There’s a host of top Greek Ruins in Italy to visit and among the very best are Paestum, the Syracuse Archaeological Site and the Valley of the Temples. Other popular sites tend to include Segesta, Selinunte and Metapontum.
We’ve put together an experts guide to Ancient Greek sites in Italy, with our top ten places to visit as well as a full list of the best Greek ruins in Italy, which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.
What are the best Ancient Greek Ruins in Italy?
Paestum is a Greco-Roman site located south of Naples which contains the stunning remains of three ancient Greek temples which still stand tall today.
Today, visitors can still see the spectacular temples – the Temple of Hera, the Temple of Neptune and the Temple of Ceres. The site also contains impressive defensive walls, a Roman forum, the basic remains of a Roman amphitheatre and a number of ancient tombs. Paestum also boasts an early Christian church and Paestum Museum, which has a wealth of information about the local sites.
The Valley of the Temples is a famous archaeological site in Sicily housing some of the best preserved Ancient Greek ruins in the world, especially outside Greece. Agrigento, in which they are located, had been a Greek colony since the 6th century BC. Really more of a ridge than a valley, the Valley of the Temples is mainly comprised of the beautiful ruins of nine sacred temples.
The oldest of the temples, the Temple of Herakles, was constructed in the sixth century BC and is made up of several Doric columns. The best preserved of the ruins is the fifth century BC Temple of Concorde, saved from destruction when it was incorporated into a Christian church. The other temples are dedicated to Juno, Olympian Zeus, Hephaistos, Hera Lacinia and Castor and Pollux.
The Velia Archaeological Site in Campania houses the remains of a Greek colony turned Roman municipality. Velia was originally founded by a Greek community as the colony of “Elea” in 540 BC. With the help of prominent citizens and philosophers Zeno and Parmenides (the latter having founded the school of Eleatics, the former having been a member), Velia managed to overcome several attacks including from Poseidonia and the Lucanians.
Today, the site contains an array of ancient ruins as well as medieval ones. Visitors can see a series of public buildings and monuments from the Greek and Roman eras including third century BC fortifications, a large fourth century BC arch known as the Pink Gate as well as second century AD Roman baths with mosaics and a theatre.
The Syracuse Archaeological Site contains the impressive remains of the ancient city of Syracuse dating as far back as the eighth century BC. The city of Syracuse was founded by Greek colonists – heralding from Corinth – in 734 BC. At its height, Syracuse was the most powerful city in Sicily and, according to Cicero, was the “most beautiful” of all Greek cities.
Today, visitors to the site can enjoy the spectacular remnants of its past, the most famous of which is its Ancient Greek theatre. There is also a sanctuary to Apollo, an altar to Sicilian King Hieron II, a set of ancient quarries and a fort known as the Castle of Euryalus.
Segesta is an archaeological site in north western Sicily most famous for the Temple of Segesta. This fifth century BC temple was started by the Elymian people but never completed. Nevertheless, with its over thirty intact Doric columns and clear structure, the unfinished temple is so well-preserved that it is considered to be one of Sicily’s most important historic sites. Only the roof and interior are missing.
Most of Segesta remains unexcavated. There is also a nearby third century BC ancient Greek amphitheatre, which can be reached by bus from Segesta.
The remains of the Ancient Greek city of Metapontum – part of ’Magna Grecia’ or greater Greece – include theatres, temples and drainage. Today, the modern town of Metaponto plays host to the extensive historic site itself as well as a museum.
Taormina Amphitheatre (Teatro Greco Romano) was initially built by the Greeks in the third century BC before being rebuilt and enlarged by the Romans.
While known as an amphitheatre, the site is actually an ancient theatre, not an arena of the type normally meant by the term.
Parts of the Taormina Amphitheatre, such as its scenery, are still quite well-preserved, although some would say that the modern seating ruins the effect.
Today, as well as being a major draw for tourists to the city, the theatre is still used for concerts, plays and other event.
Selinunte is an Ancient Greek archaeological site in southern Sicily containing the ruins of an acropolis surrounded by five historic temples, mostly dating to the sixth to fifth centuries BC.
The sites at Selinunte are relatively meagre when one considers that this would once have been one of the great cities of Magna Graecia founded in the mid-seventh century BC. However, much of Selinunte was destroyed by the Carthaginians in the fifth century BC.
Of the temples at Selinunte, only one has been substantially partially reconstructed, its standing Doric columns forming an impressive sight.
Some of the most famous exhibits at the museum include Greek sculptures by artists such as Calamis and Nesiotes and the third largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in the world. Also popular is the Secret Cabinet, an exhibit of erotic Roman art and The Placentarius sculpture.
Florence Archaeological Museum offers a diverse collection of antiquities. The most impressive and comprehensive collection is probably the archaeological museum’s exhibit of Etruscan art which includes the world famous Chimera of Arezzo statue dating back to 400 BC.
Florence Archaeological Museum also exhibits artefacts from Ancient Egyptian, Roman and Greek times. Its ancient Egyptian collection is of particular importance and has been classed by some as the second most important in Italy after Museo Egizio in Turin. Some of the most celebrated pieces at the Florence Archaeological Museum are the sixth century François Vase and the Ancient Greek Idolino statue.