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Summer Escapes part VI- A glimpse at ancient and modern Sparti, Laconia

Sparta or Sparti (Σπάρτη) as it is called in modern Greek, is the administrative capital of the prefecture of Laconia. It is 250 kilometres from Athens, located in the Southern part of Greece and has a population of 18.000 according to the census of 2001.

It is situated in the fertile Laconian plain, on the right bank of the river Evrotas. The site was strategically located during the antiquity, between Mount Taygetus, on the West and Mount Parnonas on the East. The majority of the population continue to live in the town itself while today Laconia is an agricultural site where it is famous for its olives and of course its olive oil, citrus processing, honey,as well as a variety of other fruits and vegetables usually distributed throughout many other towns and spots in Peloponnese.

In ancient times, Sparta was one of the most important kingdoms, not only in Greece but also to the rest of the ancient world. Sparta would occupy the entire regions, which nowadays are known as Messinia and Laconia. Only a small portion of that ancient territory continues being called Sparta, an area located towards the northern side of Laconia.

Its seaport was situated at Gytheion, another ancient city, situated 43 km from the centre of Sparti towards the north-western area of the Gulf of Laconia.

Sparti

After the independence, King Otto decided to build the new town of Sparti very near the ancient one.In fact now that the city is expanding, a lot of ancient ruins are being discovered in the modern city.

The city was designed with the intention of creating one of the most beautiful cities in Greece through the use of tree lined avenues, squares and parks.

It is surrounded by ancient sites, such as the sanctuary of Artemis, the Menelaion and the sanctuary of Apollo of Amyclai (8 km south of Sparta).

Sparta is a lovely destination, which offers to the visitor the chance to learn about its history and glorious past and explore many constructions, ruins and structures in the area. The centre of the city is crowned with many neoclassical buildings and monuments.

Modern Sparti is a very interesting, small town and most of the places to visit are within a walking distance from the central square (location 5).On the square is the neoclassical building of the Municipality, which is surrounded with lots of restaurants and cafeterias.Opposite the square is the commercial centre where you will find most of the shops and every Saturday morning there is a farmers” market there (location 9).

The square is situated on Lycourgos Avenue.

This is the road to take, if you wish to head towards Mystras.    Further up Lycourgos avenue you will pass from another Square where you will find Evangelistria, the cathedral of Sparta and the statue of Lycourgos, father of Sparta (around 800 b.C.) King and lawgiver (location 2).

Next to the square is the modern building of the Courthouse and across is the public library, which is one of the most important buildings of the city, which represents the rich cultural life of Sparta as well as another neoclassical building, now a Club for the Greek officers (location 2).

Behind the square is the University of Sparta (location 8).


The new town, as in most towns, is now built with multi-storey buildings whenever the old houses are torn down.However, if you walk in the side streets you can still see some old houses, which hopefully will be restored.

The other main avenue is Constatinou Paleologou.This is the road where a lot of the hotels are situated and is the road to take if you wish to visit Amyklai, Gytheion or other lovely locations such as Elafonissos, Monemvassia, the Caves of Diros, Areopolis etc. (location 7).

Agios Nikonas is the patron saint of the city and the church is situated a block behind Paleologou Avenue (location 3).  On the right side of the church is the Archaeological Museum, which is housed in a neoclassical building, with a lot of important exhibits (location 4).

The Koumantareios Art Gallery is housed in another neoclassical building where you will find a permanent collection of oil paintings by western European artists but periodically some other exhibitions take place there.

The unique most interesting Museum of Olive is also situated in the centre of Sparta and is open to the public all year round.

During September, the Spartathlon, the ultra distance race, about 250 km, takes place every year.  Long distance runners from all over the world run from Athens to Sparta, following the footsteps of Pheidippides, the messenger, who was sent by General Miltiades to seek Sparta’s help against the Persians 490 b.C.  The race terminates at the Stadium of Sparta (location 1).

During the second invasion of the Persians, 480 b.C., King Leonidas, who was also a general,  led a small army of 300 men to fight the larger army of Xerxes, King of Persia, in Thermopylae. According to Herodotus, King Leonidas had been warned by the Delphic oracle that either Sparta would be destroyed or their king would lose his life. Although Leonidas could leave and he and his army be saved, he chose the second alternative telling Xerxes «Molon lave» meaning «Come and get us«. This distraction gave enough time for the rest of the Greek army to retreat into southern Greece. King Leonidas” statue is outside the city stadium (location 1).

What the Spartans ate:  Melas zomos

Their most famous dish was melas zomos, meaning black broth, which was so much valued that the elderly men fed only upon that, leaving what flesh there was to the younger.

They say that a certain king of Pontus, having heard much of this black broth of theirs, sent for a Lacedaemonian cook on purpose to make him some, but had no sooner tasted it than he found it extremely bad, which the cook observing, told him, “Sir, to make this broth relish, you should have bathed yourself first in the river Eurotas.”

The Spartan melas zomos, or black soup, was a staple soup made of boiled pigs” blood and vinegar.  The vinegar was added as an emulsifier to prevent the blood from clotting.   Did you know that blood soups are still eaten in some countries!!

My recipe does not have pig’s blood or vinegar but it is a healthy recipe of chickpeas giahni.  Giahni is the method of cooking which is a stew with tomato and olive oil.

The dish is traditionally cooked in a clay pot (gastra) with a lid for out-doored wood ovens.  However, if you don’t have one, you can cook it in a casserole dish, in the oven.

