The people and culture of Ancient Greece did as much to form the world we live in today as any civilization in history. Greeks were among the first to advance what would become known as the scientific method. They recognized creativity as a major contribution to culture and thus elevated art to the public conscience. They nurtured some of the world’s first widely-read writers, and even laid the groundwork for modern democracy. Oh, and they built some massive, elaborate and durable buildings, from theaters and stadiums to temples and other sanctuaries.
One could road trip around ancient Greece for months without running out of things to see, do and learn. Here are some suggested stops to get you started.
Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi, issued prophesies from this scenic city beneath Mt. Parnassus in south central Greece. For a time, Delphi was considered the center of the world. Today it is no less visually impressive, with a massive theater situated on the peak of Mt. Parnassus and the still-standing columns of the Sanctuary of Apollo. Other highlights include the Delphi Museum, which holds artifacts from the sanctuaries of Apollo and Athena, and the reconstructed Treasury of the Athenians.
This town of Venetian houses and seaside mansions, about 90 miles southwest of Athens, was a sovereign nation-city in ancient times and, from 1829-1833, the capital of Greece (prior to Athens). It is renowned for its romance and beauty -- credit its seaside location beneath 2 fortress-topped mountains -- and is a big draw for weddings and honeymoons. Nafplio is a mere 24 miles from the Epidaurus Theater, one of the best preserved ancient theaters in Greece, dating to the late 4th century B.C. Next to the theater is the Asclepieion, a healing temple where the sick were brought to receive care directly from Asclepius, the Greek god of healing.
For a taste of classic ancient ruins -- namely, remnants of immense temples, with columns and crumbled facades -- visit Corinth. The city was prominent even in pre-ancient times due to its strategic position on the Isthmus of Corinth, which divides the Peloponnese from northern Greece. Highlights in ancient Corinth, which is a few miles from the current city, include the Temple of Apollo, one of the country’s oldest stone temples (6th century B.C.) and far-more-crumbled Temple of Octavia. There are also numerous ruins from when the city was under Roman rule, starting in the first century B.C., including the Peirene Fountain.
Most of us will never realize our dream of competing in the Olympics, but we can still pick up the ancient Olympics vibe from the city that first hosted the games. Many of the sports facility ruins scattered throughout the city, including the hippodrome, date back to Olympia’s heyday from the 8th century B.C. to the invasion by the Romans in 150 B.C. The entire archeological site of Olympia, about 160 miles west of Athens, is showing both its age and further crumbling due to earthquakes, but is still worth the visit. The archeological site is huge, so plan for a day of walking.
This requires adding a ferry ride to your road trip, but it’s worth it: The island of Aegina (also spelled Egina) in Saronikos Bay has the Temple of Aphaea, one of the more meticulously built and well-preserved archaic temples in Greece. The temple was erected in a larger sanctuary to honor the goddess Aphaea, who was linked to fertility and agriculture. Today, 24 of the temple’s original 32 columns still stand, and the view of the Aegean Sea from the hilltop site is spectacular.
Few major cities in the world contain as much physical history as Athens. Spread throughout the metropolis are archeological wonders including the Parthenon, Acropolis, Erechtheion, the Ancient Agora, Roman Agora, Olympieion, Kerameikos and Panathenaic Stadium, also called the Kallimarmaro Stadium, which was built in 330 B.C. to host the ancient Panathenaic games.
A road trip through ancient Greece is a living history lesson. It also reveals the staying power a culture with ideals so universal they’ve inspired subsequent generations to help care for what was left behind.
Travel writer John Briley is planning a trip to Greece.