In Greece, wonders of the ancient world are everywhere. The capital city has its classics - the Acropolis, the Parthenon and the Propylaea. Meanwhile, the Peloponnese peninsula is home to some of the most important archaeological sites in Greece, from the Temple of Hera to the original Olympic stadia. In Phocis, Rhodes and the Cyclades, visiting ancient temples, theatres and sanctuaries takes you on a journey to the world of myths of gods and heroes. This is our selection of ancient sites to visit during a trip to Greece.
- The Acropolis of Athens
- The temple of Aphaia in Aegina
- The temple of Apollo, the theatre and the stadium of Delphi
- The theatre of Epidaurus
- The temple of Zeus at Olympia
- The temples of Delos in the Cyclades
- The acropolis and the city of Kamiros in Rhodes
The Acropolis of Athens
In 1987, UNESCO classified the Acropolis a ‘universal symbol of the mind and ancient civilisation’ on its World Heritage List. The Acropolis, a monumental complex designed by Pericles, has stood on its rocky promontory since the 5th century BC. On a site measuring a little less than seven acres and enclosed with walls, it is the most remarkable group of monuments that the ancient Greek civilisation ever produced.
The Propylaea, an architectural masterpiece, is a monumental entrance designed to impress visitors – something it does quite successfully! The Parthenon is the most perfect of the Greek temples - the technical refinements and optical corrections give the building unity and cohesion. The Temple of Athena Nike, one of the most remarkable of the buildings on the Acropolis, is a miniature temple consisting of a single chamber which originally housed the statue of Athena Nike, a symbol of victory. The Erechteion is the most important building in terms of worship, consisting of several sanctuaries, but also offering beautiful architectural unity thanks to its porticos.
Admire the majesty of the temples before heading down to another building made of marble, concrete and smoked glass: the radically modern museum designed by Bernard Tschumi where some 4000 objects - including 300 masterpieces – are on display showcasing a complete timeline of human activity on the Acropolis, from prehistoric times to late antiquity.
The walk between ancient and modern monuments is also an opportunity to admire the Monument of Lysicrates, and the fifteen columns of the temple of Zeus.
The Temple of Aphaia
It only takes an hour by boat from Piraeus to reach Aegina, a small port home to bobbing fishing boats, a lively fish market and pleasant terraces. Surrounded by pine trees and far from the city, the temple of Aphaia is majestic - it is one of the three temples that make up the so-called Sacred Triangle, alongside the Parthenon and the temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion.
The ancient sites of Delphi
In the south of mainland Greece, north of the Gulf of Corinth, you can reach Delphi. Delphi was the centre of the world in the eyes of the ancient Greeks, who came to consult the Pythia, the priestess who gave prophesies on behalf of the god Apollo. A major archaeological site, built on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, Delphi was the symbol of the unity of Greek civilisation in the 6th century BC. Sitting in a superb and virtually untouched landscape surrounded by olive and cypress trees, you can explore the domain of the sun god, visiting Apollo's temple, theatre and stadium.
The Theatre of Epidaurus
The popular and enchanting city of Nafplio is the gateway to the Peloponnese, home to a slightly faded elegance where you can see a multitude of orthodox priests and as many sleepy cats. Visit the citadel of Tiryns to admire its massive walls (supposedly built by Cyclopes). From there, you can head to Epidaurus, the best-preserved ancient Greece theatre. To appreciate a visit here even more, we can try and time your run to coincide with a performance of Electra, performed with exceptional acoustics and surrounded by an ocean of olive trees.
The Temple of Zeus at Olympia
At Olympia in the Peloponnese, you can walk around the ruins of the colossal Temple of Zeus. The statue of the King of the Gods of Olympus, the work of the great sculptor Phidias, was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Second century historian Arrian tells us that it was considered a great misfortune to die without having seen the chryselephantine (overlain with gold and ivory) statue of Zeus. Walk across a plain dotted by massive columns, vestiges of the great sanctuary that for a millennium hosted athletes from all the cities of Greece. On the way, you can admire the Philippeion, a votive monument built on the initiative of Philip of Macedonia and completed by his son Alexander. And, because there is more to life than archaeology, you can make a detour to Kalamata to stock up on olives, recognised by their fleshy texture and incomparable taste - the best in the world? Probably.
In the Cyclades, a stone's throw from Mykonos, sits somewhere very different from its hedonistic neighbour: Delos, a small uninhabited, rocky but hugely significant island. The ancient world quite literally revolved around this rock - the name Cyclades implies that the islands of the archipelago form a circle (kyklos in Greek) around Delos. According to legend, it is the birthplace of the gods Apollo and Artemis and this is undoubtedly the archaeological crown jewel of the Cyclades. It's nice to walk around and admire the remains of its temples, which are scattered on its gentle slopes and granite rocks, from the sanctuary of Apollo to the Terrace of Lions.
The largest of the Dodecanese Islands became a major maritime power in ancient times. In Kamiros, you can discover the remains of an ancient city built on a hill, with its public and private quarters overlooked by a small acropolis. Then take a big jump forward in time to appreciate medieval Rhodes, built by the Knights of the Order of St. John after the Crusades. Visit the citadel, hospital, and Palace of the Grand Masters and then wander the old town of Rhodes: a gothic gem of great significance.
Cover photograph: Simone Capozzi/stock.adobe.com