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map of the areaHarry's Peloponnese Guide: Ancient Tegea

Ancient Tegea 8km south of Tripoli, was the main city in the central Peloponnese in Classical and Roman times. It waged a long war with Sparta until defeated around 560BC, upon which it became a vassal state. The Tegeans sent 500 men to Thermopylae and 1500 to Plataia. After the Persian wars they revolted unsuccessfully against the Spartans with aid from Argos. See above (under Mantinea) for Tegea's position in the various Battles of Mantinea. Though Tegea flourished during Roman times, she was destroyed by Alaric in the 5th century AD; refounded in the 10th century under the name Nikli, she attained her importance as the major Byzantine city of the Peloponnese. During the 13th century AD Geoffry of Villehardouin established a barony here. Tegea was the birthplace of Atalanta the fastest runner of the age and heroine of the Calydonian boar hunt.

The site is partially excavated (open Tues-Sun 8:30am-3pm;free) and is on the outskirts of modern Tegea, called Alea on the Sparta road. There's a small museum here (Tues-sun 11am-3pm;2 euros admission) which houses sculptures from the site along with marble thrones from the theater, Hellenistic female statues, reliefs from a sarcophagus, architectonic decorations from the temple, reliefs of lion, lioness and a funeral feast, Geometric bronzes, Classical vases, terracotta votives and plaques and Early Helladic pots.

Temple of Athena AleaThe main remains on the site are of the Temple of Athena Alea , excavated in 1889 and 1902. This was one of the most famous sanctuaries in Greece, where two Spartan kings once took refuge.

An Archaic temple was here first, burnt down in 395BC, and the rebuilding of the temple entrusted to Skopas of Paros. The new Temple had a Doric peristyle of 6 columns by 14, and a colonnade of Corinthian half columns with Ionic above. Fragments of the sculpture that decorated the pediments are housed in the museum (and in the National Museum in Athens). The east pediment depicts the Hunt of the Calydonian Boar with figures of Atalanta, Theseus, Meleager, and Ankaios. On the west pediment is depicted the Fight of Telephos and Achilles on the banks of the Kaikos in Mysia.

Tegea is the largest animal trading ground in all of Greece, with a widely known annual fair attended by many gypsies who come from all over to buy and sell horses, mules and donkeys.

In the nearby village of Palaia Episkopi the 1888 church incorporates part of the the ancient theater of Tegea (under the triple apse is the theater's semicircular wall, rebuilt in marble by Antiochus IV Epiphanes during the 2nd century BC) . There are fragments of Byzantine ikon mosaics venerated by pilgrims who visit this church and stay at the hotel built for them here.