7 September 2022. Journeying to Thermopylae and Milina, Thessaly.
Upon leaving the Korykian Cave, we headed north again, this time on Eparchiaki odos Gravias-Fthiotidas until we reached the village of Gravias. From there we got on the E65 and headed northeast through the mountainous region east of the Asopos River gorge until it intersected with the eastbound E01 (PEO Athinon Thessalonikis) that ran through the broad plain south of the Malian Gulf past ancient Loutra Thermopilon with its famous thermal springs. Just west of the village of Thermopylae sits the Leonidas monument commemorating the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BCE. In case you’re worried, there is plenty of off-road parking on both sides of the street. We parked on the south side nearest the Kolonos Hill.
I’d like to stop here for a moment to provide a public service announcement. If you approach the Thermopylae monument as if the bullshit splashed across the screen in the 2006 film 300 is an accurate portrayal of history in any way, shape, or form, well … just don’t, okay? At best, you’ll come across as a complete ignoramus. Leather Speedos? War rhinos? Human bodies filled with endless supplies of blood? Elders who are degenerate perverts? Samurai? Bottomless pits? I mean, no. Just … no. Like the rest of Greece’s monuments, tread here with humility and respect.
“O ye men who dwell in the streets of broad Lacedaemon!The Oracle of Delphi, as attributed by Herodotus, Book VII, 220
Either your glorious town shall be sacked by the children of Perseus,
Or, in exchange, must all through the whole Laconian country
Mourn for the loss of a king, descendant of great Heracles.”
The waters of the Malian Gulf have substantially retreated from the battlefield since 480 BCE, such that a passage that was once only about 100 m wide at the time of the battle is now as much as 5.6 km wide. On the south side of highway E01 (which is roughly the location of the ancient shoreline) stands Kolonos Hill, which has been identified by archaeologists as the most likely place where the Spartans and their allies made their last stand.
“Ὦ ξεῖν’, ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῇδε κείμεθα, τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι.”
“O stranger, tell the Lacedaemonians that we lie here, obedient to their words.”Simonides, as attributed by Herodotus, Book VII, 228
Part of the ancient battlefield (left) and the path up through the Hot Gates (above). Below is a fairly decent summary of the event juxtaposed with the modern site. Try to ignore the fact that the guy is a Biblical scholar. Seriously, what is up with these guys claiming Thermopylae as their turf?
Details of the Thermopylae monument are shown below. The plinth of the statue of Leonidas (left top) is inscribed with the phrase “Μολών λαβέ” (“Come and take them!”), which has been adopted by right wing gun fetishists in the US (people which the community-oriented Spartans would probably have despised for their sociopathic worship of the individual). Two metopes (below right) depict battle scenes. The two recumbent marble statues (below right and bottom) represent respectively Mount Taygetus and the Evrotas River, both landmarks of Sparta.
There is another statue at Thermopylae (above and right) that doesn’t receive nearly enough attention – that being the 1997 monument honoring the contributions of the 700 Thespian warriors who lost their lives in the battle.
Time was now decidedly not on our side as we got back into the SUV to make a mad dash for the village of Milina in Thessaly – a drive of 181 km (about 2.5 hours). We needed to beat the sunset so that we could check in to our Airbnb for the evening. Our path took us back to northbound E65 and then onto the E75 eastward around the northern shores of the Malian Gulf. To the north of us lay Mount Othrys, home of the Titans during the Titanomachy. At Paralia Pelasgias, the E75 veers north and heads inland on the west side of the Pagasetic Gulf. A little north of Agia Georgios Feron, we transferred to eastbound E92 and headed to the port city of Volos.
Volos is built on the sites of the ancient cities of Demetrias, Pagasae and Iolcos. It was from Iolcos that Jason is said to have launched the Argo on his quest for the golden fleece. We made a quick rest stop just east of Volos on Vasileos Pavlou (Route 34) and stocked up on drinks and snacks.
We continued east, then south, on Route 34. At this point we were racing against the sun just like in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). This took us along almost the entire east coast of the Pagasetic Gulf, and eventually through the large village of Chorto then south to the delightful fishing village of Milina. Our goal was the Gorgóna Apartments, which we were told would be found at the sign of the mermaid (γοργόνα). We needed to be there in time to be let in by the owner’s daughter (it pays to be polite and on time with an Airbnb host, and vice versa).
We unpacked the car, threw some water on our faces and hit the WC. Then, famished, we headed off in search of a decent taberna/estiatorio. We found the perfect seaside spot at the Argo. I ordered the sundried salad, prawns, and saganaki. It was all delicious, especially when washed down with a bottle of restina. Our host was the best, both friendly and helpful. He also brought each of us some ice-cold ouzo and a chocolate as an after-dinner treat. Musicians even stopped by to serenade us as the fishies hopped in the water by our seaside table. It was everything I had hoped for in a Greek dinner. Γεια σου!
— Να εχεις μια ωραια μερα. —