previous next


Physical Description

Laconia is the southeastern district of the Peloponnese. It is bounded on the north by the Argolid and Arcadia, on the west by Messenia, and on the south by the Aegean Sea. Laconia is a mountainous limestone region whose eastern portion is defined by Mount Parnon, which rises to nearly 1818 m near the Argive frontier, and runs southeast towards Cape Malea. In the west is Mount Taygetus (2364 m), which runs north to south forming a high range overlooking the plain of Sparta. Between barren Parnon and the dark cliffs of Taygetus is the valley of the Eurotas River which flows into the Laconian Gulf.

Laconia possesses arable plains suitable for olives as well as land suitable for summer pastures and forested highlands. To the east the slopes of Mount Parnon are barren except near the coast where woods of Mediterranean pine face the sea and pockets of arable land produce cereals and figs.

The stormy promontories of Taenarum and Malea endanger any entry into the Laconian Gulf, and the harbors of east Laconia are remote from the inland plain, making Laconia primarily an agricultural area. The swampy delta of the Eurotas provides good pasture land for horses but lacks serviceable harbors.


A Mycenaean kingdom flourished in Laconia until the twelfth century B.C., and was the mythical seat of Menelaus and his queen, Helen. Later in the tenth century Dorian settlements appeared. One of these settlements, Sparta annexed the Eurotas valley down to the sea along with the adjoining coastal plain and the fertile lands to the west. The rest of Laconia was administered by independent perioikoi ( literally, " those who dwelled around [the Spartans]"), but the entire region spoke the same dialect in the Classical period, Doric.


Sparta, the capital of Laconia, was a vast triangular area in the fertile Eurotas plain between the Taygetus and Parnon mountain ranges. During its period of supremacy the city remained unwalled because the natural strength of its position and the bravery of its soldiers were sufficient protection. The first defensive walls were built around the town in 200 B.C. Spartan inhabitants dwelt in five scattered townships separated by gardens and plantations. Few public buildings and monuments adorned Sparta, but the city did have a sixth century B.C. temple to Athena built by Gitiadas, a Hellenistic theater altered in Roman times, and just outside town, the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, so named because the cult image was found standing upright. The sanctuary, where Spartan boys were flogged as part of their upbringing, existed as early as the tenth century B.C. In Archaic times it was comprised of a walled enclosure with an altar on the east side and a small temple on the west side. Farther north along the Eurotas is a Heroon and a large stone altar. The Lakonian plain was populated by Helots, enslaved indigenous people who took their name from the ancient city of Helos on the southern edge of the plain.

Leaving Sparta and going westward past Mistra toward Messene one must go through the Langadha Pass. The road is steep with hairpin turns and marvellous views of all the mountain ranges. The village of Mistra, 7 km from Sparta, is a Medieval city built on an outlying hill of the Taygetus range by the Franks under Villehardouin, and it was subsequently the most important Byzantine city after Thessaloniki and Constantinople.

Curtis Runnels

view of pass from above

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: