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Routes: Agioi Theodoroi-Isthmus-Loutraki-Lake Vouliagmenis-Perachora

Agioi Theodoroi is the first town encountered by visitors on entering the prefecture of Corinthia from the Athens-Patra, national road.

The town is built in the area of ancient Crommyonia that belonged to Megaris up until the 6th century BC when it came under the jurisdiction of Corinth.

Stravonas in his “Geographical” and also Pausanias, mention that this is where Phaea lived, the frightening wild sow that destroyed the broom and the cultivation and terrorized the region. The mythical hero Theseus, carrying out one of his labors, killed Phaea on his way from Troezen to Athens.

The archaeological dig of 1961 brought to light the ruins of archaic Crommyonia and many important findings such as, the statue of the god Apollo, black ceramic vessels and geometric tombs. Another important finding is a small circular area which, was either a place of worship or a small orchestral theatre as yet undetermined.

The majestic mount Geraneia, its slopes gouged by torrents, towers above Aghioi Theodoroi. In the heart of the mountain at an altitude of 1150 meters, with an idyllic landscape full of pine trees, is to be found the historical monastery Prathi. A rich communal monastery, noteworthy since its foundation up until 1821, it dates from the 11th century and has been proved to be one of the oldest and most important of the monasteries in the region. The ruins of cells, storerooms and the nave of the monastery have been saved. Of exceptional interest are its mosaics and a few, very old, Byzantine icons of 1466.

The town of Aghioi Theodoroi owes its name to the traditional church, Aghioi Theodoroi (Saints Theodore), built on the site of an early Christian church.

Of great historical importance is a wide, stone slab, which bears an engraved epigram of the late Roman years, which is to be found to the right of the entrance to the church. The epigram originates from the tomb of a fifteen-year-old girl and its contents could be compared with the most significant of antiquity.

In the epigram, Philostrata informs passers-by that at the end of her fourteenth year she had broken “her bonds” with life and that she had returned to the (spiritual) world from which she had come.

An important seaside, tourist resort, just 65 km from Athens and 20 km from Corinth, Aghioi Theodoroi with sea and mountains harmonically combined, is an attraction for Greek and foreign tourists alike, an ideal place for short breaks just a few hours away from the suffocation of the big city. The numerous taverns offer gastronomic, traditional dishes and fresh fish, while in the picturesque cafes visitors can enjoy their coffee with a view of the beautiful Saronic Sea.

From the town of Aghioi Theodoroi the road takes us towards the Isthmus and the ship canal, the indisputable maritime, umbilical cord between the western and eastern Mediterranean. The Isthmus, a distinctive strip of land, was a principal strategic point from archaic times and one of the most important in the eastern Mediterranean. The opening up of the Isthmus had been a main topic since antiquity, since the construction of a canal would solve many problems and aid shipping and commerce.

The archaic Diolkos served ships, throughout antiquity, that wished to cross the Isthmus by land. The Diolkos was a stone paved road upon which moved the olkos, a construction of great length upon which the ships were carried. The first man to undertake the task of cutting through the Isthmus was the tyrant of Corinth, Periandros, who in the end settled for the construction of the Diolkos. There followed studies and attempts at the opening of the Isthmus by Dimitrios Poliokritis, Julius Caesar Caligula and Nero but without success. Herodus Atticus, the Byzantians and the Venetians were the successors to Nero in the dream to open the Isthmus, each in his turn undertaking this greatly inspired task, however all the attempts were abandoned.

The attempt to open a canal was continued many centuries later by Kapodistrias, but through lack of funds it didn’t advance very much. In 1881 the Hungarian entrepreneur, Stephan Tier undertook the task, for which he was given the privilege to control the operation of the bridge for 99 years. The following year the task was handed over to a Greek company funded by the great, national benefactor Andreas Syngros. The Greek workers excavated non-stop for ten whole years, until on the 25th of July 1893 the task was completed and the first ship passed through the canal blowing its horn jubilantly!

During the 110 years of its operation the canal has closed from time to time. Today two submersible bridges operate, one at Poseidonia and one at Isthmia, which serve communication between the Peloponnese and mainland Greece. Each year around 15,000 ships of at least 50 different nationalities pass through the Corinth ship canal.

