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Greece: From Macedonia to the Peloponnese

Day 1 - Arrive Thessaloniki
We will arrive in Thessaloniki in the mid-afternoon and transfer to our hotel for a short rest. The hotel is located near the waterfront, so later in the afternoon those who wish can enjoy a stroll along the waterfront promenade to Thessaloniki’s landmark White Tower. This is the single remaining tower from the city’s massive Byzantine fortifications.
Day 2 - Excursion to Pella and Tour of Thessaloniki
Ancient Macedonia, most of which is included within the borders of modern Greece, had its “moment in history” during the fourth century B.C.—that is, during the time of Philip II and his son Alexander the Great. This morning we visit Pella, their capital city, enjoy lunch in a local restaurant, and return to Thessaloniki in time for an afternoon tour of the city itself. Thessaloniki, named after Alexander’s half-sister, replaced Pella as Macedonia’s leading city during the fourth century A.D. when the Roman emperor Galerius (305-311) chose it as his residency. In addition to Galerius’ extensive building projects, he presided over the last of the Christian persecutions. The most famous martyr of this persecution was Dimitrios, Bishop of Thessaloniki; and it is interesting to observe that, while few remnants of Galerian’s buildings survive, the city is well known for its historic churches, especially the Church of Saint Dimitrios. Thessaloniki fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1430, and soon after became a haven for Jews fleeing from Spain. The “Young Turk” movement had its beginnings in Thessaloniki. So there is much of historical interest to see in this city.
Day 3 - Vergina and Dion
Today we visit Philip’s fabulously furnished tumulus grave at Vergina, one of the amazing archaeological discoveries of modern times. Excavated during the 1950s, the tumulus has been converted to a museum so that one can view the grave finds with the grave itself. After a break for lunch on our own at Vergina, we continue on to Dion for a visit to its archaeological site. It was from Dion that Alexander set out with his army to conquer the Persian Empire. From Dion, we drive to Litochoro for the night.
Day 4 - Mount Olympus
Litohoro is situated on the slopes of Mount Olympus, the abode of the gods, and serves as a base camp for a hiking trail up the mountain. From Litohoro we will take a short walk to the picturesque Enipeas gorge, and then drive higher up the mountain to Prionia, the first “refuge” on the hiking trail and the highest point the bus can reach. Along the way we will stop at the Dionisios monastery, burned by the Germans in 1943 for allegedly harboring guerrillas. After lunch at Prionia, we will descend Mount Olympus and drive to Kalambaka for overnight.
Day 5 - Meteroi and Thermopylae
Kalambaka is but a short distance from Meteroi, renowned for its monasteries and exotic scenery. We will spend the morning enjoying the scenery, visit one of the monasteries, and then have lunch before continuing on our way. The afternoon drive will take us to Delphi via Thermopylae. It was here in Thermopylae (480 B.C.) that a small contingent of Spartans commanded by Leonides fought to the death of the last man defending the pass against Xerses’ vast Persian army. Death was certain from the beginning, but the Spartans managed to hold back the Persians long enough for the main Greek army to retreat to a better position. Eventually the Persians overran all of Greece except the Peloponnese and burned Athens. But when all seemed lost, the small Greek navy commanded by Themistocles defeated the Persian fleet in the bay of Salamis. Themistocles had been among the Greeks who managed to retreat from Thermopylae. Overnight in Delphi.
Day 6 - Delphi
Delphi was one of the two most important cultic centers in ancient Greece. (The other was Olympia, which we will visit later on in the trip.) People journeyed to Delphi from all over the ancient world to participate in religious ceremonies and to consult its oracle before making important decisions. It was to the Delphic oracle, for example, that King Croesus of Sardis sent messengers to request guidance from the gods about whether he should attack Cyrus the Great. The oracle’s response was ambivalent—“If you attack Cyrus a great empire will fall” —and Croesus misinterpreted it. He did attack, and his own empire fell. Even if Delphi were not so crucial for understanding the mythology, religion, history and literature of ancient Greece, the beauty of the place would demand that we pause and contemplate. So we have scheduled two nights at Delphi, which will give us a full day there. We will tour the site as a group in the morning and leave the afternoon free for individual walks among the beautiful ruins and natural setting. Second night in Delphi.
Day 7 - Olympus
Today we cross by ferry to the Peloponnese (using the Rio-Antirion crossing) and drive south to Olympia. Every fourth year, for more than a thousand years, Olympia hosted the famous Olympic Games as part of its religious ceremonies. It is unknown when this practice began—possibly during the eleventh century B.C.—but we do know when these games were ended. Theodosius, the Roman/Byzantine emperor recently converted to Christianity, decreed their end in A.D. 393 as part of an attempted purge of all things pagan. After visiting the site and its museum, we will have a late lunch and continue on to Pylos for the overnight.
