Sun, sand and wonderful food aside, Greece is a place travelers are extremely excited to see 2000 years of Greek history up close. There’s no experience in the world that can quite compare to see a building that stood more than 20 centuries before you were born. If you’re getting excited for temples, ancient theaters, crumbling statues and a rich sense of history, here’s where to travel in Greece first:
ShutterstockThe Acropolis |
You can’t visit Athens without spending the day walking around the remains of its awe-inspiring city on a hill. In the morning it bakes white in the hot sun, in the afternoon it turns honey in the fading light. At night, it's lit up to be visible all over the city. Wear sturdy walking shoes as you explore what was once the Greek leader Pericles’ lavish city of temples.
People lived in the Acropolis for hundreds of years before its transformation into the city of the gods. When the new city was complete, it was considered the zenith of Greek Classical architecture with gold, silver and marble everywhere.
The ancient city you see today is impressive, but nothing like its former glory. Over the course of 1,500 years, statues have been removed, gold and jewels pilfered and buildings repurposed or destroyed by invaders and occupiers. Nevertheless, exploring the Acropolis and its treasures housed in a nearby museum is one of the most impressive experiences you’ll have in Athens.
Akrotiri isn’t a Greek site, it’s Minoan, but it makes the list because it’s not every day you get to walk through an ancient city that was preserved for many years under a layer of volcanic ash.
You’ll find Akrotiri on the island of Santorini and its incredible sights are enough to tear you away from the beaches and whitewashed villages, if only for the morning. Excavation of Akrotiri only began in 1967 and archeologists found some incredible treasures lying deep underground. Without the damaging effects of sun or moisture, the frescos that once decorated the one and two story houses at Akrotiri have survived intact. Colorful papyrus reeds, antelopes, goddesses and fisherman adore the walls in full color.
Unlike Pompei, Akrotiri’s residents seem to have had some warning about the upcoming volcanic eruption. There have been no bodies found at the site and many important household goods and family treasures seem to have been packed up and removed.
During ancient times, Epidaurus was one of the most important centers of healing in the Classical world. The reputation endured, even when the center dropped its worship of the Classical gods and started worshipping Christianity.
When you visit today, the ancient Greek theater will be the most jaw-dropping sight. Built into a hillside, the theater has hundreds of risers with a circular space below for the actors to perform. Arrive in summer and you can attend an open-air play while sitting in the same place that Greeks did thousands of years before you. The acoustics of the space were carefully planned so that you can hear actors speaking softly even in the last row of stands.
The Greeks built Delphi on the spot the considered the center of the world. The ancient town clings to the hillside of Mt. Parnassos with rocky crags up above and forests of cypress trees in the valley below. If you hold your head right, you’ll be able to see the Gulf of Corinth stretching out in a blue tongue far below.
Delphi’s Sacred Way will be your footpath of choice for seeing the Sanctuary of Apollo – Delphi’s most important Greek temple. An eternal flame once burned to honor the god and the footpath was lined with treasures and statues sent to Delphi from other Greek city states. When you visit the theater, you’ll want to linger on the top rows, which offer incredible mountain views. Save time for the round sanctuary of Thena Pronea – Delphi’s most striking columned rotunda.
Sparta’s ruins are just that – ruined. It’s hard to imagine the proud city state which once was so fearless it guarded its city without a wall. Despite the Spartan’s rigorous battle training and fearsome reputation, the city was eventually ransacked and the population scattered.
As you trip over the stones that used to be a formidable city, you can enjoy the scents of the olive groves and the beautiful views of the nearby Taygetos Mountains. The remains of the hilltop Sanctuary of Athena Halkioitou are of special interest.
Underwhelmed by Sparta’s ruins? Luckily there’s the archaeological museum where you can see statues, votive sticks and mosaics from Spartan civilizations.
Aptera was one of western Crete’s most populous and influential city states until an earthquake leveled it in the seventh century A.D. The Greek ruins are mostly rubble, but archaeologists are continuing to dig out the site and have found evidence of an ancient Theater and a temple from the fifth century B.C.E. You’ll see a 12th-century monastery which operated until the 1960s along with Roman cisterns, Roman baths, Doric temples and a Roman peristyle villa.
If you’re having trouble imagining the bygone era from the foundations and piles of rock which adorn the site, you can take a look at the stone castle on site. The Turks built the fortification to hold their position against rebelling Greeks.
Rhodes is home to several ancient sites of importance. The Acropolis of Rhodes is directly outside the modern city while the Acropolis of Lindos is located on the other side of the island.
Like many other sites, the Acropolis of Lindos on Rhodes presents a layered look at all the civilizations that have called the island home over the millennia. You can take the trip to the acropolis by donkey if you so desire, but it’s easy enough to walk. The ancient city sits on a high rock with views of the sea. You’ll see Hellenistic pillars, an ancient temple to Athena and the Byzantine Church of Agios Loannis.
You’ve got to stay fueled while you travel between archaeological sites. Here’s What to Eat In Greece.
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