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Travel - Touring the Peloponnese

Where the culture of Ancient Greece merges with the present and casts its spell on the future Olympics



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Like most of the Mediterranean region the Peloponnese Peninsula has been stripped of its original forests. Wood gathering, logging, and hundreds of years of goat farming, have transformed the hills into a harsh barren landscape sparsely covered by second growth shrubs and olive trees that offer little protection from erosion. But the lowlands are a patchwork of lush green fields and orchards. On our way to Turyns, we drive past orange groves, pasture land, and market gardens where farmers, both men and women, are tilling the soil by hand.

At the end of the day we check into a roadside pension that serves meals on an outdoor patio under an arbor dripping with clusters of grapes. The smell of roast meat and wood smoke drifts in from a fire-pit where a whole lamb is turning on a spit driven by a small water wheel. As we settle down to our evening meal the farmers, obviously tired, are returning home from the fields. Most are walking, a few have ox-drawn carts and some have piled their tools and produce on small donkeys. Betty notes that when couples share a single donkey the woman leads it and the man rides. She is not impressed.

Before leaving the coast we spent a day in Nafplio wandering the narrow streets, admiring the Venetian and neoclassical houses in what is arguably the most beautiful town in Greece. After independence it was the first capital and for hundreds of years before that it was a strategic seaport. The setting is dominated by the massive Palamedes Fortress which clings to the rocks above the town. Its continuous curtain wall encloses seven self-contained forts making it the largest such complex in all of Greece. It's a long climb to the uppermost ramparts but the view over the rooftops of Nafplio past the fortified island of Bourtzi to the mountains beyond the harbour is truly spectacular.

No trip to the Peloponnese would be complete without a visit to the Sanctuary of Olympia which flourished as a religious and athletic centre for more than a thousand years. Little remains of the stately buildings that once graced the Sanctuary. The toppled columns of the temple of Zeus are strewn over the turf like giant stone checkers and the restored columns of the Palaestra, without walls or roof, are all that remain of what was once a huge training centre for Olympic athletes.