Greek Ruins: The 8 Best Historical Sites in Greece

By

As one of the most prominent civilizations in the ancient world, Greece offers a wealth of historical sites for visitors to explore. Dozens of familiar cultural institutions—architectural styles, the Olympic games and even democracy itself—originated in Greece, making it a dream destination for history buffs. If you’re planning a trip to this sunny Mediterranean nation, be sure to add the following eight Greek ruins to your travel itinerary.

The 8 Best Greek Ruins

The Acropolis (Athens)

Athens has endured for centuries as the political and cultural capital of Greece, and the Acropolis is its crown jewel. These are the most popular of the Greek ruins. This towering limestone peak is the city’s highest point, providing the foundation for some of the most important structures in the ancient city. Today, the Acropolis functions solely as a tourist attraction, drawing millions of visitors to the remains of these structures:

  • Propylaia: These imposing marble columns combine the Doric and Ionic styles of architecture and serve as the gateway to the Acropolis.
  • Temple of Athena Nike: This simple yet stunning structure on the site’s southwest corner was originally constructed around 420 B.C. and was rebuilt from its original materials in the 19th century after being destroyed by the invading Turks two centuries earlier.
  • Erechtheion: In Greek mythology, this temple was the site where gods Athena and Poseidon battled to determine which of them would become the city’s patron (Athena won). Its remains consist primarily of several Ionic-style porticoes and the Porch of the Caryatids, six sculpted maidens forming marble columns.
  • Theatre of Dionysos: This ancient amphitheater once held 17,000 spectators for performances of great dramatic masterpieces; today, only 20 of the 64 tiers of seating remain.
  • Herodes Atticus Theatre: This smaller, more visible theater on the Acropolis’s south side has been restored and continues to be used for performances during the annual summer festival.

The Parthenon (Athens)

Also located on the Acropolis—but significant in its own right—is the Parthenon, a temple built in the 5th century B.C. in honor of Athena, goddess of wisdom and warfare and the city’s patron. A massive set of Greek ruins, the temple originally consisted of 136 35-foot fluted Doric columns topped by a marble-tiled roof, with pediments on the east and west ends of the temple depicting scenes from the life of Athena.

Over the centuries, the temple has served as a place of worship for multiple faiths: it was converted into a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the 5th century A.D. and then turned into a Turkish mosque in 1456. Unfortunately, the structure was decimated during a 17th-century conflict between the Venetians and the Turks, but its remains are still one of the most impressive historic sites anywhere in the world.

The Acropolis of Rhodes (Rhodes)

Located on the island of Rhodes—the largest island in the Dodecanese chain in the southern Aegean Sea—the Acropolis of Rhodes looms over the western half of the city of the same name. Unlike many acropoleis of its era, the Acropolis of Rhodes was unfortified. These Greek ruins consisted of large temples, sanctuaries, a stadium and other buildings built into terraces along the hillside in the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C. Although excavations of the site began in the early 20th century, much of the structure has yet to be revealed, and only a few ruins are currently visible, including the

  • Temple of Athena Polias and Zeus Polieus: Located on the northern edge of the Acropolis, this peripteral temple features a columned portico on all sides and provided a location for the Rhodians to store their treaties with other nation-states.
  • Temple of Apollo: This smaller peripteral temple sits on the southern end of the Acropolis.
  • Nymphaia: These elaborate subterranean spaces were carved into the rock to serve as locations for recreation and religious ceremonies; their ancient architects included water cisterns, spaces for statues in the walls and even plants and other vegetation.
  • Stadium: Dating to the 3rd century B.C., the stadium hosted athletic competitions during the Haleion Games, held to honor the god Helios.
  • Odeion: This small marble theater, which was used for musical performances and rhetorical events, held about 800 spectators and has been restored in modern times.

Ancient City of Kamiros (Rhodes)

Along the northwest coast of the island of Rhodes, the ancient city of Kamiros is an architectural wonder of Greek ruins dating back to the 8th century B.C. As one of three major Doric cities on the island, Kamiros was a critical component of the powerful Rhodian city-state.

This agricultural community produced abundant stores of olive oil, wine and figs and was the first city on the island to mint its own coins. Though Kamiros was leveled twice by major earthquakes, its citizens rallied to rebuild the thriving city until most of its inhabitants gradually relocated to the newly established city of Rhodes after 408 B.C.

Archaeologists first uncovered the ruins of Kamiros in 1929 and continued excavations until the end of the Second World War. Notable structures still visible include the Doric Fountain House, stoa (covered walkway), agora and the Sanctuary of Athena.

The site is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily during the summer tourist season, and admission is around 3 euros.

Palace of the Grand Master (Rhodes)

Located on the island of Rhodes in the town of the same name, the Palace of the Grand Master are Greek ruins that were built by the Knights of Rhodes in the 14th century. They were constructed as a residence and administrative center for the governor.

These Greek ruins later served as a fortress when Rhodes was invaded by the Ottoman Empire in 1522. The magnificent structure was severely damaged in 1856 when ammunition stored on the lower level exploded, decimating most of the building’s lower level.

