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18 Natural and Cultural Heritage Sites to Visit in Greece

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18 Natural and Cultural Heritage Sites to Visit in Greece

Date: Nov 29, 2021
Author: Collins.cidar 44 No Comments

Some countries are such that they do not need introduction when it comes to the history and evolution of world culture, religion, philosophy, art, science, architecture, and beauty. The most outstanding of these countries is the Home Of The Gods, Greece. It is so often called the cradle of European civilisation and is located in the southeastern part of Europe, with thousand of islands throughout the Aegean and the Ionian Seas. Its capital city is Athens.

    Numerous beautifully ancient, religious and cultural places seat in this nation of beauty-loving people. From the tourism-deserving Temple of Apollo Epicurus at Bassae, built towards the middle of the 5th century BC to Appollo, the Greek god of healing and the sun, and which has the oldest Corinthian capital with architecture and art yet to be found anywhere in the world, to the Acropolis of Athens, which has the most complete and striking artistic and architectural monument in Europe, and the Sanctuary of Asklepois at Epidaurus, built to Asklepois, the Greek god of medicine, which is considered one of the purest masterpieces of Greek architecture dating from the 4th century Bc. in Greece is found all these other striking sites; Checkout some of the outstanding places in Greece you would like to visit.

Acropolis, Athens

Acropolis, Athens/Photographer: Kristoffer Trolle/Flickr

The Acropolis of Athens is the most striking and complete ancient Greek monumental complex still existing in our times. It is situated on a hill of average height (156m) that rises in the basin of Athens. Its overall dimensions are approximately 170 by 350m. The hill is rocky and steep on all sides except for the western side, and has an extensive, nearly flat top. Strong fortification walls have surrounded the summit of the Acropolis for more than 3,300 years. The first fortification wall was built during the 13th century BC, and surrounded the residence of the local Mycenaean ruler. In the 8th century BC, the Acropolis gradually acquired a religious character with the establishment of the cult of Athena, the city’s patron goddess. The sanctuary reached its peak in the archaic period (mid-6th century to early 5th century BC). In the 5th century BC, the Athenians, empowered from their victory over the Persians, carried out an ambitious building programme under the leadership of the great statesman Perikles, comprising a large number of monuments including the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Propylaia and the temple of Athena Nike. The monuments were developed by an exceptional group of architects (such as Iktinos, Kallikrates, Mnesikles) and sculptors (such as Pheidias, Alkamenes, Agorakritos), who transformed the rocky hill into a unique complex, which heralded the emergence of classical Greek thought and art. On this hill were born Democracy, Philosophy, Theatre, Freedom of Expression and Speech, which provide to this day the intellectual and spiritual foundation for the contemporary world and its values. The Acropolis’ monuments, having survived for almost twenty-five centuries through wars, explosions, bombardments, fires, earthquakes, sackings, interventions and alterations, have adapted to different uses and the civilizations, myths and religions that flourished in Greece through time.

Archaeological Site of Aigai (modern name Vergina)

Archaeological Site of Aigai (modern name Vergina)/Photographer: Marmontel/Flickr

The city of Aigai, the ancient royal capital of Macedon, was discovered in the 19th century. It is located between the modern villages of Palatitsia and Vergina, in Northern Greece (Region of Hemathia). At Aigai was rooted the royal dynasty of the Temenids, the family of Philip II and Alexander the Great. The Archaeological Site of Aigai, containing an urban center – the oldest and most important in Northern Greece – and several surrounded settlements, is defined by the rivers Haliakmon (W and N), Askordos (E), and the Pierian Mountains (S). Aigai provides important information about the culture, history and society of the ancient Macedonians, the Greek border tribe that preserved age-old traditions and carried Greek culture to the outer limits of the ancient world. The most important, already excavated, archaeological remains of the site are: the monumental palace (ca 340 BC), which was the biggest and one of the most impressive buildings of classical Greece, the theatre, the sanctuaries of Eukleia and the Mother of the Gods, the city walls, the royal necropolis, containing more than 500 tumuli, dating from the 11thto 2nd century BC. Three royal burial clusters have been already excavated. Twelve monumental temple-shaped tombs are known. Among them is the tomb of Euridice, mother of Philip II and the unlooted tombs of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, and his grandson, Alexander IV, which have been discovered in 1977-8 and made a worldwide sensation. The quality of the tombs themselves and their grave-goods places Aigai among the most important archaeological sites in Europe.

