You are in Central Greece. You gaze out over the now serene valley spreading towards the sea. The Spercheios River and the centuries have tamed the landscape and widened it so that the pass is no longer narrow. But in your mind’s eye you see Leonidas in full armour, ready to attack.
Images flash through your mind as you begin travelling through the history of Ancient Greece. You see the site as it was, a truly narrow pass, with hordes of Persians on the one side and a handful of Greeks on the other. You can almost hear the clash of weapons and the screams of the wounded. The real meaning of heroism and the glory of dying for the idea of freedom stand revealed. The power and force of the site’s symbolism move you more than you expect.
What to do in Thermopylae
In the words of the poet
Honour to those who in their lives
are committed and guard their Thermopylae.
Never stirring from duty;
just and upright in all their deeds,
but with pity and compassion too;
generous whenever they are rich, and when
they are poor, again a little generous,
again helping as much as they are able;
always speaking the truth,
but without rancor for those who lie.
And they meet greater honor
when they foresee (and many do foresee)
that Ephialtes will finally appear,
and in the end the Medes will go through.
The famous Greek poet Constantine Cavafy wrote these words in honour of the heroes of Thermopylae (translation Rae Dalven).
The Battle of Thermopylae: universal history lessons
In antiquity the pass at Thermopylae, between Mt Kallidromos and the Maliakos Gulf, was the only practical route for large armies to reach southern Greece and thus it was often fought over. The most famous battle occurred in 480 BC, when 300 Spartans under King Leonidas, along with 700 Thespians, delayed the vast army of Xerxes in a legendary last stand, following the betrayal by Ephialtes, who showed the Persians how to outflank the Greek forces.
Monument to the leader of heroes
A tribute to the memory and history of heroes: In the 1950s a monument depicting Leonidas in full armour was placed opposite the historic hill of Kolonos, in the central gate of the ancient pass where the final stage of the battle was fought. Mounds of 5th century bronze and iron spearheads were found at the foot of the hill. In the past the Athens-Lamia national road ran by here but the new national road requires that you use the exit at Themopyles or Kamena Vourla in order to visit the monument.
The hot springs of Thermopylae
According to mythology the area’s hot springs were created by Hephestus at Athena’s request, as a gift for Hercules. The modern spa was built in 1935 and the village of Thermopyles – the name means Hot Gates – has developed into an important spa resort in Central Greece.
For travellers, Kamena Vourla is a good place to stop for a coffee under the shade of trees next to the sea. For vacationers it’s a timeless holiday resort offering hot springs, hotels, restaurants and shops. The spa, built at the foot of Mt Knimi, is surrounded by beautiful beaches.
Images of Thermopylae
Hidden gems of Thermopylae
Loutra Mylos, Koniaviti and Pigi Afroditis
Six cisterns fed by hot springs freely offer visitors a singular opportunity for revitalisation and invigoration.
Agios Konstandinos: gateway to the Sporades
This coastal town near Kamena Vourla is the point of departure for ferries to Skiathos, Alonissos, Skopelos and other north Aegean islands. Take a dive into the blue-green sea before you travel.
The Monastery of Metamorfosi Sotiros
Around 4km above the spa town of Kamena Vourla, you’ll find the Monastery of Metamorfosi Sotiros (Transfiguration of the Saviour). Feel the aura of this holy place from the monastery’s balcony and take in the amazing sea view.