When travelling the days begin to run together, and it becomes increasingly challenging to differentiate between the ancient ruins, that can go from magnificent to mind numbing when in a country as old as Greece. “Favourite” starts to lose its meaning when experiencing numerous amazing moments but three of my favourite ruins were Delphi, Olympia and Mycenae.
Close to Nafplio our next destination was Mycenae, a fortified Bronze Age city. The Mycenaean’s that Homer wrote of in the Iliad and the Odyssey controlled the Greek world between 1600 and 1200 BC. Mycenae like all the sites in Greece is at the top of a large hill. Though scant ruins remain, there are enough to make it easy to imagine what it once was like. The city’s mighty Lion Gate entrance is still awe-inspiring. The museum was full of your usual pottery and excavated treasures and made a welcome break from the unrelenting sun.
We continued on to Olympia the site of the original Olympic Games. As well as your usual temples and baths, there was the gymnasium and the area where the Olympic torch was lit. A lot of the site is knee high because of an earthquake, (there seem to have been lots of earthquakes). Archaeologists have attempted to put it back together in its original format, but they still have lots left to do, however, the arched entrance is still intact and of course the grassy stadium with a few stones where the judges once sat.
We overnighted in Delphi, one of the most important sights in the ancient world. The actual site and museum are at the edge of the modern town and contain the ruins of the Temple of Apollo, a place where people would seek wisdom from the Oracle. By the 6th century BC, the priestess was so influential no warrior would make a decision without first consulting her. However, there is more to Delphi than the oracle, you’ll see the theatre and stadium where the Pythian Games were held every four years in honour of Apollo these were second only in importance to the Olympics. I think perhaps this was my favourite!
We stayed in Sparta so that we could visit possibly my second favourite, Mystras, founded in 1249 so a newbie when compared to where we had been. As we got close, one peak towered over us, capped with castle type buildings. In the past people and goods were hauled to the top in nets, fortunately nowadays you can drive a lot of the way, but it is still a long trek to the citadel at the top. We wended our way up the rock paths to admire the churches some with just fragments of paintings visible on the walls, others less damaged. There was a lot to see.
Our final detour before leaving Greece was to Thermopyles, said to be the site that changed the history of Europe.
And so it was over. When it comes to Greek ruins, the Acropolis and Agora are a given, but for me, the joy was outside Athens. Once you’re done with the big city, hit the road and explore Greece’s rich history, I just wish we had done it years ago.