With thousands of years of history and 227 inhabited islands, it’s impossible to cover all of Greece’s wonders in just one feature. The destinations listed below, however, are great stops to get a taste of Greece’s long and complex history.
From royal residence to the people’s parliament
Democracy has been a central part of Athenian identity since ancient times. In the modern Greek republic, the voices of the people can still be heard in the chambers of Hellenic Parliament and nearby Syntagma Square.
Interestingly, the Hellenic Parliament was initially built as a palace for Greek royalty in the 1800s. After two fires, this abandoned palace served as a hospital and refugee center during World War I. It wasn’t until 1935 that this renovated building opened for parliamentary debate.
Folk fabrics in the Peloponnese
The Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation "V. Papantoniou" (PFF)’s mission is to protect historic artifacts from the Peloponnese region. This small, non-profit museum has more than 45,000 plus pieces in its collection, mainly composed of 19th and 20th century local furniture and fashion.
The PFF is highly regarded for its collection of locally produced textiles, especially dresses. Traditional Peloponnese embroideries are distinctive for their heavy use of the color green and detailed depictions of nature.
Ancient port, modern art
As one of Greece’s richest trading ports, Thessaloniki has always been an important cultural hub. Thanks to its large student population at Aristotle University, this ancient city is now a hot spot for youth culture.
Today, one of Thessaloniki’s most popular annual arts festivals is the Street Mode Festival. Ever since it was founded in 2009, the goal of this September festival is to celebrate all aspects of street culture. This festival highlights graffiti art by the likes of George Mavrakis, Tzrs, and Koko, and there are also live music shows, parkour challenges, and break dancing.
The site of St. John’s revelation
The small island of Patmos has had huge reverberations in Christian history. It was here that Saint John wrote his Gospel and The Apocalypse in a cave around 95 AD. To honor St. John’s legacy, Greek Orthodox Church leaders built the castle-like Monastery of St. John on Patmos at the end of the 10th century.
Amazingly, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has suffered minimal damage over the centuries. In addition to its ancient architecture and icons, visitors are most impressed by the intricately carved wooden Iconostasis, a wall of iconic religious paintings that can be found in the monastery’s museum.
The site of the Olympics
In 776 BCE, Ancient Greeks decided to host a religious celebration in the southwestern town of Olympia, mainly because it was home to sculptor Phidias’ huge statue of Zeus, King of the Greek Gods. At this festival, a cook named Koroibos won a competitive race, and thus began the tradition of the Olympic Games.
At these original Olympics, the most important event was the sacrifice of 100 oxen at the Altar of Zeus. From the Olympics’ start until its finish in 393 CE, archaeologists say the ash from these oxen measured 20 feet tall.
We owe the modern Olympic Games to French educator Baron Pierre de Coubertin. In 1894, Coubertin proposed hosting a revived Olympics in Paris scheduled for the turn of the century. His reasons for reviving the games were many, among which he wanted to promote a healthy sense of sportsmanship among competing countries and encourage competition among amateur athletes rather than professionals. Leaders from 34 countries were so excited by this proposal that the Olympic games were scheduled to take place every four years, and the commencement was to take place in Athens. Four years later Paris hosted the second modern Olympic games.
A mysterious location
Delphi was best-known in the ancient world for the Pythia (the Oracle of Delphi) in the city’s Temple of Apollo. Between 720 BCE and 395 CE, Greek leaders traveled great distances to consult the Pythia, who was believed to have a special communion with the god Apollo.
Before visiting the Temple of Apollo, visitors were required to make offerings at the nearby Temple of Athena. Today, only three columns are still standing from the center of this temple, called a tholos. Nobody’s sure what exactly went on in this tholos, but the main theories are that it was either a meeting place for cults or a treasury.
The palace on top of the Colossus
Rhodes was known for one thing in the Ancient World: the Colossus. One of the seven Wonders of the Ancient World, this 108 foot tall statue of the god Helios was destroyed in an earthquake in 226 BCE.
Thankfully, Rhodes’ Medieval City, built largely by the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, survives to this day. Interestingly, this fortified city’s 14th century Palace of the Grandmaster might stand where the Colossus of Rhodes once was.
The ultimate coin collection
Athens’ Numismatic Museum has 500,000 precious coins, medals, and weights from antiquity to the present day. Visitors get to learn all about the symbolism and production of these precious coins from civilizations such as Ancient Rome, Greece, and the Ottoman Empire.
Even if you’re not a coin expert, you should have no issues spotting a Roman coin in this collection – simply look at each coin’s edges. The Ancient Romans were big on serrated edges so citizens wouldn’t be tempted to shave their coins – a common practice in those days where people would shave a bit of coin off the edges in order to accumulate significant amounts of precious metals to sell later.
Wherever you travel in Greece, you’re bound to stumble upon something historic. These eight locations offer a great first glimpse into this nation’s fascinating past and present.