Day 8 - Nestor’s Palace and Methoni
Pylos overlooks Navarino Bay, the scene of several historic sea battles. Thucydides describes such a battle between the Athenians and Spartans during the Peloponnesian Wars. In 1827 a combined British, French and Russian fleet defeated a much larger Egyptian fleet commanded by Ibrahim Pasha, and thereby assured eventual victory for the Greek revolution. Our main interest will be Nestor’s Palace about 10 miles north of Pylos, and the castle of Methoni a little further distance south of Pylos. So-called Nestor’s Palace is an excavated ruin that takes us back to the Late Bronze Age, the world of the Iliad and Odyssey . It is not quite as large or as well known as Mycenae, which we will visit later on during the trip. But it was excavated more carefully, and produced (in 1939) an extremely important archive of tablets in “Linear B” script. Methoni is an imposing and picturesque Venetian castle that takes us forward in time to the Crusades. Second night in Pylos.
Day 9 - Mystra and Sparta
Today we drive through the southwestern Peloponnese to Sparta. Simply being there, considering the intentionally harsh lifestyle of the ancient Spartans, and contemplating their unique perspectives on war, is stimulation enough for one day. But the highlight for the day is Mystra, located a few miles west of Sparta. Mystra offers an unusually well-preserved layout of a medieval (Byzantine) city in another dramatic natural setting. Tonight in Sparta.
Day 10 - Monemvasia
Departing Sparta and continuing across the southern Peloponnese, we reach Monemvasia by lunchtime. This huge black rock promontory jutting out into the sea has been called the Gibraltar of Greece. The small city perched on its slopes retains much of its medieval character. We will have ample time to explore the narrow streets, have lunch on our own, and enjoy the unusual vistas. Later we continue on to Nauplia for the night.
Day 11 - Nauplia, Mycenae and Epidaurus
Nauplia is an intriguing port city whose waterfront is laced with narrow streets and alleys full of tavernas and interesting shops. A medieval castle overlooks it all, and our hotel is within the lower fortifications of the castle. Nearby are two of the most important archaeological sites in the Peloponnese: Mycenae and Epidaurus. Mycenae is associated forever with Heinrich Schliemann, who excavated there during the 1870s and relied heavily upon the Iliad and Odyssey for interpreting his findings—too heavily, modern archaeologists would say. Yet Mycenae is the crucial site for understanding the “Mycenaean Period” of early Greek history. Epidaurus is perhaps best known to modern travelers for its beautiful and well-preserved theater. But for the ancients, it was the association with Asclepius, the god of healing. Epidaurus was an ancient medical center. Our plan is to visit Mycenae and Epidaurus in the morning, have lunch at a local restaurant, and return to Nauplia for free time in the late afternoon and evening.
Day 12 - Corinth
Today we depart Nauplia and visit Corinth on our way to Athens. Corinth controlled the crossing from the Aegean Sea to the Corinthian Gulf and thus the Adriatic Sea—ships were pulled over-land from a port on the Aegean side to another port on the Corinthian side. Thus Corinth was an international trade center and, before the Roman conquered it in 146 B.C., a powerful and independent city-state. Saint Paul visited this city at least twice during his missionary journeys, wrote letters to the Corinthians, and many scholars believe that he wrote his letter to the Romans from Corinth. Continuing on to Athens, we will cross the Corinthian Canal (begun during Nero’s reign but not com-pleted until 1893) and pass near Salamas where the Greek fleet under Themistocles defeated Xerxes’ fleet. Continue to Athens for the night.
Day 13 - Athens
We have arrived now at Athens, the premier city of Classical Greece, the city of Pericles, Phidias, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Aristophanes, Euripides, Socrates, Plato, Xenophon, and on and on. Many others who were not native Athenians, such as Herodotus, came here to study, teach and write. Today we will tour the city, the highlight, of course, being the Acropolis and the ruins of the Greco-Roman city spread out below. The late afternoon will be free for shopping in the Plaka, and in the evening we will enjoy a farewell dinner.
Day 14 - Depart Athens
Fly from Athens to the US
Itinerary at a Glance

Day 1 - Arrive Thessaloniki
Day 2 - Pella and Tour of Thessaloniki
Day 3 - Vergina and Dion
Day 4 - Mount Olympus
Day 5 - Meteroi and Thermopylae
Day 6 - Delphi
Day 7 - Olympus
Day 8 - Nestor’s Palace and Methoni
Day 9 - Mystra and Sparta
Day 10 - Monemvasia
Day 11 - Nauplia, Mycenae and Epidaurus
Day 12 - Corinth
Day 13 - Athens
Day 14 - Depart Athens