEWAY LEADS TO AN UNDERGROUND ROYAL TOMB.
THE CORBELLED STONE WORK WAS AN ENGINEERING FEAT.
DESIGNED LIKE A STONE IGLOO, THIS THOLOS TOMB
WAS THE BIGGEST DOME OF ITS DAY.
THIS REMARKABLE STRUCTURE REMAINED
THE KING OF DOMES UNTIL THE ROMANS BUILT
THEIR PANTHEON ABOUT 1,400 YEARS LATER.
ONE WAY TO JUDGE A SOCIETY'S ARCHITECTURAL FINESSE
IS BY THE DISTANCE IT CAN SPAN WITH NO INTERNAL SUPPORTS.
BY TODAY'S STANDARDS, THIS STRUCTURE'S NOT MUCH,
BUT BACK THEN, IT WAS A WONDER.
NEARBY ON THE COAST,
THE CITY OF NAFPLION IS THE PERFECT BASE
FOR EXPLORING THE NORTHEAST CORNER
OF THE PELOPONNESIAN PENINSULA.
NAFPLION IS A STRIKING REMINDER
THAT THIS PART OF GREECE WAS, FOR CENTURIES,
AN OUTPOST OF VENICE.
THE ISLAND IN THE HARBOR WAS THE FIRST LINE OF LOCAL DEFENSE.
THE SECOND LINE WAS THE PALAMIDI FORTRESS
CAPPING THE HILLTOP HIGH ABOVE.
CLIMB 999 STEPS ABOVE NAFPLION AND YOU REACH
THIS EARLY-18th CENTURY FORTRESS.
YOUR REWARD, ALONG WITH A GREAT VIEW,
IS A CHANCE TO APPRECIATE THE FAR-REACHING POWER
OF THE VENETIAN EMPIRE IN ITS DAY.
THE PALAMIDI FORTRESS, REGARDED AS THE BEST EXAMPLE
OF VENETIAN MILITARY ARCHITECTURE,
SAW PLENTY OF ACTION.
IT FELL TO THE OTTOMANS IN 1715, PLAYED A ROLE
IN THE GREEK WAR OF INDEPENDENCE IN THE 1820s,
AND WAS OCCUPIED BY THE NAZIS DURING WORLD WAR II.
NAFPLION IS ONE OF GREECE'S PRETTIEST TOWNS.
ITS NARROW STREETS ARE LINED BY ELEGANT VENETIAN HOUSES
AND GRACEFUL NEOCLASSICAL MANSIONS.
LIKE THE BIG SQUARE IN ATHENS,
NAFPLION'S MAIN SQUARE IS CALLED SYNTAGMA
OR CONSTITUTION SQUARE.
A CONSTITUTION WAS THE DREAM OF MANY IN THE 1820s
AS THE GREEKS WERE CREATING THEIR NEWLY INDEPENDENT NATION.
AS THIS TOWN WAS ONE OF THE FIRST LIBERATED FROM
THE OTTOMAN TURKS IN 1822, NAFPLION BECAME
THE NEW COUNTRY'S FIRST CAPITAL CITY.
THIS SQUARE IS A DELIGHTFUL MIX OF ARCHITECTURE
REVEALING THE MANY LAYERS OF LOCAL HISTORY.
THE OLD VENETIAN ARSENAL STILL SPORTS
THE SYMBOL OF VENICE -- THE WINGED LION OF ST. MARK.
THE DOMED MOSQUES ARE A REMINDER
OF CENTURIES OF MUSLIM OTTOMAN RULE.
THIS MOSQUE WAS CONVERTED TO HOUSE
INDEPENDENT GREECE'S FIRST PARLIAMENT.
AT THE TOP OF THE TOWN, OUR HOTEL'S
STONY COURTYARD FITS RIGHT IN.
THE BREAKFAST ROOM COMES WITH FRIENDLY SERVICE
AND A COMMANDING VIEW.
AND THE BEDROOMS ARE A TASTEFUL MIX
OF STONE AND WOOD.
THE HARBOR FRONT PROMENADE FEATURES
INVITING BARS AND COUCH-FILLED CAFES
WHICH ATTRACT A RELAXED CROWD.
THE SOFAS ENCOURAGE LOCALS AND VISITORS ALIKE
TO STAY A WHILE, AND,
IF YOU STAY LONG ENOUGH, NEARBY TAVERNAS,
AS RUSTIC RESTAURANTS ARE CALLED HERE,
SERVE THE FISH DISH OF YOUR DREAMS.
