(120 miles) N of Athens on the Athens-Thessaloniki National Hwy.
you find yourself on the Athens-Thessaloniki Highway, keep an eye out
for the larger-than-life-size statue
of the Spartan king Leonidas, about halfway through the
6.4-kilometer-long (4-mile-long) Pass of Thermopylae that snakes between
the mountains and the sea. One of the most famous battles in history was
fought here in 480 B.C. during the Persian King Xerxes's attempt to
conquer Greece. To this day, historians speculate on just how different
the world might have been if Xerxes had succeeded, and Greece had become
part of the Persian Empire.
Xerxes invaded Greece in 480 B.C. with perhaps 100,000 men, soldiers
from almost every city-state in south and central Greece rushed to
Thermopylae to try to stop the Persian king's advance. The Greeks might
have succeeded in holding the narrow pass of Thermopylae had not a
traitor told the Persians of a secret mountain path that allowed them to
turn the pass. As Leonidas and his 300-man royal guard stood and fought
at Thermopylae, the main Greek force retreated south to regroup and
fight another day. When the fighting at Thermopylae was over, Leonidas
and his men lay dead, but the Spartan king had earned immortal fame for
name Thermopylae (Hot Gates) refers to the warm springs that bubbled
here in antiquity, when the pass was considerably narrower than it is
now that centuries of silt have built up the seashore. Many of
Thermopylae's springs have been partly diverted to spas, such as Kamena
Vourla, but unfortunately, overdevelopment has seriously undercut the
former charm of the seaside towns nearby. If you want to take a fast
look at some of the springs, keep an eye out for plumes of smoke when
you park near the statue of Leonidas. If you don't see the plumes,
follow your nose: The smell of sulfur is strong.
above were written by Dr. Earl Fries prior to his leading a Steps of
Paul and John Tour.