Greece has a rich history and mythology, reflected in its many archaeological sites that display its cultural and architectural heritage. These sites range from old temples to cities that are many centuries old.
A little bit of History
Archaeological findings suggest that the first settlement in Greece dates back to the Palaeolithic era, between 11,000 and 3,000 BC. Then, during the second millennium BC, Greece experienced the emergence of important stone and bronze civilizations, such as the Minoans, Mycenaeans, and Cycladic civilization, which played a significant role in Greek and world history!
Moving on to the Classical period, this is a well-known era globally, and its peak was in the 5th century BC when Athens became the most prominent naval power in Greece. During this time, Athens made significant advancements in mathematics, physics, philosophy, architecture, music, drama, rhetoric, and democracy, which had a considerable impact on world history.
Athens and Sparta were the most influential city-states during this period, and other city-states aligned with one or the other. The Greek allies successfully resisted a Persian invasion, but the subsequent Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta led to the downfall of the classical era.
Starting from 168 BC, the Romans conquered Greece, marking the beginning of a new era in Greek history. During this time, Greece came under Roman rule, and new cities were established. Although Athens and Greek culture were in decline, Greek became the second official language of the Roman Empire. The Romans studied the works of classical philosophers and incorporated the Olympian gods into their religion.
The Byzantine period followed, with the Eastern Roman Empire and Constantinople as its capital thriving and eventually becoming the Byzantine Empire, which lasted for approximately 1,000 years. During this time, Christianity was declared the official religion, and expansion into new territories occurred with the formation of new state laws. These laws eventually became the basis for the first laws of the modern Greek state, which was established in the 19th century.
Ottomans period and Independence War
In 1453 AD, Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks, who later extended their domination over Greece. Greece faced many challenges and frequently experienced rebellions during the Ottoman occupation.
However, in March 1821, the Greek War of Independence broke out, which was a significant event in the country’s history. In 1829, Greece achieved its independence after enduring battles, massacres, and takeovers, and the first independent Greek state was established, consisting of Peloponnese, Sterea, and Cyclades islands.
Best Archaeological Sites in Greece
Having said all this, we are presenting some of Greece’s most important archaeological sites. Here are the top 13 archaeological sites you should visit in Greece.
The Acropolis of Athens is one of the most famous and important archaeological sites in Greece. It’s located on the highest point of Athens and is also known as the Sacred Rock. The Acropolis is the most significant relic of the Classical era and is considered Europe’s most crucial ancient monument. The most impressive building on the Acropolis is the Parthenon Temple, an architectural wonder from ancient times.
The Acropolis reminds us that Athens was the birthplace of a highly esteemed civilization. It was Pericles, a prominent statesman of the Classical Era, who envisioned the Acropolis as we see it today. The structures on the Acropolis, such as the Parthenon, Erechtheion, Temple of Athena Nike, and Propylaea, were built in the 5th century B.C. using expensive Pentelic marble.
Delphi is the site of the ancient Oracle of Apollo, where people would seek advice and guidance from the gods. The significant Delphi archaeological site in Greece was uncovered by the French School of Archaeology in 1893.
The sanctuary was originally dedicated to the worship of a female earth deity during the Mycenaean Period. Later on, the cult of Apollo was established, and the sanctuary and Oracle began to come to life at the beginning of the 8th century B.C. The sanctuary grew in size and became more self-sufficient, expanding its impact on both religious and political spheres.
Over time, stunning buildings, sculptures, and other offerings were added to the sanctuary. People from across the Mediterranean region journeyed to Delphi’s oracle to request guidance from Pythia, the priestess. Delphi’s oracle was regarded as the most accurate among the countless other oracles that emerged throughout Greece.
Ancient Olympia is an archaeological site of immense historical significance located in the picturesque region of Peloponnese. It is dedicated to Zeus, the most powerful deity of ancient Greek mythology, and comprises impressive structures, including the magnificent Zeus and Hera temples. The ancient Olympic Games were first held in Olympia during the 7th century B.C. These games were created to honor Zeus and were believed to have been founded by either Pelops, king of Peloponnese, or Hercules.
