Tour of Archaelogical Greece

We always say we don't like organized tours, but we decided for once to take part in a tour to see several of the important archaeological sites in Central and Southern Greece. There were about twenty of us on the tour, mostly Americans and some Italians, so the commentary and  tours were all given in two languages.

 Corinth, Epidaurus and Mycenae

Having left Athens, our first stop was the Corinth Canal, which allows ships to pass between mainland Greece and the Peloponnese. Attempts to build a canal at this location date back to Julius Caesar and Nero. When it was built by French and Greek engineers between 1882 and 1893, it was an engineering marvel, but it's used less now as ships have grown in size and cannot pass through the narrow canal.  It's still quite a sight though, even today.


Boarding the bus and heading out to see the first "wonder" of the tour, the Corinth Canal

Our next stop was the site at Epidaurus. Although there are several ruins to see here, we only had time for the most important, the spectacular Theatre of Epidaurus, the best preserved ancient theatre in Greece.  When originally built in the 3rd century BC it held about 6,000 people, but it was expanded in the 2nd century BC providing seating for 12,300 spectators. It is still in regular use and and you can see below that a stage had been erected for a performance the night we visited.



  The Great Theatre of Epidaurus, built over 2,300 years ago and still being used today. It can seat up to 12,300 spectators.


Our next stop was Mycenae, associated with the myths of Homer and the Trojan War. The first building we saw was the Treasury of Atreus (1250 BC). This was in fact a burial chamber and is approached by a corridor faced with carefully dressed stones. The tomb itself is beehive shaped and is buried. The entrance is constructed with two huge slabs of stone relieved with a triangular hole.



The entrance to the The Treasury of Atreus (1250 BC) and the beehive shaped interior


The main palace is a few hundred yards up the road from the The Treasury and sits between two mountains. Most of the ruins are low to the ground, but one gate, the Lion's Gate, can still be seen. Construction started around 1350 BC but the Palace seems to have been destroyed in 1100 BC.



 The view from the top of the Hill of Mycenae, showing the plain below and some of the remaining walls and the Lions Gate




Next day, we travelled on to the archaeological site of Olympia, which is famous because it was here that the Ancient Olympics were held. In practice, it was a huge site consisting of temples, workshops, a gymnasium and even a hotel. It was the most sacred of sanctuaries of the ancient Greeks and the place where Zeus, chief amongst the gods, was worshipped. The model in the museum gives a pretty good idea of how it must have looked.



Model of the site at Olympia with the Temple of Zeus in white marble and on the left, the actual remains of the Temple



The partly reconstructed Philippeum built in 338 BC by Philip, father of Alexander the Great and The Stadium where the ancient olympics were held. The stadium was used again in the 2004 Olympics for the Shot Putt competition.


The Museum at Olympia has some interesting artifacts - not quite as grand as the National Museum, but worth seeing.



Bronze statue of two lions attacking a deer



























                                                                            Bronze Helmet and head of a terracotta statue of Athena

The Hermes of Praxiteles ( 340 - 330 BC) and part of the pediment from the Temple of Zeus showing the Battle of the Centaurs


Leaving Olympia and crossing over from the Peloponnese to mainland Greece, we used the dramatic and beautiful Rio–Antirio Bridge, the longest cable stayed bridge in the world. It opened in 2004, one week before the start of the Olympics.



The Rio–Antirrio Bridge




The third day of the tour was spent in Delphi - perhaps the MOST important sacred site for the ancient Greeks as they believed Delphi was the center of the world. The site is built up the side of a hill and the bottom of the site is already 2000 feet above sea level, so the views are tremendous.



Model of the site at Delphi. The centerpiece is the Temple of Apollo built in the 4th Century BC




The remains of the Temple of Apollo. Our tour guide explains the site in English and Italian



Kristine catches her breath after climbing to the top of the site at Delphi and a view down the valley with the Theatre in the foreground


The museum at Delphi also has one or two unique pieces which make a visit worthwhile.





A gold and ivory head of Apollo (550 BC) and The Sphinx of Naxians (560 BC)





The Charioteer (434 BC) one of only a handful of bronze statues from this period and a Kylix ( a drinking vessel) showing Apollo offering a libation of wine.




The last stop on our whirlwind tour of Ancient Greece was Meteora. The landscape at Meteora consists of a series of tall pillars of rock and starting in the 14 century AD a series of monasteries were built at the top of these pillars. The attraction was getting to the top of the pillars which required a long and difficult climb, which ensured the monks were pretty much left to themselves. For many years, the only practical way into and out of the monasteries was to be lifted up in a basket by ropes dropped from above. The twelve remaining monasteries are all now accessible on foot or by bridge, but they are still quite stunning.



 One of the monasteries still seems to use some kind of a cableway for access. Needless to say, we didn't visit that one











"Perched" on top of these pillars of rock seems to be the best way to describe these monasteries



 Looking up and looking down !




 The monasteries all had small but pretty gardens




Kristine looking rather prim her in full length skirt, required by the nuns 





One more stop at the famous battle site of Thermopylae, where Leonidas with 300 Spartans and 700 others stopped a Persian army numbering in the region of 300,000. There's not much to see now - the sea has retreated almost a mile since the famous battle, but there is a statue of Leonidas and a memorial of the battle.



And then back to Athens for a one night stop before heading on to our next stop, Naxos.