This. Was. Sparta.

Yesterday I told you all a little bit about the unique Olive and Olive Oil Museum in Sparta, but that’s far from all there is to do in the area, so why don’t we go through what other awesomeness you can experience in that part of the Peloponnese. Of course, Sparta hardly needs an introduction: the ancient Spartans (or, as they were called in ancient times, Lakedaimons) have been renowned for their toughness and prowess in battle since King Menelaus decided to get all of ancient Greece roused up to get his wife Helen back from Troy. And who could ever forget the story of the 300, and the last stand of Leonidas against the gigantic invasion of Xerxes the Persian?

Like most of these legendary cities and sites, not a whole lot is left these days of old Sparta—even by ancient standards, it wasn’t all that huge; it was more of a sprawl of villages and low-key buildings than a bustling metropolis, and experts think it might have held around 30,000 people at the height of its glory—but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to do and see! Of course, there’s the fun little Olive and Olive Oil Museum, and the archaeological site of ancient Sparta is still a must-visit any way you look at it. Sparta is super famous, but because it’s smaller and not quite as well preserved as some of the more popular ancient sites around the Peloponnese, admission to the area is totally free, and you can get a lot more up close and personal with some of the ruins that you’d be able to in most cases. Like all of these places, there’s a great archaeological museum, and Sparta’s is actually the oldest in the country! And then there’s the Menelaion, the remains of a super old shrine dedicated to good old Menelaus, because you can’t say the Spartans didn’t take their own reputation seriously!

So the ruins might not be quite as spectacular as they are at, say, the Athenian Acropolis (then again, what is?), but there’s any place where you should be able to use a little imagination, it’s Sparta. One of the reasons we don’t actually know much about it is that even in the time of Herodotus, the first historian, Spartan culture and society was a kind of glamorous mystery. When we think of Sparta, we think of a rigid, disciplined and tough people who were basically bred to be super-soldiers, and that’s kind of what even the ancients thought too! Our modern English word “laconic,” which this post certainly isn’t, actually comes from the name of Sparta’s region, Laconia. Anyway, I’ll leave you with some words from another great ancient historian, Thucydides, whose astute observations you should keep in mind when you walk along those ancient grounds:

If the Spartans’ city were to become deserted, and only the temples and foundations of buildings were left, I think that the people of that time far in the future would find it difficult to believe that the Spartans‟ power had been as great as their fame implied… whereas if the same thing were to happen to Athens, from its visible remains one would assume that the city had been twice as powerful as it actually is.”