In the steps of Pausanias:
Pausanias was a Greek traveller from Asia Minor who lived in the middle of the 2nd century BC. He achieved fame for his Description of Greece, or Periegesis, a lengthy work in which he recorded his impressions of the Greece of his day. It has survived as a valuable link between classical literature and modern archaeology.
In his Description of Greece Pausanias relates his travels through the Peloponnese and part of northern Greece in ten volumes, the third of which is titled “Laconia”.
Regarding his journey through the area now comprising the municipality of Monemvasia, he refers to places and monuments of which traces can still be seen today, 1,900 years later.
He begins in Asopos, where he observed a temple of the Roman emperors, along with the ruins of the town of Cyparissia, some of which are still evident at Kokkines, on the coast just south of Plytra. On the seabed not far from the shore lie several ruins. Swimmers take note that only ordinary swimming goggles and snorkels are allowed while viewing them.
Pausanias also refers to the Asclepeion of Apollo Hyperteleatum, situated near the village of Finiki a little inland, where inscriptions have been found and a number of ruins are still to be seen of this former sanctuary of the League of Free Laconians.
Heading southeast, Pausanias then mentions a headland called Onugnathus (Jaw of an Ass). Later, this headland became separated from the mainland by a narrow channel, and now forms the island of Elafonisos.
He then goes on to refer to the city of Boeae at the head of the gulf of the same name, populated by inhabitants fleeing from the cities of Etis, Aphrodisias and Side who, when they landed on the coast, followed a hare, a symbol of the goddess Artemis. They built their new city on the site where the hare disappeared into a myrtle bush. Unfortunately no trace remains of ancient Boeae, where the town of Neapoli now stands.
The island of Kythera was also referred to by Pausanias. The ruins of its ancient port of Scandeia are still to be seen at Palaiopolis.
During his travels on Cape Maleas, Pausanias found two temples, the Nymphaeum, dedicated to Poseidon, and Epidelium, dedicated to Apollo. The latter was named after the wooden image of the god standing there which originally came from the island of Delos. It had been thrown into the sea by barbarians led by Mithridates after they had sacked the island. The image then washed up on the eastern shore of Cape Maleas. The Epidelium is believed to have been sited at Aghios Fokas, where ruins are visible close to the coastline.
Leaving Boeae, Pausanias continued north into Epidaurus Limera, traces of which are still evident around Old Monemvasia on the coast near the village of Aghios Ioannis. Experts believe a small lake south of Epidaurus Limera to be the Ino referred to by Pausanias.
The promontory known in antiquity as Minoa has been identified as that now occupied by Monemvasia. According to Pausanias, the coastline here was strewn with pebbles of more beautiful shapes and colours than any other. Wandering through the medieval fortress of Monemvasia, today’s traveller cannot but be aware of the region’s long centuries of history.
Pausanias’ travels next took him to what he described as the “most ruinous” town of Zarax, another member of the League of Free Laconians. Today’s visitors approaching the village of Gerakas from the sea will realise on entering the narrow fjord that this is the place he was referring to. Above the settlement to the left is a view that Pausanias must have seen nearly 2,000 years ago. The precise position of ancient Zarax is evident from the remains of the impressive walls still standing.
Following the coast, our 2nd century BC traveller from Asia Minor next came upon the ruins of ancient Cyphanta, some of which are still visible in beautiful Kyparissi, at Kastraki, between the settlements of Paralia and Vrysi, a short walk from the latter. Just before the settlement are caves at the foot of a cliff, the site of the Asclepium also referred to by Pausanias. Embrasures in the rock were probably used to place objects or votive offerings. From here, Pausanisas continued northwards to where the town of Leonidio now stands.
His references to sites in today’s municipality of Monemvasia bear witness to the area’s long history, inviting today’s travellers to follow in his footsteps through this unique region of Greece.