To the east of the canal lies Isthmia, an area that according to mythology was taken under the protection of Poseidon, of great importance in archaic times due to its excellent geographical situation. Here the worship of the gods of the sea had evolved. Today the ruins of the temples of Poseidon and Melicertes Palaemon, the roman theatre and the stadium are still visible, while the museum of Isthmia houses the great bulk of archaeological findings including a number of unique glass pictures of 375 AD. The temple of Poseidon was situated on the eastern extremity of the Isthmus and attracted the attention of whoever travelled to and from the Isthmus, as a result it became an important place for congresses and gatherings for all Greeks. Today only the foundations of the temple remain, because in the sixth century AD the Byzantine emperor Justine used the materials of the temple and built a very strong wall of defense to protect the Peloponnese from attacks by barbarians from the north. Due to the materials used it was later believed to be a work of the classical period.

Outside the temple of Poseidon, in the first century AD, the Palaemonio was built in honor of Melicertis Palaemona. The local worship of the child-god Palaemona in Isthmia had been customary since the time of Sisyphus founder and king of Corinth, who found the lifeless body of his nephew Melicertis, the son of Ino on the back of a dolphin. Melicertis was accepted into the kingdom of Poseidon and received the godly name Palaimon, like the mother of Inos, who took the name Lefkothea, that is to say goddess of the sea-foam.

The Palaemonio was a small temple with a courtyard, outside the southeastern corner of the temple of Poseidon, on the site of the old stadium. A gateway joined the temple to the temple of Poseidon.

The temple of Palaemon was a pavilion; a round building supported all around by columns, inside of which was a dolphin with the dead Palaemona on its back. The Palaemonio was one of the most beautiful adornments of the temple of Poseidon and of Isthmia in general and constitutes a very important monument of ancient Greek culture.

The famous Isthmian games were established in honor of the child-god Palaemon, which later, in the 6th century BC under the tyranny of the Kypselidis’, evolved to be one of the four greatest Panhellenic athletic meetings. If your footsteps bring you to this place, have a small pine-branch with you to leave at the place where for centuries the ancient Greeks worshipped the unjustly lost child.

The hero Theseus later established the games in honor of Poseidon, with the object, according to the historic Ploutarchos, of the development of physical strength and the tightening of relations between the Peloponnesians and the Greeks above the Isthmus.

In the beginning only men took part in the games. Later on youths could participate while women could take part in the musical competitions.

They were celebrated every three years at the temple of Poseidon, in the Isthmian stadium, with a track of 181 meters, constructed to the east of the temple.

The addition of musical and recital competitions to the games are indicated by the existence of the theatre of Isthmia, which held 500 people, situated to the northeast of the temple of Poseidon.

Due to a noteworthy building program by the Romans in the mid 2nd century AD, in the northern corner of the temple grounds, baths were built, with an unusually large pool. These were built over the ruins of earlier Greek baths of the 4th century BC.

The Roman baths at Isthmia, like all the public baths of the time, offered their visitors hot and cold baths; light exercise and they could take part in social and ceremonial gatherings.

The museum of Isthmia houses superb archaeological findings, with many guidance plans and many windows looking out over the archaeological site. There are objects from the Isthmian games that were held in the stadium on exhibition, such as lead dumb bells, flasks which held oil with which the athletes anointed their bodies and the most impressing exhibits –unique in Greece- the Opus Sectilae; 87 mosaics of ivory and glass, works of the 4th century AD. These compositions, set in glass, arrived from either Italy or Egypt by ship and were disembarked into the courtyard of the temple of Isidos in the summer of 375 AD. A terrible earthquake that summer flooded the port of Kechrees, destroying most of the buildings and the crates containing the precious Opus Sectilae were swept away to the depths. They remained in their watery grave for many centuries until they were discovered by archaeologists in the excavations of 1976.

All these findings are exhibited in the Isthmian museum bearing witness to the wealth and magnificence of Isthmia at its pinnacle.

Approximately 4 kilometers to the west of the Isthmus begins the area of Loutraki, the most well known tourist area of the prefecture of Corinthia, the principal cosmopolitan town, known as a Spa town since 1925.

The principal religious center of Loutraki is the 11th century monastery of Osios Patapios, perched on the side of mount Geraneia. Three, body-length mural paintings of Osios Patapios, Agia Hypomoni and Osios Nikonos in the cave where the mortal remains of Osios Patapios were found, are of special interest.

