The Byzantine city of Mystas is in the foothills of the Tagetos mountains above the plain of Sparta. It’s a few kilometers off the road from Sparta to Kalamata. It’s a large site in a magnificent mountain setting with many churches, palaces, mansions and fortifications, an exceptional place to visit.
Tip: Mystras is an outstanding site and is also difficult to negotiate. Although it is in the foothills it still gets very hot in summer as it’s not that far above the plain of Sparta with very little shade in the site other than the buildings. The main problems is it’s a very steep site and quite rugged underfoot. For many it’s physically challenging to get to the top in any circumstances, and with a temperature well above 30C in the summer it will become impossible to see much of the site. In the summer try to get there as early as you can. If you have a car there is a 2nd gate up towards the top of the site. You can see the lower site, come out and drive to the upper entrance (keeping hold of your tickets of course). There is a cafe/restaurant below the main gate with nice views and shade to look forward to after your exertions.
Sparta is a modern city with few archaeological remains to visit, though there is probably much more hidden under the concrete and the museum is worth a visit. The Spartan ethic was to spurn personal riches and comfort, gaining political and military power by strengthening the minds and bodies of it’s people through harsh austerity – not by building lavish temples and civic amenities like the Athenians who were their perpetual enemies. To keep the Spartan race pure, male Spartan babies born with disabilities were thrown off a cliff; The training of young boys taken from their mothers at the age of 7 to become soldiers was savage, but nothing compared to the treatment meted out to their slaves – which included the whole population of Messinia, subjugated after many decades of war. While Athens was busy creating modern Western democracy, Sparta was defining and operating the first modern fascist totalitarian state. Keeping their race ‘pure’ was the cause of their eventual downfall, the birth rate fell and in the end there were too few of them left to control a state dependent on slavery.
For more information on Mystras: Harry’s Greece Travel Guide