When traveling in a country as old as Greece,
ancient ruins can quickly go from magnificent to mind numbing. Great --
yet another nameless hill with more stony remnants of people from
centuries past. Just because something dates from B.C. doesn't mean it
has to be seen. Be selective about your ancient sightseeing. Three of my
favorite ruins are Delphi, Epidavros and Mycenae. All are within three
Perched high on the slopes of Mt. Parnassos, Delphi (pronounced DELL-fee) was one of the most important sights in the ancient world. People would journey here from all over to seek wisdom from the oracle, Apollo's earthly mouthpiece. By the 6th century B.C., Delphi became so influential that no great leader would make a major decision without first sending emissaries to consult the oracle. Because so many people would come and spill their truth about the state of their homelands, Delphi became the database of the ancient world. And the priests (there to interpret the oracle's riddles and rants) learned more than enough to dispense divine-quality advice.
The actual site and the
But there was more to Delphi than just the oracle. You'll also see the theater and stadium where the Pythian Games were held. Occurring every four years in honor of Apollo, the games were second only to the Olympics in importance. Not only did they feature athletic contests, but also dance, drama, and music -- including some sort of "Pan-Hellenic Idol" singing competition. I like exploring these venues at the end of the day with all of the tourists gone, cheers of the ancient crowds still ringing in the cool mountain air, and the starting block all mine.
Epidavros' theater is the finest and best preserved of all of Greece's ancient theaters -- and that's saying something in a country with 132 of them
For a truly stunning theater experience, a trip to Epidavros is a
must. Located in the northeast part of the
Epidavros is near Nafplio -- my vote for the most
charming town in Greece and a good home base for
exploring these ruins. In
The highlight of Epidavros is its fine theater, which provided entertainment for those who made the pilgrimage here. Given its size (it seated up to 15,000) and obvious lack of modern amplification, the acoustics needed to be perfect. They were ... and still are. Sitting in the most distant seat as your travel partner stands on stage, you can practically hear the Retsina rumbling in her stomach.
About 45 minutes north of Nafplio, ancient Mycenae is the oldest
sight you'll see in this land dotted by so many ruins. The Mycenaeans
dominated the Greek world between 1600 and
Following in the same ancient sandal-steps as the Greeks, you'll
enjoy Mycenae's majestic setting of mountains, valleys, and the distant
sea. But the location was more than scenic; it was strategic. Surrounded
by enemies, the Mycenaeans needed a heavily fortified capital on an
easy-to-defend hill. Though now just scant remains today, the city's
Royalty were buried in massive beehive-shaped underground chambers, such as the Tholos Tomb. The tomb's massive igloo-style dome was made of 33 rings of corbelled (gradually projecting) stones, each weighing about five tons. Kings were elaborately buried in the center of the room along with their swords, jewels, and personal possessions. After the funeral was over, the whole structure was covered with a mountain of dirt. But grave robbers weren't fooled and got in anyway so modern archaeologists have not found any bodies.
When it comes to Greek ruins, Athens' Acropolis
and Agora are a given. But to me, the joy of Greece
is outside of
Recent Vacation Ideas & Travel Destinations
Athens: A New Look for an Old City
by Rick Steves
My advice has long been to see the big sights, then get out. But visiting it recently to research a new guidebook, I've seen a dramatic change. The city has made a concerted effort to curb pollution, clean up and pedestrianize the streets, spiff up the museums, build a new airport, and invest in one of Europe's better public-transit systems.
Ancient Olympics Meet Wild West
by Rick Steves
If you want to get away from it all when traveling in Greece, head for the Peloponnesian Peninsula. When I visited ancient Olympia recently for a new TV show and guidebook, it was worth the four-hour drive from Athens.
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- Exploring Greece's Ancient Past: Delphi, Epidavros & Mycenae
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(c) 2010 Rick Steves Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.
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