In 1345, the emperor Ioannis Katakouzinos the 6th in memory of the persecution of Agios Andreas built a church in his name, which has been preserved in its original state.

In 1886 the church of Aghios Ioannis Prodromos (St. John the Baptist), with a triple basilica and excellent icons, was built. The imposing mural painting of Platyteras is most impressing.

The town of Loutraki attracts thousands of tourists every year as it has an excellent tourist infrastructure: it’s many hotels, restaurants and nightclubs make it one of the most cosmopolitan areas of Greece. Its first-rate curative baths are known nationally, also artificial waterfalls in beautifully decorated surroundings with running water impress the visitors. In 1928 the first casino in Greece was opened. A few years ago the casino was re-opened in luxury surroundings attracting tourist from home and overseas. Marine sports are offered on its beautiful, large, well-kept beach and large numbers of tourists gather there during the summer months.

In Peraia is one of the most beautiful lagoons in the country, the lake of Vouliagmeni or Eschatiotis as it was known in ancient times is a place of particular natural beauty surrounded by a natural pine forest. There one will discover the joy of the ancient Enchantress of the calm lake. In this area an early Greek settlement was discovered showing that it was inhabited from at least 3,000 BC.

There are many hotel complexes and also organized camping sites for those that prefer the open air. Restaurants and taverns offer fresh fish from the rich fishing grounds of the region and wonderful local dishes. To the west of the lake Cape Heraion of Perachora, or Melagavi, dominates the horizon where one of the largest lighthouses of the Bay of Corinth is to be found. Here the remains of the early Corinthian culture of historic times were discovered. The center was the temple of Hera that was in the background of the port, close to the rocks where the present day lighthouse is built.

Perachora, during the pre-Roman years, was a lively part of the land of Corinthia. The excavations that were made during the period 1928-1934 by the British Archaeological School of Athens brought to light very important findings and two temples of the goddess Hera. Close to the temple the ruins of the ancient market place have been saved.

Also of special archaeological interest is the complicated water irrigation system of Perachora, a work of 300 BC which was devised by Dimitrios Poliorcitis resulting in a unique hydraulic system.

From Heraio the view of the south coast of the Bay of Corinth, with the mountains standing out imposingly on the landscape, is magical and the sunset on the Bay of Corinth is amongst the most beautiful of the Greek coasts.

At the place called Malagari of Perachora, the 11th century monastery of Aghios Nicholaos dominates the area, with wonderful mural paintings, which have been characterized by specialists as historic relics.

To the east of the port of Iraio in a natural acropolis is the 18th century church of Aghios Nicholaos, in the style of basilica with dome, the central niche of which, is built on a massive rock. In the same period (1767) the church of Taxiarches the Great was built, that became the seat of The Gathering of Constitutionalists in 1832, when the representatives of the anti-Kapodistrian order abandoned Argos. Close to Perachora is the church dedicated to Aghios Dimitrios.

The village of Perachora – which retains its ancient name – is an ideal starting point for excursions to its wonderful beaches: the areas of Mikri and Megali Mylokopi, which took its name from the many millstones there. It is possibly the best area of the Gulf of Corinth for diving as it combines shallow dives, deep dives and adventurous dives with sudden changes in the underwater landscape. The port of Mylokopi is safe in all weather and the nearby area is very suitable for underwater photography with great variations of color. The beaches of Sterna, Skalosia and Stravos are also very attractive. Approximately half a mile away we find a fantastic beach. A few miles further on; the Cape of Schoinos dominates the coastline with a magical beach. In accordance with remains found in the area and from historical sources, it is believed that the ancient city of Oinoi was to be found in the area of the present day Schoinos. The church of Metamorphosis built in the 11th century distinguishes the village.

Pisia is scattered with churches. In a natural cave is a church dedicated to St. George, in the temple of which a wall painting of St. George has been saved, dated at around the year 1400. The church of Agios Athanasios built in the 15th century, has interesting wall paintings, by the monk Seraphim Coulouri and lastly the 18th century church of Agia Paraskevi is the metropolis of Pisia. The region of Loutraki has been called “The Garden of the Panagia” due to the large number of churches and monasteries that attract the attention of believers; as a consequence it is a religious jewel of Christian culture. So take a walk along the footpaths of the myths and the history of the land of Peraia and wander under the sun and beside the sea in its natural beauty enjoying the hospitality of its smiling residents.

#mythicalpeloponnese

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