The eastern slopes of Mount Helicon have been witnesses to the history of the Valley of the Muses, the site of an ancient Greek sanctuary where, since the 3rd century B.C., the Thespians would organize the Mouseia festivals in honor of the nine Muses every five years.
The valley is located in Thespies, Boeotia, which belongs in modern Central Greece and the earliest known records of the Nine Muses are from Boeotia, the homeland of Hesiod.
These celebrations saw artists, musicians and poets arriving from every corner of Greece to stage tragedies and comedies, kithara recitals (using a lyre-like instrument), satiric poetry readings and epic performances.
During the second and first centuries B.C., different games to honor the Roman emperor were introduced. From that moment on, these festivals were called Great Kaisareia; the Muses were no longer the first ones to be honored, but the emperor, mainly because he was in charge of sponsoring the celebrations.
The first archaeological finds in the area go back the late 1880s when the rectangular foundation of the small altar of the Muses was found in the small church of Agia Triada.
Remains of the theatre were discovered on the mountain slope as well, while antiquities later retrieved allowed researchers to establish that the sanctuary included the following buildings:
A theatre probably dating back to the third or second centuries B.C., specially built for the games taking place during the Mouseia. The slope of the mountain was used as part of the sitting area while just the first row of seats was made of marble.
A long stoa or colonnade of the Ionic order, 96 meters long, to contain the votive offerings to the Muses. It used to have internal walls later on replaced by Corinthian columns.
The small altar of the Muses also thought to be a temple, which consists of a small rectangular building dated in the same time period as the theatre.
Nine platforms of the statues of the Muses, five of which — the best-preserved ones — have inscribed the names of Muses.
The whole valley was dominated by a square tower going back to the fourth century B.C. The so-called Tower of Askri stood on top of Pyrgaki hill and it was probably built by the Thespians (before the battle of Leuktra in 371 B.C. ) to control the movements of the Thebans.
How to visit: The Valley of the Muses is an open-air site, permanently open and is located close to the village of Askri. For further information, visit the website of the valley. While in the area, the Archaeological Museum of Thebes is also worth a visit.