Palaiologinos, the new curator of the CryForByzantium Twitter account that I started back in 2009, has come out with an absolutely delightful article combining travel and Byzantine history. His prescription for a road trip into various Byzantine sites is a must-read for anyone with an interest in historical geography. While he’s right that you must go there to really see it with your own eyes, you could also do sort of a “virtual” version of this road trip on Google Maps. In any event it’s pretty cool!
After several trips to the region, I’ve managed to design the perfect Byzantine Roadtrip. This route largely avoids major urban areas (and the traffic that comes with it). There’s likely other plans further north in the Balkans and Anatolia but this one captures the spirit of late empire. I find this preferable as many of these structures are largely intact.
A couple of disclaimers, there is a LOT of driving here. Think like the roadtrip with your family when you were young and special planning was done around bathrooms. You’d better have a really good tenacity and energy levels to support this, because this plan will exhaust you.
If you don’t have a understanding significant other, I highly recommend to leave them behind in Athens with a high limit credit card as a pacifier.
Finally, in pursuit of Byzantine sites and building the narrative here you will be skipping several Ancient Greek sites. Places like Delphi, Ancient Corinth and Mycenae will be passed by on the way to your next site in the Empire.
Plan on about 100 euros in tolls and 100 euros in gas (assuming you’re taking a diesel econobox).
This is a 3 day/2 night plan leaves and returns to Athens with overnight stops in Patras and Kalabaka.
So if you’re wanting to get Byzantium from a firehose and feeling a bit masochistic…
DAY 1 CRUSADER CASTLES, MYSTRAS AND PATRAS
Day 1 Driving Plan
Birlin Tip: Athens traffic is an adventure, especially during rush hour. To avoid traffic, I picked up my Sixt car in Kinetta Beach. There is a OSE Train that leaves the Athens station on Theodore Diligiannis Street and will drop you at Kinetta. It’s about a 1KM walk from there. I had keys in hand by 8:30AM.
AcroCorinth. Being on the way, this castle overlooks the Gulf of Corinth. It’s at the turn onto the E65 highway out of Athens. You could theoretically catch it on your way back from Mystras too. It’s only about 4KM from the freeway.
The structure has Byzantine fabrication from the 9th century and has additional construction from the Frankish period.
AcroCorinth, Main Gate of the Outer Wall
I only spent about an hour and a half here. You will be on your way again to Mystras.
Birlin Tip: After Tripoli take the free road not the toll road. Its more direct than the toll road and the time difference is negligible. Besides it will save you another 10 euros or so in tolls.
Mystras: I made a number of comments about Mystras in my previous publication, and honestly this is the most impressive Byzantine structure I’ve seen outside of Istanbul. This bears repeating- Mystras reflects the evolution of Byzantine art of the late empire.
Pantanassa Monastery, Mystras
Assuming all goes right, you’ll arrive in Patras about 4PM which will allow for an hour at the Archaeological Museum of Patras before it closes.
St. Andrews stays open into the evening- this is the place where the Apostle Andrew was crucified and several of his relics are there.
You should be both emotionally and physically exhausted from day 1. However, this is the most difficult travel day.
Birlin Tip: Patras on Monday is a nonstarter. Both the Castle and Byzantine Museum are closed on this day.
If you really wanted to theme your night stay, you can stay in the Byzantino Hotel or the Konstantinos Palaiologos Hotel in Patras.
The spirit of the empire really shines more in this region than any other of Greece. This was the area where a sort of “Byzantine last stand” was done in the Peloponnese in 1460. Expect a publication on that soon.
Parking downtown is challenging. Spots are at a premium.
DAY 2 THE DESPOTATE OF EPIRUS
Starting off in Patras, grab a quick stop by the Castle right as they open at 8AM. Its at the top of a hill and there’s a number of small streets you need to navigate to get there…
Full article: The Ultimate Byzantine Roadtrip