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Thebes and the Archaeological Museum of Thebes

Thebes

About Thebes

Everyone has heard of Thebes. Well, everyone who studied Ancient Greek history at least, since it was a major Greek city-state and a traditional enemy of Athens as well as the birthplace of Dionysius, Heracles, Pindar, Epaminondas, Oedipus and a few other historical and mythological figures. The Thebans were with Leonidas and the Spartans at Thermopylae, since it is just down the road, but they lacked commitment and it is unclear if they left early, surrendered, or died with the 300 and not mentioned. Led by the invincible Sacred Band of Thebes, a troop of male couples, they won the important battle of Leuktra against the Spartans in 371. Thebes became the most powerful city-state in Greece and was responsible for freeing the Messenians from Sparta and founding the city of Megalopolis in the Peloponnesus. They enjoyed their powerful position for all of 9 years but after that things went downhill quickly. Joining the Athenians they were defeated by Phillip of Macedon at Chaeronea in 338 and every one of the Sacred Band was killed. Occupied by the Macedonians they revolted 2 years later and were completely wiped out by his son Alexander the Great who destroyed the city, except for the temples, and itís 36,000 inhabitants were killed or became slaves. Thebes made something of a comeback when it was rebuilt by Cassander in 316 but by the Christian Era it was not much more than a large town. In subsequent centuries they were conquered by the Goths, Bulgarians, the Normans and a few others and except for becoming a center of the silk industry they pretty much disappeared from history.

Thebes

If you throw in the Mycenaeans from before all of this, and the Byzantines towards the end, nearly everyone has been in Thebes at one time or another either as conqueror, as savior, or both. And that brings me to why you should come here too. The center of modern Thebes is on a long narrow plateau which sits on top of Kadmeia, the ancient acropolis, and there are bits and pieces of ancient buildings poking out here and there, though there is much more underneath the long central square, restaurants, cafes, churches, shops and apartment buildings that will most likely never be seen, including most of its two Mycenaean palaces. The visible ruins which are just the tip of the iceberg are the type that you would have to be an archaeologist to appreciate and most of us would be much happier eating grilled meat, drinking wine, or having ouzo and mezedes at one of the restaurants on and around the square. Still it is the type of place that whenever there is any new construction going on the archaeologists come running to claim whatever is found.

But wait! Thatís not why I brought you here to this hot agricultural city in between Athens and Delphi.

Archaeological Museum of Thebes

The Archaeological Museum of Thebes

Remember how I mentioned the rich history of Thebes and how just about everyone has been here at one time or another? Well, Thebes, like many historical places in Greece had a small archaeological museum located in what was left of the Castle of Nicholas II de St Omer. The castle was destroyed by the Catalans in 1311 leaving hardly anything but the tower. For a provincial town it was a good museum, on the itinerary of any scholar who used The Blue Guide as his Bible but not somewhere the rest of us would go out of our way to visit. But it was one of the oldest museums in Greece, built in 1905 in an old barracks building, which was later expanded to house the many unique findings from the area.

Archaeological Museum of Thebes

In 2007 the museum again expanded and reorganized and is now one of the best archaeological museums in Greece, covering the period from the Paleolithic through the Ottoman era in a very organized chronological order, using interactive media, and easy to read descriptions of the various periods and artifacts. It is the kind of museum invaluable to scholars yet so well done that even someone who has no interest whatsoever in museums, archaeology or history will find something to keep them interested. (And if not just send them to an ouzeri to make friends.)

There is no reason for me to give a detailed description of the Archaeological Museum of Thebes since the museum website is as organized and well conceived as the museum itself. Itís one of the best museum websites in Greece. Visit the Museum website

Thebes Archaeological Museum

So if you have a half day or more to spare, or you are on your way to Delphi, Meteora, Pelion, Thessaloniki or anywhere north of Athens follow the National Road and look for signs to Thebes. If you love Ancient Greek history or archaeology you will be glad you did. Donít miss the 13th century Mycenaean Palace, the Kadmeion, right in the center of town, the Kadmeion Gates, the 7 gates of Ancient Thebes, and the Temple of Ismenius Apollo southeast of the center.