AN HOUR'S DRIVE EAST
IS THE SANCTUARY AT EPIDAVROS
WITH THE BEST-PRESERVED THEATER IN THE ANCIENT WORLD
SURROUNDED BY THE SCANT REMAINS OF ITS CITY.
IN 400 BC, EPIDAVROS, WITH A SPRAWLING COMPLEX
OF HOSPITALS AND SICK WARDS,
WAS THE MOST FAMOUS HEALING CENTER
IN THE GREEK WORLD.
IT WAS A PLACE OF MIRACULOUS CURES
AND COMFORTABLE BENCHES WHERE THE SICK CAME
TO BE TREATED BY DOCTOR PRIESTS DOING THE WORK
OF ASCLEPIOS, THE GREEK GOD OF MEDICINE.
THE HIGHLIGHT OF EPIDAVROS IS ITS FINE THEATER,
WHICH PROVIDED ENTERTAINMENT FOR THOSE WHO MADE
THE PILGRIMAGE HERE FROM ALL OVER GREECE.
IT CONTINUED TO OPERATE UNTIL 426 AD,
WHEN EMPEROR THEODOSIUS II, WHO WAS A CHRISTIAN,
CLOSED IT DOWN ALONG WITH ALL OTHER PAGAN SANCTUARIES.
GIVEN ITS SIZE, OVER 12,000 SEATS,
AND OBVIOUS LACK OF MODERN AMPLIFICATION,
THE ACOUSTICS NEEDED TO BE PERFECT,
AND THEY STILL ARE.
FRIENDS, GREEKS, WAYFARERS.
IN THESE TIMES OF DISCORD,
FEAR IS RAMPANT IN OUR SOCIETY.
I CONTEND THAT THE FLIP SIDE OF FEAR
IS UNDERSTANDING, AND THOSE WHO TRAVEL
WILL REAP GREAT UNDERSTANDING BY MEETING PEOPLE
WHO FIND OTHER TRUTHS TO BE SELF-EVIDENT
AND GOD-GIVEN.
[ CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ]
THE RUGGED, SPARSELY POPULATED TERRAIN
OF THE PELOPONNESE EVOKES ANCIENT TIMES
WHEN GREEKS CONSIDERED THIS
A MYSTERIOUS AND FRIGHTENING LAND --
A MYTHIC WORLD OF TERRIFYING CREATURES.
NO WONDER IT WAS HERE THAT HERCULES WAS SENT
TO PERFORM MOST OF HIS DAUNTING LABORS.
ANCIENT ATHLETES WERE TESTED HERE, AS WELL.
THE SANCTUARY OF OLYMPIA
WAS THE BIRTHPLACE OF THE OLYMPIC GAMES.
DESPITE THE TOURIST CROWDS, IT REMAINS
AN EVOCATIVE PLACE NESTLED AMONG SHADY TREES.
WANDERING ITS EXTENSIVE RUINS, ITS CLEAR
OLYMPIA WAS MUCH MORE THAN A STADIUM.
YES, ZEUS.
LOCAL TOUR GUIDE NIKI VLACHOU HELPS EXPLAIN.
SO, IT'S CALLED THE SANCTUARY OF OLYMPIA.
YES, BUT IT WAS PRIMARILY A RELIGIOUS PLACE
DEDICATED TO ZEUS AND THE REST OF THE GODS
WITH TEMPLES ALL OVER, AND IT WAS ONLY
OPEN TO PEOPLE DURING THE GAMES...
OKAY.
FOR OVER 1,000 YEARS.
Steves: THE TEMPLE OF ZEUS WAS MAGNIFICENT
IN THE 5th CENTURY BC, AND REMINDS US THAT
THE GAMES WERE HELD IN HONOR OF THE SUPREME DEITY
OF THE GREEK PANTHEON, OR WORLD OF GODS.
INSIDE THIS TEMPLE WAS THAT AMAZING STATUE OF ZEUS
WHICH WAS CONSIDERED TO BE ONE OF
THE SEVEN WONDERS OF THE ANCIENT WORLD.
GOLD AND IVORY TOWERING IN THE TEMPLE
THAT MADE THE GREEKS LOSE THEIR MINDS
BY SEEING ZEUS ALIVE IN FRONT OF THEM.
THIS WAS ONE OF THEIR CHANCES TO MEET
THE GOD IN PERSON, AS THEY THOUGHT.
