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Talking Location with author James Heneage – Peloponnese

21st June 2017

#TalkingLocationWith….. James Heneage, author of “By Blood Divided“, talks to us about the wonderful PELOPONNESE.

There are few places in the world where every inch of the landscape breathes history. The Peloponnese is one of them. European civilization began there with the Myceneae civilization, and the world’s greatest empire ended there when the city of Mystras fell in 1460. It’s hardly stopped since.

Monemvasia (photo credit Rail.cc)

It’s a great place to visit for a week, if you like sea, mountains, sunshine, comfort, good food and above all, history-all within driving distance. Now that there’s a smart new motorway joining Athens to the south, you can see it all in six days with a car. You can take in Ancient Greece, Venetian Greece, Byzantine Greece and the Greek War of Independence, all within six days.

The Acropolis at Athens

Start in Athens with the Acropolis and its amazing new museum. Then it’s an hour and a half south to Nafplio on the east coast, a perfect Venetian gem of a city with a fabulous castle perched above it and one of the best Archeological museums in the world. Just outside is the ancient site of Mycenae and the extraordinary theatre and healing complex at Epidavros. Then go further south to Monemvasia, a jewel of a Byzantine walled city built on a huge rock that rises out of the sea. Stay within its walls and swim from the rocks outside the city sea-gate. Then it’s north-west to Mystras, the capital of the Despotate of Mistra, the last part of the Roman Empire to fall in 1460 and the time my novels are set in. This is an enchanted ruined city built in the foothills of the Taygetos Mountains, overlooking the Vale of Sparta. You can stay in the modern village of the same name, just outside it. From Mystras it’s south again to the wild Mani and its tiny capital of Areopolis, seat of Petrobey, the clan chieftan who started the Greek revolution in 1821 from its tiny square. These days you can drive round the whole Mani in an hour to see the extraordinary rugged landscape and the villages of towers, built for the endless feuds that dominated Maniot society. Finally, it’s a beautiful coastal drive north to Kardimili where the great writer Patrick Leigh-Fermor lived and wrote. This is a beautiful village on the sea with great walking in the hills behind and a wonderful jazz festival every year in May.

Peloponnese

Monemvais (photo credit Katra.eu)

I have now built a house just north of Kardimili where I live most of the year. My four novels to date are set in the Peloponnese of the fifteenth century, the last fifty years before the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the seismic event that signaled the end of the 1500 year-old Roman Empire. I visit Mystras all the time because I think it is, quite simply, the most enchanted place in Europe. When Constantinople was nearing its end and was a place of ruined palaces and fields, the rich moved to Mystras and brought with them great architects, artists and philosophers. The result was a Greek renaissance that pre-dated the Italian one by fifty years. The spirit of that time is alive in the ruined palaces and churches of Mystras, perched on its hill above Sparta. The church murals are some of the most lovely anywhere in Europe.

Peloponnese

Photo credit: Wikimedia

The great thing about the Peloponnese, to my mind, is that it’s not the Greek islands, lovely though they are. It’s a place not just given over to tourism. It’s a place where people work: a place of old tractors and mountain villages with local tavernas that kill the lamb before you come and serve you chips from their own potatoes. Above all, it is a place of mountains and deep gorges and monasteries perched on every crag…a place for walking. When is the best time to go? In the spring when the country is deep in wild flowers of every scent and colour. Fly to Athens or Kalamata (April-October) and have the best week of your life!

Thanks so much to James for sharing insights into this wonderful part of the world. You can follow him on Twitter  and you can buy his book here!

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For more books set in the Peloponnese, just click here!

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