Sacred  Band of Thebes

Chaeronea and the Sacred Band of Thebes

Lion of ChaeroneaIf you are going north be sure to stop and visit the Lion of Chaeronea on the site of the battle where Phillip of Macedonia wiped out the Theban soldiers known as the Sacred Band of Thebes. This troop of 150 pairs of male lovers were the elite soldiers of the Theban military and usually played the most important role in battle, including the defeat of the Spartans at the Battles of Tegyra and Leuctra. At the time the Sacred Band were thought to be invincible. The monument was mentioned by Pausanias and Strabo but disappeared until pieces of the Lion was found in 1818 by George Ledwell Taylor, a British architect. They were reconstructed and placed on a pedestal in 1902 by British archaeologist Cecil Harcourt Smith. Nearby were found the remains of 254 men though whether these are the bodies of The Sacred Band is not certain. (Thanks for the photo Elias Manoua of Swift Rent-a-car)

Also worth visiting if you are a history fanatic is the monument at the site of the Battle of Leuctra where the Thebans and their fellow Boeotians led by general and statesman Epaminondas defeated the Spartans and their allies in 371 BC. The Sacred Band of Thebes were also present at this battle which ended Spartan hegemony in the Peloponnesos. It was also important because of the death of King Cleombrotus, who was the first Spartan king to die in battle since Leonidas at Thermopyleae in 480 BC. The monument is actually a recreation of what they thought, or hoped, the original looked like, based on ancient fragments, which are incorporated into the new monument. There was a statue on top but again nobody knows what it was. Anyway it is not something you are going to tell your grandchildren about but since you are in the area then why not go?

Ancient Egosthena, Porto Germanos

If you have come this far why not go to Porto Germanos and see the fortress and ruins of Ancient Egosthena. The 4th Century BC fortress itself is the most impressive in Greece from that period with much of the walls and the towers still intact. Afterwards you can have a swim and lunch in a fish taverna or even spend the night. See Hotels in Egosthena/Porto Germanos

Hotel in Thebes

Hotels in Thebes and Travel Info

If you are like me you will want to stay right in the center so you can easily walk to and from the museum if you want to make more than once visit, and be close to the psistarias, mezedopouleions and cafes on and around the main square. Built on the pedestrian way, right next to the square, Hotel Niovi offers air-conditioned rooms with free Wi-Fi. Guests have access to a bar and a spacious dining area where a buffet breakfast is served. The Hotel Meletiou (photo) is located in the centre of Thiva City. It features air-conditioned accommodation with free WiFi access. Facilities include a 24-hour front desk and a bar. Offering a seasonal outdoor pool and views of the mountain outside of the town of Thebes, Philoxenia Hotel has a barbecue and views of the pool, and guests can enjoy a drink at the bar. Free WiFi is provided throughout the property and free private parking is available on site. Search for More Hotels in Thebes

Paradosiako Restaurant, Thebes

Where to Eat in Thebes

There are a number of restaurants, cafes and ouzeries in and around the main square of Thebes. Paradosiako has grilled meats including provatina and paidakika, whole lamb on a spit, kokoretsi, kondosouvli, oven cooked dishes like mousaka, pastitsio and stuffed tomatoes and even seafood. The restaurant has outdoor seating on the square. They also have live music on Friday night. Also To Palio Dimarchaeio is a psistaria-seafood-taverna-ouzeri combination with grilled and rotisserie meats, pastas, and lots of mezedes and a great atmosphere, tucked away at Oidipodos 21 in the center of town. If you can't find it ask anyone.

Getting to Thebes

You can catch a bus to Thebes fairly easily though I suggest renting a car and exploring Boetia and the rest of this part of mainland Greece. For car rentals try Swift Rent-a-car who not only have great cars at low rates but will also drive you out of Athens to the National Road so you don't have to deal with Athens traffic. You can also book a day or overnight tour with George the Famous Taxi Driver. Be sure to visit Delphi too.

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