Archaeological Site of Delphi

Archaeological Site of Delphi/ photographer:ANDREAS GR./Flickr

Delphi lies between two towering rocks of Mt. Parnassus, known as the Phaidriades (Shining) Rocks, in the Regional unit of Phocis in Central Greece. Here lies the Pan-Hellenic sanctuary of Apollo, the Olympian god of light, knowledge and harmony. The area was inhabited in the 2nd millennium BC, as is evident from Mycenaean remains (1500-1100 BC). The development of the sanctuary and oracle began in the 8th century BC, and their religious and political influence over the whole of Greece increased in the 6th century BC. At the same time, their fame and prestige spread throughout the whole of the then known world, from which pilgrims came to the site to receive an oracle from the Pythia, the priestess of Apollo. A place with a rich intangible heritage, Delphi was the centre of the world (omphalos) in the eyes of the ancient Greeks: according to myth, it was the meeting point of two eagles released by Zeus, one to the East and one in the West. The magnificent monumental complex is a human-made environment in perfect harmony with the rare natural environment, the principal features of which gave rise to the organisation of the cults. This harmonious relationship, which has remained undisturbed from ancient times to the present day, makes Delphi a unique monument and a priceless legacy bequeathed by the ancient Greek world to following generations.

Archaeological Site of Mystras

Archaeological Site of Mystras/photographer:Egui_/Flickr

Mystras, the ‘wonder of the Morea’, lies in the southeast of the Peloponnese. The town developed down the hillside from the fortress built in 1249 by the prince of Achaia, William II of Villehardouin, at the top of a 620 m high hill overlooking Sparta. The Franks surrendered the castle to the Byzantines in 1262, it was the centre of Byzantine power in southern Greece, first as the base of the military governor and from 1348 as the seat of the Despotate of Morea. Captured by the Turks in 1460, it was occupied thereafter by them and the Venetians. After 1834 the inhabitants of Mystras gradually started to move to the modern town of Sparta leaving only the breath-taking medieval ruins, standing in a beautiful landscape.

Mystras, as the centre of Byzantine power, quickly attracted inhabitants and institutions; the bishopric was transferred there from Sparta, with its cathedral, the Metropolis or church of Hagios Demetrios, built after 1264. Many monasteries were founded there, including those of the Brontochion and the monastery of Christos Zoodotes (Christ the Giver of Life). Under the Despots, Mystras reached its zenith with the building of churches, outstanding examples of Late Byzantine church architecture, such as Hagioi Theodoroi (1290-1295), the Hodegetria (c. 1310), the Hagia Sophia (1350-1365), the Peribleptos (3rd quarter of the 14th century), the Evangelistria (late 14th – early 15th century) and the Pantanassa (c. 1430). The city was a major piece on the political chessboard of the time and was developed and beautified as befitted its role as a centre of power and culture. The city’s complex history is clearly evident in its fortifications, palaces, churches, convents, houses, streets and public squares.

Mystras’ distinct architecture is influenced by the so-called “Helladic” school of Byzantine architecture as well as the architecture of Constantinople. The painting of churches reflects the quality and the eclecticism of the art of Constantinople. Elements of Romanesque and Gothic art are also present as a result of the city’s wide range of contacts during the 14th and 15th centuries. The beauty of its churches, which during the Palaeologan Renaissance were covered with magnificent frescoes, the renown of its libraries and the glory of its writers, including the philosopher Georgios Gemistos Plethon and his pupil, the intellectual Bessarion, later cardinal of the Roman Catholic church, who brought neo-platonic humanism to Italy, gave substance thereafter to the legend of the Wonder of the Morea. Mystras is therefore a truly outstanding example of late Byzantine culture which influenced the rest of the Mediterranean world and beyond. 

Archaeological Site of Olympia

Archaeological Site of Olympia/Photographer: Mia Battaglia/Flickr

The sanctuary of Olympia, in the North West of the Peloponnese, in the Regional Unit of Eleia (Elis), has been established in the valley created by the confluence of the Alpheios and Kladeos rivers in a natural setting of beauty and serenity. The Pan-Hellenic sanctuary has been established in the history of culture, as the most important religious, political and sports centre, with a history that dates back to the end of the Neolithic times (4th millennium BC). The famous sanctuary became the centre of worship of Zeus, the father of the twelve Olympian gods. For the Altis, the sacred grove and the centre of the sanctuary, some of the most remarkable works of art and technique have been created, constituting a milestone in the history of art. Great artists, such as Pheidias, have put their personal stamp of inspiration and creativity, offering unique artistic creations to the world. In this universal place, the Olympic Idea was born, making Olympia a unique universal symbol of peace and competition at the service of virtue. Here, too, prominence was given to the ideals of physical and mental harmony, of noble contest, of how to compete well, of the Sacred Truce; values, which remain unchanged in perpetuity.