Steves: SIX CENTURIES AFTER CHRIST,
EARTHQUAKES SENT ITS COLUMNS TUMBLING.
TODAY, THEY LIE HERE,
AS IF TO ILLUSTRATE HOW GREEK COLUMNS
WERE STACKS OF FLUTED LIMESTONE DRUMS
HELD TOGETHER WITH SQUARE PEGS.
THE POPULARITY OF THE GAMES GREW RAPIDLY,
ATTRACTING ATHLETES FROM THROUGHOUT THE GREEK WORLD
TO COMPETE IN AN EVER-INCREASING NUMBER OF EVENTS.
THERE WAS JAVELIN, DISCUS, BOXING.
THERE WAS A SPRINT OF ONE STADIUM LENGTH,
THE TWO-STADIUM SPRINT, EVEN TWO-STADIUM SPRINT
NAKED WITH ALL YOUR ARMOR.
THE LAST OF THE ANCIENT GAMES WERE HELD IN 393 AD,
NOT TO BE STARTED AGAIN FOR 1,500 YEARS.
SO, WHY THE GAMES?
Vlachou: TO UNIFY THE GREEKS, TO STRENGTHEN THE GREEK CULTURE,
AND TO ALSO TEACH ALL THESE YOUNG BOYS
THE MILITARY SKILLS THEY NEEDED.
PLUS, THEY HAD ALL THESE CLASSROOMS HERE
TO TEACH THEM THE GREEK PHILOSOPHY.
SO THE OLYMPIC GAMES ACTUALLY MADE
THE GREEK CULTURE STRONGER.
THE IDEA WAS THAT IF THE GREEKS ARE TO FIGHT,
THEY BETTER FIGHT IN THE STADIUM
AND BE UNITED AGAINST THE REST OF THE WORLD.
IT'S BRILLIANT, AND THIS WORKED FOR 1,200 YEARS.
YES.
Steves: THE MOST VIVID REMNANT OF THE GAMES IS THIS --
THE ORIGINAL OLYMPIC STADIUM.
VISITORS JUST CAN'T RESIST THE CHANCE TO LINE UP
ON THE MARBLE STARTING BLOCKS AND IMAGINE ATHLETES
FROM AROUND THE GREEK WORLD DOING THE SAME THING
AT THOSE FIRST GAMES BACK IN 776 BC.
WHILE MOST VISITORS GET TO THE FOUR PELOPONNESIAN SITES
WE'VE SEEN SO FAR, A THREE-HOUR DRIVE
GETS US OFF THE BEATEN PATH AND TO THE SOUTH COAST.
THIS IS WHERE THE RUGGED CHARM OF THIS
REMOTE CORNER OF GREECE IS MOST APPARENT.
THE TOWN KARDAMYLI, GATEWAY TO THE MANI PENINSULA,
IS ONE THE OLDEST NAMES IN THE ANNALS OF GREEK HISTORY,
EVEN MENTIONED IN HOMER'S ILIAD.
THIS UNASSUMING LITTLE SEASIDE GETAWAY
IS A FINE SPOT TO RELAX AND SETTLE INTO
THE PACE OF GREEK COUNTRY LIFE.
THE REMAINS OF THE TINY FORTIFIED OLD TOWN
ARE A REMINDER THAT KARDAMYLI WAS DESERTED IN THE MIDDLE AGES
WHEN PIRATES FORCED THE INHABITANTS
TO RETREAT UP INTO THE HILLS.
MOST REMAINED THERE UNTIL THE 18th CENTURY
WHEN TOWER HOUSES LIKE THESE ALLOWED A SAFE RETURN.
YIANNIS DEMETRIOS RUNS A DELIGHTFUL LITTLE SHOP
THAT SHOWCASES THE ORGANIC RICHES
OF THIS CORNER OF GREECE.
YOU KNOW, THIS ROOM, TO ME,
IS JUST A CELEBRATION OF EVERYTHING YOU CAN FIND
IN THE HILLS HERE IN THE PELOPONNESE.
WELL, THAT'S HOW WE FEEL ABOUT IT, ACTUALLY,
AND THAT'S WHY WE'RE RUNNING THIS LITTLE STORE.
SO YOU FIND EVERYTHING HERE, ESSENTIALLY, UP IN THE HILLS.
UP IN THE HILLS NEXT DOOR.
WELL, SHOULD I SHOW YOU WHAT I PICKED NOW, RICK?
WELL, THIS IS IT.
THIS IS CHAMOMILE, OR CAMOMILE.
