Megalopolis Greece – Ancient Capital of Arcadia in the Peloponnese
As part of our Peloponnese road trip we visited the remains of the ancient city of Megalopoli in Arcadia, southern Greece. Intrigued by the history of this ancient Greek city on which I read about in general travel guides, I looked for some more information to share with you about ancient Megalopolis.
Are you planning a road trip in Greece? If you are interested in a road trip through the Peloponesse, we have made one, and you can read about it in our blogpost >> Road Trip Peloponnese.
Ancient Greek Theater
The remains of ancient Megalopolis are located three kilometers outside the modern town, along the road Megalopoli-Adritsenas . This ancient Greek historical site is home to the ruins of the largest theater of ancient Greece of those days. It’s estimated that it had space for 20,000 people.
Arcadia Ancient Greece
Arcadians forced to move to Megalopoli
Ancient Megalopolis was founded in 371 BC to weaken the strength of Sparta. Inhabitants of forty villages in Arcadia were forced to leave their villages and to move to Megalopoli. The people of Trabezounta, a nearby Arcadian village, refused and the village was slaughtered. Those who could escape fled to the area below the Black Sea in nowadays Turkey, that was Greek territory back then. They founded the city Trabezounta which still exists and is called Trabzon.
Here is an blogpost on the miraculous little church in Arcadia, called Agia Theodora Church located in Vasta. It’s only a 45-minute drive from Ancient Megalopolis.
Megalopoli Capital of Arcadia
Megalopoli became the capital of the Arcadian League and a very important and influential city in ancient Greece.
It took ten years to build the city, which resulted in the huge theater, sanctuaries, altars, an Agora, and statues.
The marble statue of the mythological figure Pan was prominent because he was worshiped in this area of the Peloponnese.
Kingdom of Macedonia
Sparta tried to conquer Megalopoli and attacked the city many times. Megalopoli allied with Thebes, and later with King Philip II of Macedon to defend itself. Megalopoli and the Kingdom of Macedonia became such good allies that in honor of Philip II, an arcade was built that covered the northern part of the Agora, the Philipeio Stoa.
Death of Alexander the Great
After the death of Alexander the Great the alliance with the Macedonian Kingdom was broken and the Macedonians tried to invade the city with 20,000 soldiers, horses, and even 65 elephants. Elephants don’t belong to the fauna of Greece but had been brought to Greece by Alexander the Great from his travels to India.
Nearby Megalopoli, you will find the enchanting Medieval village of Karytaina, built high on a rock with a castle on top. We spent a day exploring Karytaina during our Peloponnese road trip. It’s one of those traditional Greek villages excelling in the beauty of its architecture, history, location, and views. Read more in my blogpost on Karytaina.
Many alliances and wars followed, with both Sparta and the Kingdom of Macedonia, until in 223 BC the Spartans succeeded to destroy Megalopoli.
Still later, the city was conquered by the Romans, just like the rest of Greece.
Megalopoli in decline
When the famous ancient Greek geographer Strabon visited Megalopoli in 15 BC, it was just an insignificant little town. In 170 AD the Greek traveler and writer Pausanius observed that the town had been deserted completely.
Destruction Monuments of Megalopoli by Byzantines
Many works of art, temples, and buildings were destroyed during the Byzantine period. The Byzantines replaced them with Christian monuments because they didn’t worship the ancient Greek Gods any longer.
Greek Monuments of Archaeological Site Megalopoli
After excavations held by the British Institute in 1890 they uncovered:
- The Gymnasium, the training facility which was west of the Agora. You can still see the remains of the arcades and the buildings.
- The lower bleachers of the ancient Greek theater.
- A few remains of the enormous building which must have been a sort of parliament have survived. It had a capacity of 16,000 people and must have been very beautiful. Inscriptions and vases can be seen in the Archaeological Museum of Megalopoli.
- It is for sure that Megalopoli was fortified by stone walls with a length of 8.5 km, but they haven’t been found yet.
Historical Sites of Greece
Visiting the historical sites of Greece is a real joy when you take the time to prepare yourself by reading upon the history and mythology of the place you are to visit. That way, the ruins you are to see will come alive and make you travel to another place and time. This, combined with the enchanting natural beauty surrounding the Greek archaeological sites, will make your visit to Greece an unforgettable experience.
In summer temperatures can easily rise to 40 degrees, while some historical sites don’t provide shade. Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a cap, sun block, and carry enough water with you at all times because you won’t find a chance to buy water along the way. Also, try to visit the less shaded sites in the morning before the temperature starts to rise, or in the evening (if the site provides access at night).
The historical site of Megalopolis is open daily from 08.00 a.m. to 03.00 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays closed.
The southern Peloponnese consists of three “legs”, of which the second one is called the Mani, which was until recently an isolated area, mainly accessible by sea. The Mani was known for its fierce family clans living in tower houses, and pirates. You can read more about our Mani Road Trip in the blogpost >> One Week in the Mysterious Mani.