If you don’t wont to cook it in the oven you can use a pot and simmer it on the stove top.  In this case you will need to add more water and to be checking it more often until it is cooked.

Just before they are ready, you can add some rice and cook it 10 – 15 minutes or until the rice becomes soft and absorbs all the fluid.

chickpeas with rice

The recipe is included in my cookbook Mint, Cinnamon & Blossom Water, Flavours of Cyprus, Kopiaste!

Other related posts:

The New Acropolis Museum

Lakonia Part I and Pasta Elias (olive paste)

Lakonia Part II – Honey, Peanut Butter, Chocolate & Pastelli cookies

Ladolemono with Olive oil and Oregano from Mount Taygetus, Lakonia

Kokoras Bardouniotikos and a route on Taygetus

Spartiatika Loukanika (Spartan sausages)

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Χωρίς σχόλια on Revithia giahni sti gastra (chickpea stew) and a virtual tour to Sparti

  1. Ο/Η Happy Cook λέει:

    My daughter has been doinf latin for six years now and she would love to visit this place, love that chickpea dish too. Really comforting bowl of dish.

  2. Ο/Η Hopie λέει:

    Thanks for taking us on the trip to Sparta with you, Ivy! That chickpea dish look absolutely delicious (no pig’s blood for me either, please!).

  3. Ο/Η chapot λέει:

    This recipe is one of my prefered (excuse my english !)
    I have friends who live in Athens and we are lucky, we visit Greece in a very best way

  4. Ο/Η Angie's Recipes λέει:

    Ivy, thanks a lot for sharing all these beautiful pictures with us.
    Chickpea dish looks absolutely delicious.

    Angie’s Recipes

  5. Ο/Η Reeni λέει:

    Thanks for the tour of Sparta! I love chickpeas – this looks so delicious, very flavorful.

  6. Ο/Η Soma λέει:

    Thanks for all the tours Ivy:-) If i ever get to go to Greece (my dream) I will recollect all the pictures that you are posting:-) All the buildings remind me of India.. they are constructed in the same style.. probably influenced by all the invasions we have had (from Greece too!!) the names remind me of a lot of history we had to study during our school years.

    One healthy stew recipe.

  7. Ο/Η tobias cooks! λέει:

    I was in Sparti in spring time. I can recommend to visit the village of Anavriti. It is right ourside of Sparti. Stunning vievs over the valley and great hikes around there.

  8. Ο/Η Peter G λέει:

    Aaaah! You bring back so many memories Ivy! A great write up for a small city. And the revithia giahni are delicious! I often do a similar version in the oven with a few Indian inspired spices with spinach.

  9. Ο/Η alison λέει:

    you are amazing,of course…the post it’s a little «chef d’oeuvre»!i use this recipe ,too,for prepare chickpeas .it’s very tasty,i think.

  10. Ο/Η Rosa λέει:

    Thanks for the wonderful tour! I stayed there one night with my class back in ’96…

    That chickpea dish is gorgeous! Yummy!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  11. Ο/Η Kiran λέει:

    What a beautifully historic place and lovely pictures. The recipe is great, simple yet full of flavour.

  12. Ο/Η Lisa Henderson λέει:

    Thanks so much for posting these lovely pictures and for all the information given in the post. I would like to visit Greece in the future and your posts will certainly help anyone wishing to visit. Keep it on and hope you’ll post more destinations. Love that chickpea stew, full of Mediterranean flavours.

  13. Ο/Η Jeena λέει:

    This is a lovely chickpea dish, I love the grated carrots in it as I use grated carrots a lot in cooking so I just know that this recipe is going to taste fabulous! I love that you used honey and all spice, I bet the aroma is wonderful.

    Greece sure has a lot of history to it Ivy, thanks for the great post. :-)

  14. Ο/Η lisaiscooking λέει:

    I love the shades of yellow used on several of the buildings. Must be a beautiful city. Your chickpea stew looks fantastic!

  15. Ο/Η Cakelaw λέει:

    Thanks for the lovely photos of and information about Sparti/Sparta. I enjoyed them very much. Your chickpewa stew looks delicious – perhaps the chickpeas in my cupboard should be used for this.

  16. Ο/Η lissie λέει:

    Thanks for the wonderful tour of Sparta! chickpea stew sounds so delicious!

  17. Ο/Η Peter λέει:

    Sparti is much like many other Greek cities where old buildings are giving away to modern apartment blocks (pity). Sparti was a base for my travels to neighboring towns and that is what impressed me so much (the horia), the people and of course, the food!

  18. Ο/Η sowmya λέει:

    stew looks delicious with all the healthy carrots and peppers..nice pictures…

  19. Ο/Η yvan volders λέει:

    Hello Ivy

    I’m very much interested in the healthy Greek kitchen.
    This recipe looks wonderful!
    In the next few day I’ll try it out

    Thanks!

    Does anybody here has a good recipe of Hummus as it is served in Kassos? (I was there two years ago, but I forgot to ask the recipe)

    Greetings from Belgium

  • Ο/Η tasteofbeirut λέει:

    I so enjoyed reading your article Ivy! Sparta to me evokes the grandeur of Ancient Greece. My son made me watch a movie not too long ago (I forgot the titile now) about precisely that battle of the 300 men against the Persian army (maybe the movie is called 300?)
    That chick pea soup looks and tastes great. I was half hoping you would give us a recipe for pig's blood soup. Maybe next time?lol
    Oh and by the way, the pasta with yogurt is a Lebanese recipe very common in households and very much liked; I think it is also made this way in Syria,.

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