THIS IS A BEAUTIFUL CAMOMILE
AS YOU CAN SEE, WHITE AND YELLOW FLOWER.
IT IS THE FLOWER THAT WE ARE AFTER.
ALL THE GOOD STUFF IS IN THE FLOWER, RIGHT?
THE GOOD STUFF INSIDE THE FLOWER
THAT MAKE YOU REST, SLEEP EASILY AT NIGHT,
CALM DOWN YOUR STOMACH, IF YOU GOT A COLD,
SOOTHES DOWN YOUR SORE THROAT AND EVERYTHING.
DOCTORS RECOMMEND IT.
THIS IS LIKE A PHARMACY.
YOU'VE GOT IT.
LET ME SHOW YOU THE OLIVES NOW.
WE HAVE MANY DIFFERENT TYPES OF OLIVES,
BUT WHAT IT IS ABOUT OLIVES IS THE WAY WE MAKE THEM.
YOU DON'T GO OFF THE TREE,
OF COURSE, AND PICK THEM
LIKE YOU PICK ANY OTHER FRUIT AND YOU EAT IT.
THEY HAVE TO BE PICKED AND THEN GO THROUGH
A PROCESS OF BEING MARINATED, CLEANED UP, WASHED,
AND AFTER A CERTAIN TIME, THEY'LL BE READY.
THEY WILL BE READY TO EAT.
WHAT DO WE HAVE HERE?
THESE ARE THE KALAMATA OLIVES.
KALAMATA.
THERE'S THE TOWN, KALAMATA --
THAT'S THE NAME OF THE OLIVES.
YOU KNOW, THIS IS MADE VERY SIMPLY.
THIS IS MADE WITH SEA SALT,
WINE VINEGAR, AND OLIVE OIL.
AS SIMPLE AS THAT.
NOW, WHAT'S IN THIS ONE?
WELL, THIS IS KALAMATA AND GREEN ONES MIXED TOGETHER
AND MARINATED WITH MORE HERBS.
SEA SALT, WINE VINEGAR,
SIX HERBS, OLIVE OIL, AND GARLIC.
I HAVE TO TRY ONE.
OF COURSE. IT'S MY PLEASURE.
THIS IS THE HERB VERSION.
THESE ARE THE SAME KIND OF OLIVES
AS THESE AND THESE BUT WITH MORE HERBS.
WITH MORE HERBS.
THAT'S GOOD.
AND ALL OF THOSE HERBS WERE FOUND IN THE HILLS.
ON THE HILLSIDES.
BY YOU?
BY ME.
REALLY?
ABSOLUTELY.
YOU MUST FEEL VERY PERSONAL ABOUT THESE OLIVES.
I... I'M IN --
I'M ALMOST IN LOVE WITH IT.
I LOVE DOING IT.
Steves: THE CHARM OF KARDAMYLI IS ITS LOW-KEY ATMOSPHERE,
ESPECIALLY LUNCH OR DINNERTIME OVERLOOKING THE COAST.
WE'RE HERE BEFORE THE TOURIST SEASON HITS,
AND IT'S MOSTLY LOCALS ENJOYING THE SCENE.
IT'S SUNDAY AND TWO GOATS ARE ROASTING ON THE SPIT
AS WE SETTLE IN FOR A TASTE OF THE LOCAL CUISINE.
STARTING WITH OUZO, THE GREEK
ANISE-BASED APERITIF.
THEN A FRESH GREEK SALAD,
STUFFED PEPPERS, AND TZATZIKI,
THE YOGURT DIP THAT ACCOMPANIES MOST MEALS.
AND WHEN GOAT'S ON THE SPIT, WHY CHOOSE ANYTHING ELSE?
KARDAMYLI IS A GOOD SPRINGBOARD
FOR EXPLORING THE MANI PENINSULA.
THIS SOUTHEASTERN TIP OF THE EUROPEAN MAINLAND
FEELS AS WILD AS ITS HISTORY.
IN THE 17th AND 18th CENTURIES,
THIS GODFORSAKEN CORNER OF GREECE
WAS KNOWN TO TRAVELERS AS "THE LAND OF EVIL COUNSEL."
THAT'S BECAUSE OF ITS REPUTATION FOR ROBBERY AND PIRACY,
A MORE RELIABLE WAY TO SURVIVE HERE
THAN TRYING TO EKE OUT AN HONEST LIVING
BY FARMING THIS BARREN LAND.
