As I mentioned in a previous post, I was disappointed that the ruins of ancient Sparta were unidentifiable, and that drove me to try and make more sense of what was there and understand its part in the history of Spartan culture.
To accomplish this we have to start with the realization that the area now referred to as ancient Sparta is really its Acropolis and nothing else. The remainder of Sparta was spread out over four villages and all traces of those villages are gone. Over time the Acropolis itself took on the role of a citadel: more important to those controlling Sparta than it was to the Spartans themselves.
Sparta had no walls (by design) until 318 B.C. when she had become a second rate power and the principles of Lycurgus were no longer being followed. That year marked 458 years since the first Olympic Games, traditionally thought of as the time of Lycurgus and the blossoming of the new Spartan society. Classical Sparta had lasted nearly half a millennium. Remnants of the walls of 318 can be seen at the north side of the Acropolis.
There are also two other sets of ruins extant and dated after 318: Roman and Byzantine. Rome began to exert suzerainty on Sparta beginning in the late third century B.C. and invaded the city in 188 B.C. That year, the Spartan walls were torn down. Eight years later the Romans allowed them to be re-built. Rome continued to control Sparta until the collapse of the Western Empire, and the emergence of the Byzantine world.
The amphitheater at the Spartan acropolis was built by the Romans in 50 B.C. and there are also Roman walls around the hilltop. Lower down and covering a larger area are Byzantine walls in ruins. Both of these sets of walls protected a citadel that was post-Spartan.
There are only two ancient Spartan structures that have been uncovered: the Temple of Athena Chalkioikos, located on the Acropolis and The Temple of Artemis Orthia located east of the Acropolis near the Eurotos River. Chalkioikos was constructed no later than 500 B.C, because artifacts from that time have been found in the ruins.
Image via Wikipedia
Among them is the sculpture thought to be Leonidas.
The temple gets its name from the bronze sheets that covered the interior walls.
The Sanctuary of Artemis celebrates the cult of Orthia, common to the villages who made up Sparta. It was built in 570 B.C. and excavated around 1910.
We can see why a visit to modern Sparta is less satisfying than one would hope because there is not much left of ancient Sparta to experience. One has to be content to stand on Spartan ground and see what the Spartans saw when they owned this land – the mountains, the valley, and the sky.