Archaeological Site of Philippi

Archaeological Site of Philippi/photographer:Michelangelo Delu’/Flickr

The Archaeological Site of Philippi is lying at the foot of an acropolis in north-eastern Greece on the ancient route linking Europe with Asia, the Via Egnatia. The city of Philippi, re-founded by Philip II on a former colony of Thasians in 356 BCE, was reshaped by the Romans into a “small Rome” with its elevation to a Colonia Augusta of the Roman Empire in the decades following the Battle of Philippi. The vibrant Hellenistic city of Philip II, of which the walls and their gates, the theatre and the funerary heroon (temple) are to be seen, was adorned and transformed with Roman public buildings including the Forum and a monumental terrace with temples to its north. Later the city became a centre of Christian faith and pilgrimage deriving from the visit of the Apostle Paul in 49/50 CE and the remains of Christian basilicas and the octagonal church testify to its importance as a metropolitan see.

Archaeological Sites of Mycenae and Tiryns

Archaeological Sites of Mycenae and Tiryns/Photographer:Mark/Flickr

The Archaeological Sites of Mycenae and Tiryns, located in the Regional unit of Argolis in the North-East Peloponnese, are the imposing ruins of the two greatest cities of the Mycenaean civilization, renowned for its technical and artistic achievements but also its spiritual wealth, which spread around the Mediterranean world between 1600 and 1100 BC and played a vital role in the development of classical Greek culture. The palatial administrative system, the monumental architecture, the impressive artefacts and the first testimonies of Greek language, preserved on Linear B tablets, are unique elements of the Mycenaean culture; a culture that inspired the great poet Homer to compose his famous epic poems.

The citadel of Mycenae, with its strategic position for the control of the Argolid Plain, is the kingdom of the mythical Agamemnon and the most important and richest palatial centre of the Late Bronze Age in Greece. Its name was given to one of the greatest civilizations of Greek prehistory, the Mycenaean civilization, while the myths related to its history, its rulers and their family members (such as Klytaimnestra, Ifigeneia, Elektra, Orestes) have inspired poets, writers and artists over many centuries, from the ancient to the contemporary times. Significant stages in monumental architecture are still visible in the property, such as the massive defensive walls, the corbelled tholos tombs and the Lions Gate.

Tiryns, situated 20 km north-east of Mycenae on a low hill near the inlet of the Argolic Gulf, is another excellent example of the Mycenaean civilization. The fortification of the hill, completed at the end of the 13th century BC, surrounds the citadel with a total perimeter of approximately 750 m. The impressive walls, built of stones even larger than those of Mycenae, are up to 8 m thick and 13 m high. They can rightly be regarded as a creation that goes beyond the human scale, as reveals the word “cyclopean” – built by Cyclops, the mythical giants from Lycia – which was attributed to them in the Homeric epics.

Medieval City of Rhodes

Medieval City of Rhodes/Photographer:Abariltur/Flickr

From 1309 to 1523 Rhodes, the largest island of the Dodecanese, was occupied by the Knights of St John of Jerusalem who had lost their last stronghold in Palestine, in Acre, in 1291. They transformed the island capital into a fortified city able to withstand sieges as terrible as those led by the Sultan of Egypt in 1444 and Mehmet II in 1480. Rhodes finally fell in 1522 after a six-month siege carried out by Suleyman II.

The medieval city is located within a 4 km-long wall. It is divided with the high town to the north and the lower town south-southwest. Originally separated from the lower town by a fortified wall, the high town was entirely built by the Knights. The Order was organized into seven “tongues”, each having its own seat, or “inn”. The inns of the tongues of Italy, France, Spain and Provence lined the principal east-west axis, the famous Street of the Knights, on both sides, one of the finest testimonies to Gothic urbanism. To the north, close to the site of the Knights’ first hospice, stands the Inn of Auvergne, whose facade bears the arms of Guy de Blanchefort, Grand Master from 1512 to 1513. The original hospice was replaced in the 15th century by the Great Hospital, built between 1440 and 1489, on the south side of the Street of the Knights.

The lower town is almost as dense with monuments as the high town. In 1522, with a population of 5000, it had many churches, some of Byzantine construction. Throughout the years, the number of palaces and charitable foundations multiplied in the south-southeast area: the Court of Commerce, the Archbishop’s Palace, the Hospice of St. Catherine, and others.

Its history and development up to 1912 has resulted in the addition of valuable Islamic monuments, such as mosques, baths and houses. After 1523, most churches were converted into Islamic mosques, like the Mosque of Soliman, Kavakli Mestchiti, Demirli Djami, Peial ed Din Djami, Abdul Djelil Djami, Dolapli Mestchiti.