THE TOWN OF VATHIA IS ONE OF THE REGION'S
CHARACTERISTIC TOWER SETTLEMENTS.
THE BEST-PRESERVED OF ALL THE MANI VILLAGES,
ITS DESERTED, FORTIFIED HOUSES
ARE A POIGNANT REMINDER THAT THESE HARSH CONDITIONS
FORCED THE POPULATION TO SEEK PROTECTION IN CLANS.
IN ITS DAY, THE POPULATION WAS SWOLLEN
BY AN INFLUX OF REFUGEES FLEEING WHATEVER CRISIS
WAS GRIPPING GREECE FURTHER TO THE NORTH.
LOOKING AROUND AT THE STARK LANDSCAPE
OF THE MANI PENINSULA,
WHICH BARELY SUPPORTS 5,000 PEOPLE TODAY,
IT'S HARD TO BELIEVE THAT 200 YEARS AGO,
IT SUSTAINED A POPULATION OF ALMOST 60,000.
JUST UP THE COAST, WEDGED IN A RAVINE,
THE VILLAGE OF KASTANIA IS MORE INVITING,
AND OFFERS A RARE OPPORTUNITY
TO EXPLORE A TRADITIONAL MANI VILLAGE.
WHILE IT FEELS PRETTY SLEEPY TODAY,
KASTANIA WAS ONCE A LOCAL POWERHOUSE.
DURING THE 19th CENTURY GREEK WAR OF INDEPENDENCE,
IT BOASTED NO LESS THAN 400 "GUNS,"
AS MANI PEOPLE CALLED THEIR MENFOLK.
THEY WERE GATHERED UNDER A WARLORD
WHOSE IMPOSING FAMILY TOWER
STILL STANDS OVER THE TOWN SQUARE.
ALONG WITH MANY GUNS, THE TOWN HAD MANY CHURCHES.
THE TINY CHURCH OF ST. PETER,
THOUGHT TO HAVE BEEN BUILT DURING THE 12th CENTURY,
IS A FINE EXAMPLE OF BYZANTINE
CHURCH ARCHITECTURE OF THE TIME.
THE INSIDE IS RICHLY ADORNED WITH FRESCOES
THAT HAVE TOLD BIBLE STORIES
TO THIS COMMUNITY FOR CENTURIES.
WHILE IT FEELS UNKEPT AND RAMSHACKLE
AND A DESTRUCTIVE MOLD HAS HASTENED
THE AGING OF ITS PRECIOUS ART,
THE SPIRITUAL WONDER OF THE PLACE REMAINS INTACT.
ITS AMAZING TO THINK THAT IN OUR AGE
THERE ARE STILL REMOTE CORNERS WHERE
CENTURIES-OLD ART IS TUCKED AWAY
WHERE VIRTUALLY NO TOURIST GOES...
AND WHERE THE CURIOUS TRAVELER CAN BE ALONE WITH
A FRAGILE YET SURVIVING BIT OF A BYGONE AGE.
NEGLECTED AS THIS CHAPEL SEEMS, WHEN A LOCAL DROPS BY
TO LIGHT A CANDLE AND SAY A PRAYER,
YOU REALIZE THIS IS STILL VERY MUCH
A LIVING PLACE OF WORSHIP.
[ BELLS RINGING ]
BACK DOWN ON THE TOWN SQUARE,
THE LOCAL PRIEST CALLS HIS FLOCK TO WORSHIP.
[ CHANTING ]
WHETHER 30 OR JUST THREE SHOW UP,
HE PERFORMS THE SERVICE WITH THE SAME ENTHUSIASM.
LIKE PEOPLE IN RUSSIA, SERBIA,
AND SOME OTHER BALKAN COUNTRIES,
MOST GREEK CHRISTIANS ARE EASTERN ORTHODOX.
ORTHODOX CHURCHES FOLLOW THE EARLIEST TRADITIONS
OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
FROM A TIME BEFORE REFORMS CREATED
TODAY'S ROMAN CATHOLIC AND PROTESTANT TRADITIONS.
THE ICONOSTASIS, THE ICON-COVERED SCREEN
IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM, SEPARATES THE MATERIAL WORLD,
WHERE THE WORSHIPPERS STAND, FROM THE HEAVENLY ONE.
[ SPEAKING KOINE GREEK ]
ORTHODOX PRIESTS DO THE RELIGIOUS HEAVY LIFTING
BEHIND THIS SCREEN WHERE THE BIBLE'S KEPT.