During the Italian rule of Rhodes in the early 20th century, the palace was rebuilt in a style reminiscent of the Medieval period, serving as a holiday residence for the Italian king and Benito Mussolini. Its 158 lavishly decorated rooms are filled with fine marble, precious artwork and antique furniture from the 16th and 17th centuries. Many of the floors are paved with mosaics of ancient Roman and Byzantine artwork, and Italian frescoes adorn the walls.

Today, the palace belongs to the Greek government, which has opened two dozen of the rooms to tourists and established a museum on the property. The palace also hosts exhibitions and performances throughout the year.

Tours are available every day but Sunday, with hours varying based on the season. Plan to spend two to three hours exploring the palace and surrounding grounds.

Ancient City of Corinth

Roughly an hour’s drive from Athens, Corinth was a major metropolis in ancient Greece and remains so today. Many of its most interesting historic ruins are scattered on and around the Acrocorinth, a rocky peak just outside the modern city. Over the centuries, earthquakes have caused many of the ancient structures to crumble, although the foundations are still visible and quite impressive.

At the summit of the Acrocorinth, you’ll find the remains of the Greek ruins of the Temple of Aphrodite along with an agora, askepieion (healing temple), theater and fountain. Fortifications along the sides of the Acrocorinth anchor the remains of the Temple of Octavia and Temple of Apollo.

The main archaeological site also features ruins of numerous Roman buildings, including a forum, temples, porticoes, baths, fountains, latrines and other structures. Just south of the site are a Roman theater, Odeion, temple of Asclepius and Hygieia, the ancient city walls and several Venetian and Ottoman monuments.

While you’re there, be sure to make time to visit the Archaeological Museum of Ancient Corinth, which features collections of Neolithic artifacts, mosaics, terracotta figurines, marble sculptures, pottery and more.

Temple of Apollo (Delphi)

Dating back to the 4th century B.C., the Temple of Apollo has been destroyed and rebuilt multiple times over the centuries, but it remains one of the most fascinating historic destinations in Greece.

The sprawling sacred site of Greek ruins is located about 100 miles northwest of Athens on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. The temple itself sits about halfway up the mountain, its Doric columns and stone platform rising above the valley below, where vast groves of olive trees reach from the base of the mountain to the Gulf of Corinth.

Once you arrive at Delphi, you’ll be traversing the winding uphill path of the Sacred Way, so wear comfortable shoes and plenty of sunscreen. As you make your way up the mountain, you’ll see the following sites:

  • Treasury of the Athenians: This small, colorful marble building was built in the Doric style in the 6th or early 5th century B.C.
  • Temple of Apollo: In ancient times, the temple was where the people sought prophecy from the Pythia, or Oracle, of Delphi. The priestess revealed her divinations in the adyton, a separate room at the rear of the temple.
  • Ancient Theater of Delphi: At this large marble amphitheater, musical events and competitions were held in conjunction with religious festivals and the Pythian Games
  • Ancient Stadium of Delphi: This remarkably well-preserved arena hosted the Pythian Games, which were in their day more significant competitions than the ancient Olympic Games.

The site is open to visitors from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Be sure to reserve at least half a day, if not longer, to explore the rich history of Delphi.

Knossos (Crete)

Dating back to the Neolithic period, Knossos is thought to be the oldest city in Europe. The Minoan people flourished here during the Bronze Age, and their innovations—which include one of the earliest known uses of an underground sewer and sanitation system—helped to shape western civilization. Today, visitors to the site can still witness many of the wonders of this advanced ancient society.

The archaeological site is easily accessible, located a short 15-minute drive from the island’s capital of Heraklion. It was initially identified by German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann in the mid-19th century, but the local Ottoman authorities refused to allow an excavation at that time. It wasn’t until 1900 that British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans was able to uncover the ruins of the Minoan city and partially restore some of the structures in an effort to recreate their original design.

Knossos is famously labyrinthine, and its complexity gave rise to the myth of the Minotaur, the bull-man hybrid held captive inside the maze by King Minos. According to the legend, seven youths and seven maidens were brought to the palace from Athens every nine years to become human sacrifices. Ultimately, the Greek hero Theseus was able to find his way out of the maze using a ball of string to mark his path.

You won’t see any mythological creatures today, but you will be able to explore the following key attractions:

  • Kouloures: Giant circular pits built between 1900 and 1700 B.C.; their purpose is uncertain, although theories suggest they may have served as sites for dumping trash or storing grain.
  • Grand Staircase: This impressive structure was recreated by Evans using the columns, pillar bases and stone vases discovered nearby.
  • Magazines: Storage rooms containing cisterns, large jars and clay tablets.
  • Throne Room: Another of Evans’ recreations, this chamber features a stone throne and replicas of the original frescoes, which are now housed in the museum in Heraklion.
  • North Lustral Basin: Massive slabs of gypsum and marble columns discovered by Evans were the inspiration for this recreation, theorized by Evans to have been used for purification ceremonies.
  • North Pillar Hall: This most famous component of the palace is an open-air passageway lined with colonnades and connecting the palace’s central court to its northern entrance.
  • Drainage system: The remnants of this remarkable feat of engineering are still visible on site.

The palace is open for touring from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the summer and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the winter. Entry is 15 euros, although a combination ticket with the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion delivers a better value. You can walk through the site yourself or join a guided tour for a richer experience. These are some incredible Greek ruins.

Leave a Comment