Influential in ancient times, Greece is often known as the ‘cradle of civilisation’. With its territory being variously fought over during the course of its 40,000 year history, today a number of fascinating sites remain which are testament to the country’s wealth of ideas and central role as an ancient power.
Famous locations which date variously over a thousand years such as the Acropolis, Akrotiri, and Mystras are hugely popular tourist attractions. When it comes to travel inspiration, there’s little doubt that the historic sites in Greece provide endless possibilities. Here’s 10 of our favourites.
1. The Acropolis
The Acropolis is one of the most recognisable historic sites in the world and remains an inspirational monument to the achievements of Ancient Greek civilisation. Standing tall above the Greek city of Athens, the Acropolis contains a number of buildings and monuments from Greek Antiquity, including the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Propylaia and the temple of Athena Nike.
Today, the Acropolis is an extremely popular historic site and caters for a multitude of tourists every year. The recently opened Acropolis Museum, which lies nearby, contains an amazing array of displays and artefacts from the Acropolis itself.
Akrotiri is a beautifully preserved ancient site in Santorini, famed for its incredible frescos and its connection with the Minoans. However, Akrotiri has another claim to fame. It is generally considered that Akrotiri was linked with Knossos and would have been a Minoan site. However, some have gone further, claiming that it was the lost city of Atlantis.
The stunning ruins of Akrotiri now stand testament to the sophisticated urban settlement which once existed there. The buildings are largely multi-storey, with many of them containing vivid frescoes on various themes. This excellent state of preservation has drawn parallels with another famously volcanically preserved site, earning it the moniker of the “Minoan Pompeii“.
Mystras sits atop a hill overlooking the city of Sparta. In approximately 1248-1249, William II of Villehardouin, a prince of Achaea who had taken part in the Fourth Crusade, decided to build a stronghold there as a defence from the Byzantines. Probably abandoned in 1832, Mystras is today an important archaeological site listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. During its time as an active city, many churches, palaces, houses and other structures, including its famous fortress were considered to be some of the best architectural gems of their times, known as the so-called “wonders of Morea’.
What remains at Mystras today is a series of Byzantine churches and a monastery as well as several ruins including the castle, some roads and the fortress walls, all set amidst an incredible landscape. The entrance to the site is particularly well preserved. There is a nearby Mystras Museum housing finds from the site.
4. Temple of Hephaestus
The Temple of Hephaestus is an imposing ancient Greek temple in the Athenian Agora and site of worship of the Greek deity of fire, blacksmiths and sculpture.
Built in the fifth century BC, the Temple of Hephaestus was later incorporated into the Church of Agios Georgios, which accounts for its excellent state of preservation.
Mycenae is an important archaeological site in Greece. Between 1600BC and 1100BC, it was the city at the centre of the Mycenaean civilisation. Believed to have been inhabited since Neolithic times, Mycenae flourished into a fortified city and was ruled at one time by the famous King Agamemnon. It is linked to several works of cultural significance, including the Odyssey and the Iliad.
Today, Mycenae contains several well-preserved sites, including the Lion’s Gate and the North Gate. A few other dwellings can also be seen at Mycenae, together with a granary and some guard rooms. The most impressive of the burial sites and arguably the most remarkable of Mycenae’s sites is the Tomb of Agamemnon itself. This once elaborate thirteenth century BC tomb is carved into Mycenae’s hills.
6. Grandmasters Palace - Rhodes
The Grandmasters Palace was the palace of the Knights Hospitaller of St John. Dating to the fourteenth century, the Palace would be the base of this famous Christian and military order until Rhodes was captured by the Ottomans in 1522.
Today, this medieval castle operates as a museum of works mostly from the early Christian period up to the Ottoman conquest. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Medieval City of Rhodes.
Meteora is an incredible set of monasteries each perched high atop Greek mountains in area of extraordinary natural beauty. In fact “Meteora” literally means “suspended in the air”. The sites on which the Meteora monasteries were built are believed to have first been inhabited by a group of monks who lived their lives in seclusion during the eleventh century. However, many of the Meteora monasteries seen today date back to the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries.
The most important of the Meteora monasteries is perhaps that of The Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron, which was built in the mid-fourteenth century and is now a museum. Other monasteries of Meteora include Agias Triados, Agiou Nikolaou, Varlaam, Agias Varvaras Rousanou and Agiou Stefanou. When visiting Meteora, it is required that women wear skirts covering their knees and that both men and women cover up generally.
Delphi is an archaeological site in mainland Greece comprised of the well-preserved ruins of one of the most important cities in Ancient Greece. Many of the sites at Delphi date back to the fifth century BC, although many have been reconstructed and some altered by the Romans. Possibly the best preserved site in Delphi is the fifth century Doric building of the Treasury of the Athenians, which is located along The Sacred Way, a central road of the religious area of the city. The Treasury of the Athenians held the trophies of sporting victories, although its exact purpose is still the subject of debate.
Today, Delphi reveals much of its past through incredible ruins, demonstrating a balance between religion, politics and leisure activities, particularly sports. Amongst these are the Temple of Apollo, believed to date back to the fourth century BC and once a central ceremonial site. Yet perhaps Delphi’s most iconic site is the Tholos. Constructed in around 380 BC, this once circular building had six Doric columns, three of which stand today.
Knossos was an important ancient site found on the outskirts of the modern city of Heraklion in Crete. It is believed that Knossos was first established a place of settlement in Neolithic times in around 7000 BC and then continuously inhabited until the Ancient Roman period.
Excavated and vastly reconstructed in the nineteenth century by archaeologist Arthur Evans, Knossos has revealed a wealth of ancient treasures, not least of which are its many fascinating ruins. The most famous of these is the Knossos Palace, also known as the Labyrinth due to its incredible maze of passageways and rooms. Other important buildings at Knossos include the 14th century BC Royal Villa with its pillar crypt, the Little Palace, believed to date back to the 17th century BC, the ornately decorated House of Frescos and the Villa of Dionysos, a 2nd century BC house from the Roman period.
Olympia was a vibrant Ancient Greek city where, in 776 BC, the first Olympic Games were held in the city in honour of the Greek deity, Zeus. The games at Olympia were a national event and attracted participants and spectators from around the country, raising Olympia’s status. They would continue until 394 AD when Roman Emperor Theodosius I, seeing them as a “pagan cult”, put them to an end.
Today, the result of this gradual growth can be seen at Olympia through sites such as the Treasuries, the Temple of Hera, both of religious importance and contained in the sacred precinct known as the Altis and the Pelopion, the supposed tomb of the mythical Pelops. These were built in around 600BC. Even the stadium in which the Olympic Games were played was upgraded, a purpose built area being built in around 560 BC and able to seat approximately 50,000 people. The remains of this impressive stadium are still visible today.