Delphi, Knossos, the Acropolis of Athens and Olympia are among the archaeological sites that left the most lasting impression on those who visited them, according to an e-vote that was held on our facebook page. Let’s stroll around these archaeological sites again and reawaken some great memories!
Is one of the most impressive archaeological sites anywhere, and the ancient Greeks believed that it was the center of the world. Whoever visits Delphi is bewitched by its mysterious sacred character and feels the resonating presence of the ancient oracle.
Visitors should bear in mind that Delphi was the most important oracle in the classical Greek world. Kings and ordinary citizens, generals and politicians came to consult the oracle during the nine warmest months of each year.
Nowadays, even though “The carven hall is fallen in decay; Apollo hath no chapel left, no prophesying bay, no talking spring, the stream is dry that had so much to say”, many visitors still come to this amazing place. The grandest building at the site of the oracle is the Temple of Apollo, destroyed in 373 BC by an earthquake. The sacred precinct was arranged around the temple on different levels; the Sacred Way, a wide steep path, passes in front of the votive offerings (treasuries, statues, stoas and altars) dedicated to Apollo. The most prominent among these are the Treasury of the Siphnians and the re-constructed Treasury of the Athenians.
Take the path that leads to the Stadium in the highest part of the ancient site – the view is stunning. It is here that the Pythian Games were held every four years. The visit continues on to the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia, where the enigmatic Tholos stood, a fine marble rotunda whose purpose remains unknown. A short distance away is the celebrated Castalian Fountain; in this spring, Pythia (the priestess) and all who arrived in Delphi for an oracle had to bathe in order to purify themselves.
The end of the visit to Delphi is best topped off by a visit to the archaeological museum, which displays some masterpieces of the art world. Especially rich in Classical sculpture, the museum contains the famous charioteer bearing on his head the victor’s fillet (ribbon).
Nevertheless, he shows no sign of anticipation or triumph to the thousands of visitors that keep coming to the museum.
In the suburbs of Heraklion (Iráklio) (6 km SE) the most famous archaeological site of the Minoan civilisation has been brought to light, thanks to the massive excavations carried out by Sir Arthur Evans.
The palace of Knossos was not just a royal residence but also the political and ceremonial centre of Minoan culture. It covered nearly 22,000 sq. m. and contained storage rooms, living quarters, religious areas, and banquet rooms. Its mazelike structure brings to mind the legendary Labyrinth that held the Minotaur.
A visit to the palace starts from the entrance of the west wing, which led to the throne room in the central court. It was here that the almighty prince of Knossos received visitors from all over the world, or his counselors and courtiers in order to decide on state affairs.
You can see the extensive storerooms (also called magazines) with the large pithoi (clay vases) that once held the famous Cretan olive oil. Next to the storerooms, in the north wing, is the “Customs House” and further to the east the workshops of the skilled Minoan craftsmen. In the east wing you can appreciate the splendor of the royal apartments: the Queen’s megaron with an example of the first flushing toilet system adjoining the bathroom and the Shrine of the double axes.
To the south the palace enjoys a superb view of Mount Júktas, which was sacred to the Minoans. The great South Propylon (monumental gateway) faces a fertile plain with orchards and olive groves.
Climbing up to the rock of the Acropolis, visitors are overwhelmed with awe and admiration for the architectural masterpieces built on this eminent archaeological site. The visionary building program of a charismatic politician, Pericles, was superbly carried out thanks to the incomparable skills of a great artist, Phidias. The whole project led to the creation of an invaluable art treasure, making Athens a universal benefactor of mankind.
South of the entrance to the Acropolis stands the charming temple of Athena Nike in the Ionic order; it was built in commemoration of the victory of the Greeks against the Persians. There is a superb view as you pass through the exquisite but unfinished Propylaea of Mnesicles: the Parthenon, the most splendid architectural achievement of classical Greece. The architects of this unique temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, patron of the city of Athens, were Ictinus and Callicrates, while Phidias acted as supervisor for all the architectural and artistic works for the Acropolis in Athens.
Opposite the Parthenon is the Erechtheion, with the renowned Caryatid Porch at its south end. Descend the south slope of the Acropolis to continue your visit.
To your right is the most ancient theatre in the world, the Theatre of Dionysus. Above the theatre is the Stoa of Eumenes, which provided shelter to theatregoers in the event of bad weather. Next to the Stoa lies the once roofed Odeion, built by the wealthy Herodes Atticus in memory of his wife Rigilla. Nowadays it is a venue for Athens Festival events.
There is access to the Acropolis for the disabled on the North Slope: platforms, gently inclined ramps and a special lift provide access to the archaeological site. At the top of the Acropolis, specially surfaced paths have been laid to assist those touring the monuments. Just 800 feet from the Acropolis, the Acropolis Museum brings together all of the surviving artefacts ever found on the site.
Replicating the natural light and atmospheric conditions found on the Acropolis, the Museum’s architecture allows you to view simultaneously the exhibits and the place from where they originated.
At the confluence of the Rivers Alpheios and Kladeos, next to the conical Kronios hill, is ancient Olympia, the shrine of Zeus, in whose honour the Olympic Games were held every four years. Specially renowned in antiquity, Olympia still fascinates thousands of travelers each year that are lucky enough to visit the archaeological site.
The temple of Zeus (5th c. BC) rises prominently above the ancient site; it used to house the chryselephantine statue of Zeus, a masterpiece of Phidias and one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. Nearby stands the temple of Hera (Heraion-7th c. BC), one of the oldest peripteral temples in ancient Greece.
Next to Heraion the remains of the Philippeion, an impressive circular monument built by the king Philip II of Macedon, are still visible. Around the two temples the public buildings and accommodation for the Olympic Games were erected. Starting from the south of the temple of Zeus, you can see the Bouleuterion (Council House) where the athletes took the oath, the Leonidaion, a hostel for distinguished visitors, the Palaistra (“the wrestling school”), the Gymnasion, built for athletes of various sports to practise and the Prytaneion, where the ten hellanodikai (umpires) sat.
To the east there is an imposing Stadium that could accommodate 45,000 spectators. It is clear that the shrine of Zeus was designed especially with the Panhellenic festival of the Olympic Games in mind.
Next to the Stadium you can stroll along the line of treasuries built by other Greek cities to contain their offerings. You should not miss the Archaeological Museum of Olympia, one of the greatest museums in Greece. It boasts spectacular masterpieces of ancient Greek art. Among its exhibits on display you can admire the pediments of the temple of Zeus, the famous Hermes bearing the infant Dionysus by Praxiteles, the Nike of Paionius and its unparalleled collection of bronzes.
Finally, stop off at the Museum of the Olympic Games, which features a collection of artefacts from the modern Olympics, plus plenty of photos and documents from the revival period and a nice summary of each host city for all summer games.