These sports competitions were the most significant in ancient times and even halted wars. The victorious athletes received a branch of an olive oil tree and were celebrated as heroes in their own lands. French archaeologists excavated the site in 1829 and sent some of the discoveries to the Louvre Museum in Paris. The site includes the significant landmarks of Zeus and Hera temples, the Stadium, sculptor Pheidias’ workshop, Palaestra, and the Gymnasium.
Knossos is an important relic of the Minoan Civilization that existed in Greece from 2,700 to 1,450 BC. Located near Heraklion in Crete, Knossos is famous for its well-preserved palace that was the seat of King Minos.
The Minoans were a prosperous civilization known for their remarkable palaces like Knossos and their commercial, political, social, and cultural systems. They were also the first to create a trade network with other parts of the Aegean and even founded colonies such as Akrotiri in Santorini.
The site includes several important monuments, such as the Palace of Knossos, the Little Palace, the Royal Villa, and the House of the Frescoes.
Mycenae, an ancient city in Greece, is considered one of the oldest sites in Greece and was ruled by King Agamemnon. The Mycenaean civilization succeeded the Minoans and was known for its military strength. The excavations revealed that the Mycenaean society was dominated by an elite group, and their citadels were defended by Massive Cyclopean walls. One significant feature of the site is the Lion Gate, and the museum is also worth exploring.
Epidaurus is an ancient sanctuary located on the eastern side of Peloponnese. It was a religious center dedicated to Asclepius, the god of healing, and people believed that he himself provided the treatments. Patients would sleep in a communal room, where Asclepius would appear in their dreams and recommend the necessary therapy.
Epidaurus was also known for its grand celebrations and athletic contests at the Ancient Stadium. The present-day theatre, built in the 4th century B.C., is made from marble and stone and has impressive acoustics. During the Greek Festival in summer, the theatre showcases performances of ancient Greek drama.
Now, let’s move on to Delos, a small islet located a few miles from Mykonos. It’s included in the World Heritage Monuments protected by UNESCO and is considered one of the most important ancient sites in Greece. According to Greek mythology, Delos is believed to be the birthplace of Apollo, the god of light, and possibly of Artemis, the twin sister of Apollo and goddess of hunting.
In ancient times, Delos was a significant site for religious rituals and trade activities. The French School of Archaeology began excavations on Delos in 1873, uncovering essential structures such as the Agora, the Temple of Apollo, the Terrace of the Lions, and the ancient theatre, which is currently undergoing renovation to accommodate theater performances.
If you want to visit Delos, you need to board a tour boat from Mykonos. Keep in mind that Delos is an uninhabited island that serves as an open archaeological site. There’s also a small museum on the island that showcases artifacts discovered during the excavations.
Philippi is an ancient Greek city that was later occupied by the Romans. It’s famous for its impressive structures, including a theater and a forum. The city has a rich history, having been occupied by Philip II of Macedon and witnessed the battle that established the Roman Empire. In fact, Emperor Augustus renamed the city Colonia Iulia Philippensis to mark its importance in the new Roman Empire. Philippi is also significant for being visited by the Apostle Paul and becoming the first community of early Christians in Europe.
As you explore the archaeological site, you’ll see evidence of the city’s transformation from a Hellenistic settlement to a Roman colony. For example, the theater was expanded, the Forum (Roman agora) was created, and important buildings like baths, cisterns, and latrines with running water were constructed. The wealth brought from trading on the Via Egnatia highlights the city’s importance as one of the most significant in Roman Greece. Philippi was added to Greece’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in 2016.
Eleusis is another important site that’s worth a visit. It was a center for the worship of the goddess Demeter and is home to several impressive ruins, including a temple and an ancient theater. The Eleusinian Mysteries, considered the most sacred in Ancient Greek religion until paganism fell, were held in Eleusis. This sacred site is located about 11 miles from Athens and is part of the city’s metropolitan area.
In addition to its historical significance, Eleusis is the birthplace of the great playwright Aeschylus and an area prominent in Greek mythology and ritual. Today, it’s also home to the Aeschylia Festival, the longest-tenured arts event in the Attica region.
