Greece is widely made up of islands, both large and small. One piece of Greece was almost an island, except for a narrow strip of land that connects it to the rest of the mainland. That piece is the Peloponnese and it connects to Attica and the rest of Greece by way of the Isthmus of Corinthos. If it were not for this narrow land bridge, Peloponnesos would become the largest island in Greece. Although it’s history is incredibly rich and central to Greek history, this part of the country is still relatively free of mass tourism. It remains deeply traditional and holds onto the calm old-school ways of living everyday life.
Peloponnesos is diverse in its ecosystems and terrain, as well as the cultures and tribes that resided there. In the northern part where the modern city of Patras is located, steep mountains lay as the backdrop. The mountain range stretches to the south and forms almost a dividing line or spine down the center of Peloponnesos.
Corinthos canal. (Photo by Stamatina Mylonas)
The peninsula has a unique shape when seen on a map. Many people say it resembles a hand with a few fingers, because of the four peninsulas that point out from the south. Each peninsula feels like it’s own small country because of how diverse and one-of-a-kind the customs are. From east to west the mountains begin to fade and by the time you reach the west coast you are surrounded by endless olive groves, a delicacy that makes this part of the Peloponnese famous around the world.
It is incredible to imagine all of the legendary people and places that once stood on this piece of land. Intertwined with Greek mythology and history, the Peloponnese is the heart of Greece. Even today, Hollywood movies pay homage to the true events that transpired and heroes who lived there: The 300 Spartan soldiers that refused to give up their home to a brutal invaders army of thousands. The Olympic Games that continue to unite the whole world over 2000 years after the first event. The Trojan War was triggered in Sparta. It’s difficult to choose one story or historic point because they are all so important and special.
Impressive drone photo from Pylos. Photo by Stelios Bounas
The events of Greek history have shaped our current world, but even more magnetic are the myths and surreal stories that are set in Peloponnesos. Evidence of Ancient Greek’s belief in the Olympian gods is scattered throughout the land in the form of marble temples and alters. But alongside the gods were also mortal heroes who became immortalized with their legacies. The powerful story of the Odyssey written by Homer has many connections and plots based in Peloponnesos. The main character of the story Odysseus, had been missing for many years and his son Telemachus continued his enduring search for his father in Pylos, Peloponnesos. Another famous son was Hercules, son of the king of the gods Zeus. Hercules’ mother Alcmene was a princess of the city Mycenae in the most eastern peninsula in the southern Peloponnese. Hera, the wife of Zeus and queen of the Gods was of course distraught by her husbands infidelity and as punishment, laid a curse upon Hercules. The young almost-god went mad and killed his mortal adoptive family out of Hera’s dark magic. To make amends for his sin, he was tasked with the 12 Labors, nearly impossible feats usually involving monsters. Half of the Labors took place around Peloponnesos, which made Hercules a local hero.
But next to these famous stories are others that remain obscure and are the almost forgotten myths of Peloponnesos. The ancient peloponnesians and Greeks in general feared that which was different or strange to them and many myths reflect this. They customarily tried to exploit or eliminate monsters on Earth in order to achieve a perfect universe. One such myth is that of the Centauromachy, a battle against the centaurs, beings with horses’ legs and human upper bodies.
In Peloponnesos, the centaurs lived in the area of Arcadia and then fled to the Mani peninsula after a devastating battle with Hercules. The god Poseidon eventually came to their rescue.
There was also the Amazonomachy, which were battles between Greeks and the Amazons. It was so impactful to the ancient Greeks that this story and others appeared on temple frescos throughout Peloponnesos, but also the Parthenon in Athens. The story of Amazonomachy begins with Theseus, the leader of the Athenians and Queen Penthesilea of the Amazons. The Amazons were mythically a tribe of women warriors occasionally forced into battles with city states like Athens. The Amazons were only protecting their tribe when they retaliated for the abduction of their queen, Hippyolita, by Theseus. The significance of these battles was the rise of feminism in Ancient Greece. Queen Penthesilea was quoted saying, “not in strength are we inferior to men; the same our eyes, our limbs the same; one common light we see, one air we breathe; nor different is the food we eat. What then denied to us hath heaven on man bestowed?”
These ancient myths both remembered and forgotten are a glimpse into what culture and life was like in Peloponnesos. It seems that these people highly valued the image and potential of human beings. They worshiped mortal figures like Hercules but challenged other life forms like the centaurs. Myths and historical accounts maintain a balance of powerful human and supernatural events. Peloponnesos was home to the greatest warriors of Greece, the Spartans, and it was also the location of divine interventions and interactions with the gods. Like the area of Corinthos, which serves as the bridge to Attica and is believed to have been settled by a messenger of the sun god Helios. What is stranger, myth or historical accounts? Both the mythical battles against other creatures and the actual life-defining battles make Peloponnesos a vital part of the Hellenic legacy. More myths and stories remain unknown and are waiting to be discovered in the grandness and hidden corners of Peloponnesos.