It’s not difficult to find reasons to travel to Greece. Between historical sights, seaside cities, and countless breathtaking islands, it’s about as appealing a destination as there is in the world. Much of the country more or less epitomizes what we think of when we picture beautiful Mediterranean lands. For many, however, interest in Greece comes from childhood – before consideration of beaches, islands, or cities, and rooted in history and legend.
Perhaps more than any other culture or kingdom in the history of Western civilization, Greece is defined by its legends. While most of them are just that – legends – they are the tales, characters, and locations that shape our understanding of the ancient culture and in many ways keep it uniquely interesting. And the fascinating thing is that a lot of these myths and bits of history actually do lead to landmarks and destinations you can get to while travelling in Greece.
These, in particular, are four remarkable places to visit if you have an affinity for ancient Greece and its culture and legends.
Known as one of the most sacred places in ancient Greece, Delos is an island in the middle of the Aegean Sea. It’s said to have been the birthplace for Apollo and Artemis – two of the most prominent Greek gods. Later on, the island became a bustling trade centre, in part due to its mythological significance and also thanks to its favourable location.
One of the amazing things about Delos, particularly for visitors, is that it hasn’t been built up in modern times. That is to say, while the island remains a fairly popular spot for tourists, it’s free of commercialization or even much in the way of contemporary architecture or upkeep. That allows people who make it to the island to take in untouched remnants of buildings and culture that are believed to date back at least 5,000 years.
Mount Olympus is perhaps the most thoroughly fictionalized place in Greece (which is saying something). Known as the ancient home of Zeus and the gods, the mythical mountain has been portrayed as a sort of Utopia above the clouds in numerous films. More recently, an “Age of the Gods” game series has been developed. Showcasing the beauty of Mount Olympus, the series uses animated, superhero-like interpretations of Greek gods to attract an audience. It’s just the latest in a line of interpretations that make Olympus seem like a fantasy realm of sorts.
That’s more or less what it is in mythology, but the important distinction is that Mount Olympus itself is not a myth. Located near Thessaly, it’s a very real mountain, towering over the sea at almost 3,000m. People hike the mountain from a town called Litochoro, and there are places to stop and rest for the night along the hike.
One of the best-known ancient Greek tales is that of theMinotaurr. Legend has it that King Minos, who ruled Crete and was the son of Zeus, was cursed by the gods to have a son who was half-man and half-bull. This son – the “minotaur” – is among the most feared and intriguing monsters of the ancient world. Minos built a labyrinth for the minotaur to dwell in, with unfortunate visitors or prisoners driven to try to escape his wrath within the walls. It’s a legend that’s still familiar to day, and even seems to have inspired a recent game about characters stuck in a trap of elaborate design.
Unfortunately, there is no labyrinth to visit in real life – at least not definitely. But Kommos, on the southern coast of Crete, may in fact contain some of its walls. This is known to have been the home of King Minos, and with well-preserved ruins, you can still explore it, and possibly even get a little bit lost within.
The Delphic Oracle is another famous character of Greek legend, and is likely rooted in some form of reality. Films like 300 among others have presented a stylized, fictionalized version of the oracle, but the truth is likely that there was simply a high priestess in the area who was trusted for certain kinds of advice.
Nowadays Delphi is a fantastic place to visit largely from a visual perspective. Located on the side of Mount Parnassus, the Delphic ruins are actually designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and standing among the ruins looking out on the surrounding land is something visitors won’t soon forget.
Have you ever been to Greece? Where would you recommend?