The landscape of Greece is covered with archaeological sites that have survived the test of time. Athens is adorned by the beautiful Parthenon, a fine tribute to the aesthetic beauty that was constantly sought in the Golden Age of ancient Athens.
However, it is not only Athens that contains examples of the culture and society of the ancient Greeks. There are many World Heritage arcaheological sites in Greece, all awaiting to be rediscovered time and time again by visitors from all over the world. Faistos, Mycenae, Olympia, Delphi, Dodoni and Vergina are just a small handful of these sites.
Faistos (also Phaistos)
Located 62 km from the city of Heraklion in southern Crete, the ancient Minoan city of Faistos, dating from the 15th century B.C., was one of the richest and most powerful Minoan cities. Excavation of the remnants of the Old and New Palaces started in 1884. It was also here that the Disk of Phaistos was found – the disk is written in the Linear A script, which has yet to be deciphered.
Probably one of the most famous ancient sites in Greece, Mycenae was ruled by the ancient king Agamemnon, who lead the Greek forces in the war against Troy. Filled with stories of great battles, Mycenae rapidly became a powerful city, influencing the whole of the Greek world. The city’s ‘cyclopean’ walls and massive Lion Gate were built with such large stones, the other Greeks said that they had been built by Cyclopes. This site is a must for admirers of ancient Greek culture and mythology.
As the name suggests, Olympia was the site where the ancient Olympic Games took place every four years. A major religious festival, the ancient Olympiad was held in honour of Zeus. The first Olympiad was reported to have taken place in 776 B.C and athletes were not only from regions throughout the Greek world, but also from from other European and African nations. They were welcomed and revered for their prowess and bravery.
The Olympic Games were such an important event in the ancient calendar, that the Peloponnesian War between the Athenians and the Spartans was brought to a halt in order for the Games to take place. Spartan and Athenian athletes competed and cheered for each other, as if they had never been at war. Once the Games finished, however, the war resumed. This spirit of internationalism and camaraderie was recently repeated in August 2004, where Greece once again hosted the Games.
Located 180 km north of Athens, and easily accessible by car or coach, Delphi is perfect for a day trip for anyone staying in Athens. The Oracle at Delphi was the most important religious site in the ancient Greek world. Dedicated to Apollo, it was known as the Omphalos, the navel (or centre) of the world. Greeks made their way to Delphi in order to recieve sage advice from the Pythia, the female soothsayer. Intoxicated, and in a trance-like state, she would often mutter intelligeble or inomprehensible answers to questions asked of her.
The arcaheological site at Delphi is quite impressive, containing ruins of the Temple of Apollo, the Amphitheatre, the Athenian Treasury and more. The Archaeological Museum of Delphi is located next to the site, and houses the Omphalos Stone, and the famous bronze statue of the Charioteer.
The ancient site of Dodoni (or Dodona) is located just 22km south of the city of Ioannina in northwestern Greece. Dedicated to Zeus, the famous oracle located there murmured her prophesies from a large, sacred oak tree.
Among the ruins, one can find the Temple of Zeus and a stadium used for athletic events. There is also a large amphiteatre, which could seat 18,000 people (larger than the one at Epidaurus).
Located in northern Greek province of Macedonia, Vergina was the seat of the powerful Macedonian kings. Excavations began in the late 19th century, and in 1977 the Royal Tombs had been discovered, miraculously unplundered and intact – this was considered to be one of the most important archaeological finds of the 20th century. The most impressive tomb belonged to Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great.
Apart from the Royal Tombs and a large cemetery (the Necropolis), one may also find the remains of the Palace, the Theatre and a walled acropolis.