Corinth, an important city in ancient Greece, boasts several remarkable ruins, including a temple dedicated to Apollo and an ancient forum. The temple, constructed between the 7th and 6th centuries BC, was initially built from stone, bricks, wood, and clay. Later on, it was replaced with a temple in the Doric order during the middle of the 6th century BC.
This newer temple featured monolithic Doric columns, out of which seven still stand. Besides the temple, there are several other important sights to visit in Ancient Corinth, like the market, the Propylaia, the Peirini Fountain, the Conservatory, the Corinthian Grand Theater, the ancient city wall, and the Gymnasium and Asklepieion relics.
Another site worth visiting is Akrotiri on Santorini island. This Minoan site is known for its impressive ruins, such as a complex drainage system and numerous frescoes. It was a well-developed town in ancient times, with storehouses, public buildings, two-story houses, and a sewerage system. Unfortunately, the site was destroyed by a volcanic eruption around 1600 BC, with the inhabitants leaving the town covered in volcanic ashes. Santorini also houses Ancient Thira, another important Minoan site that includes impressive ruins like a theater and several temples.
Next up is the Vergina archaeological site in Northern Greece is the ancient Kingdom of Macedon’s tombs of numerous kings. The site’s on-site museum is built underground around the royal tombs to protect them.
Visitors can view various objects used during burials, although photography is not allowed. If you’re interested in more artifacts discovered in the Vergina area, you can check out the newly opened Museum of Aigai, which displays pottery, tools, and intricate golden jewelry.
The Sanctuary of Dion is located on Mount Olympus, and it was dedicated to the Greek god Zeus. People have been offering sacrifices at this site since ancient times, but it was mainly expanded during the Macedonian era. Alexander the Great even sought help from the gods at the sanctuary before his expedition to Asia. Today, visitors can see the remnants of a Roman villa and mosaics that were added during the site’s expansion in Roman times.
Ancient Dodona is situated in the Epirus region of northwestern Greece, and it was a significant religious sanctuary until the rise of Christianity in the Late Roman Times. Initially, the site was devoted to a Mother Goddess, either Rhea or Gaia, but later, it was dedicated to the god Zeus. Dodona is the second most popular oracle in Greece after the Oracle of Delphi. Visitors used to submit questions on lead sheets to the priests, who would then consult Zeus for divinations. The rustling of the sacred oak leaves was interpreted to deliver the answer. The Ancient Theatre of Dodona is the most noteworthy attraction at the site, where visitors can experience ancient Greek drama and performances.
To sum up, Greece boasts many remarkable archaeological sites that exhibit the nation’s diverse cultural and architectural legacy. Whether you are fascinated by ancient temples, cities, or theaters, Greece’s historical sites offer something for everyone to discover.
Traveling to 🇬🇷 Greece soon?
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🤿 Tours & Activities: For tours and activities in Greece, I highly recommend using either Viator or GetYourGuide. These websites offer a full refund if you cancel your booking 24 hours before the start of the tour, and they also provide excellent customer service in case of any issues.
🚨 Travel Insurance: I always suggest purchasing travel insurance as a precaution before traveling, especially after a recent accident in a taxi in Greece. For short trips, I recommend Travel Insurance Master, whereas for digital nomads, Safety Wing is a better option.
📷 Best Camera for your trip: I always carry with me a GoPro, It’s light, compact, takes great video and pictures, and most importantly, it’s waterproof! You just can’t go wrong with one. If you are interested in higher quality video and photography, I always carry with me on my trips and highly recommend the Sony A7IV which I think is the best travel DSLR Camera out there.
☀️ Biodegradable Sunscreen: Remember to include a good sunscreen to protect yourself from the summer sun. I always use and suggest Sun Bum Sunscreen, which is vegan, reef-friendly, and cruelty-free.
The Minoan Civilisation, which existed from 2700 B.C. to 1500 B.C., is recognized as one of the earliest prosperous civilizations in human history. It was located on the island of Crete, and Sir Arthur Evans gave it its name in honor of King Minos. According to Greek mythology, King Minos, was born to Europa, a Phoenician princess, and Zeus.
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