ORTHODOX ICONS, STYLIZED PAINTINGS OF SAINTS,
ARE PACKED WITH INTRICATE SYMBOLISM.
CAST AGAINST A GOLD OR A SILVER BACKGROUND,
THEY'RE MEANT TO REMIND VIEWERS
OF THE SPIRITUAL NATURE OF JESUS AND THE SAINTS,
RATHER THAN THEIR PHYSICAL FORM.
TRADITIONAL ORTHODOX WORSHIPPERS
STAND THROUGH THE SERVICE AS A SIGN OF RESPECT.
ORTHODOX WORSHIP GENERALLY INVOLVES CHANTING,
AND THE CHURCH IS FILLED WITH THE EVOCATIVE AROMA
OF INCENSE.
THROUGH THESE THE ELEMENTS, THE MASS ATTEMPTS TO CREATE
AN ACTUAL RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE, TO HELP THE WORSHIPPER
TRANSCEND THE PHYSICAL WORLD AND ENTER INTO COMMUNION
WITH THE SPIRITUAL ONE.
A SHORT DRIVE EASTWARD THROUGH THE MOUNTAINS
TAKES US TO THE MAGNIFICENT
ISLAND FORTRESS OF MONEMVASIA.
OFTEN REFERRED TO AS "THE GIBRALTAR OF GREECE,"
THIS IS A VIRTUAL SHOWCASE OF BYZANTINE, OTTOMAN,
AND VENETIAN HISTORY, DATING BACK TO THE 13th CENTURY.
ITS HISTORIC CAUSEWAY IS STILL THE ONLY WAY
ON OR OFF THIS BURLY CHUNK OF LAND.
THE TOWN'S FORTIFIED GATE OPENS ONTO MONEMVASIA'S
NARROW COBBLED MAIN STREET,
WHICH MEANDERS UPHILL PAST AN ASSORTMENT
OF TOURIST SHOPS AND CAFES
WITH TERRACES OVERLOOKING THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA.
IN THE 14th CENTURY, THE FORTRESS OF MONEMVASIA
WAS ALSO A PROSPEROUS TRADING CENTER.
IN ITS DAY, IT WAS ONE OF THE GREAT
COMMERCIAL CENTERS OF THE BYZANTINE WORLD,
WITH A POPULATION OF ABOUT 40,000.
A KEY STRATEGIC HOLDING, IT WAS OCCUPIED
BACK-AND-FORTH BETWEEN THE VENETIANS
AND THE TURKS UNTIL MODERN TIMES.
MONEMVASIA THEN SLIPPED INTO A DECLINE
THAT LASTED UNTIL TOURISTS
REDISCOVERED THE PLACE IN THE 1970s.
MANY OF THE TOWN'S HOUSES HAVE BEEN RESTORED
AND ARE USED AS WEEKEND RETREATS BY WEALTHY ATHENIANS.
A STEEP ZIG-ZAG PATH LEADS UP AND UP
OUT OF THE LOWER TOWN.
PASSING THROUGH THE OLD TOWN GATE,
YOU ENTER THE FORTIFIED UPPER TOWN.
ITS RUINS SPRAWL ACROSS THE BROAD SUMMIT OF THE ROCK.
IN ITS DAY, MONEMVASIA WAS CONSIDERED
THE MIGHTIEST FORTRESS
IN BYZANTINE GREECE.
NOT SURPRISINGLY, IT WAS NEVER TAKEN IN BATTLE,
BUT IT WAS SUSCEPTIBLE TO SIEGE.
ITS GREATEST WEAKNESS WAS ITS RELIANCE
ON THE MAINLAND FOR FOOD AND WATER.
THE FORTRESS' ONLY SURVIVING BUILDING
IS THE 13th CENTURY BYZANTINE CHURCH OF ST. SOPHIA,
HANGING PRECARIOUSLY TO THE EDGE OF A SHEER CLIFF,
IT STRIKES ME AS A METAPHOR
FOR THE RESILIENCE OF TRADITIONAL CULTURE
IN OUR MODERN WORLD.
A MULTIFACETED HISTORY, WELCOMING PEOPLE,
DELICIOUS FOOD, AND DRAMATIC VISTAS.
THE PELOPONNESIAN PENINSULA HAS IT ALL.
THANKS FOR JOINING US.
I'M RICK STEVES. UNTIL NEXT TIME, KEEP ON TRAVELIN'
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Greece's Peloponnese

3242 Folder Collection
Grace Chen published on August 1, 2015
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