The ramparts of the medieval city, partially erected on the foundations of the Byzantine enclosure, were constantly maintained and remodelled between the 14th and 16th centuries under the Grand Masters. Artillery firing posts were the final features to be added. At the beginning of the 16th century, in the section of the Amboise Gate, which was built on the northwest angle in 1512, the curtain wall was 12 m thick with a 4 m-high parapet pierced with gun holes. The fortifications of Rhodes exerted an influence throughout the eastern Mediterranean at the end of the Middle Ages.

Monasteries of Daphni, Hosios Loukas and Nea Moni of Chios

Monasteries of Daphni, Hosios Loukas and Nea Moni of Chios/Photographer:Leeann/Flickr

Although geographically distant from each other, these three monasteries of the middle Byzantine period (the first is in Attica, near Athens, the second in Phocida, near Delphi, and the third on the island of Chios, in the Northern Aegean), belong to the same typological series and share the same aesthetic and architectural characteristics. The churches are built on a cross-in-square plan with a large dome supported by squinches defining an octagonal space. In the 11th and 12th centuries they were decorated with superb marble works as well as mosaics on a gold background, all characteristic of the second golden age of Byzantine art.

Old Town of Corfu

Old Town of Corfu/Photographer:Abariltur/Flickr

The ensemble of the fortifications and the Old Town of Corfu is located in a strategic location at the entrance to the Adriatic Sea. Historically, its roots go back to the 8th century BC and to the Byzantine period. It has thus been subject to various influences and a mix of different peoples. From the 15th century, Corfu was under Venetian rule for some four centuries, then passing to French, British and Greek governments. At various occasions, it had to defend the Venetian maritime empire against the Ottoman army. Corfu was a well thought of example of fortification engineering, designed by the architect Sanmicheli, and it proved its worth through practical warfare. Corfu has its specific identity, which is reflected in the design of its system of fortification and in its neo-classical building stock. As such, it can be placed alongside other major Mediterranean fortified port cities.

Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessalonika

Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessalonika/Photographer:Andrew/Flickr

Founded in 315 BC, the provincial capital and sea port of Thessalonika was one of the first bases for the spread of Christianity. Among its Christian monuments are fine churches, some built on the Greek cross plan and others on the three-aisled basilica plan. Constructed over a long period, from the 4th to the 15th century, they constitute a diachronic typological series, which had considerable influence in the Byzantine world. The mosaics of Thessalonika’s monuments (such as the Rotunda, Saint Demetrius and Hosios David [Latomou Monastery]) are among the great masterpieces of Early Christian art.

The monuments of Thessalonika inscribed on the World Heritage List are public edifices of various functions, religious, secular, military, including the 4 km long city walls. Because of their outstanding design and major artistic value these monuments are included among the most significant of the Byzantine period. Throughout the Byzantine era, the city constituted a cultural centre that determined the developments not only in immediately surrounding but also in neighbouring areas. It played an active or even competitive role in artistic trends originating in Constantinople.

The monuments of Thessalonika reveal a continuous artistic exchange with the greatest cultural centres of each era (Rome, Constantinople). The city itself was an important artistic centre, from its foundation and throughout the Byzantine period. Wall painting ensembles, mosaics and frescoes, preserved in Thessalonika’s monuments, represent some of the major artistic trends, that have been developed in Byzantine monumental painting from its beginnings (the Rotunda, Saint Demetrius, Hosios David), through the first period after iconoclasm (Saint Sophia) and the Comnenian period (Hosios David frescoes) to its culmination known as the Palaeologan Renaissance (late Byzantine period). To this last period belong significant monuments such as the Holy Apostles, the chapel of Saint Euthymios in the Church of Saint Demetrius, Saint Nikolaos Orphanos, Saint Panteleimon, the Transfiguration of the Saviour, Saint Aikaterini, Prophitis Ilias, the Katholikon (main church) of the Vlatadon Monastery which reflect all the tendencies of the Palaeologan Renaissance. 

Pythagoreion and Heraion of Samos

Pythagoreion and Heraion of Samos/photographer:Anita Gould/Flickr

Samos, due to its geographical location in the eastern Aegean, securing easy communications with the coast of Asia Minor, was one of the most important centres of political and cultural developments from the prehistoric era (5th/4th millennium BC) until almost the Middle Ages. The site is an area on the north-east coast of the island that is clearly defined by the surrounding mountains. It consists of the fortified ancient city (Pythagoreion) and the ancient Temple of Hera (Heraion), which is situated about 6 km away from the city and indissolubly linked with it.

The earliest finds date back to the 5th/4th millennium BC, during the Neolithic period, but the main settlement began in the 10th century BC, when it was colonized by Ionians from Mainland Greece. By the 6th century BC, Samos had become a major nautical power in the eastern Mediterranean, with close trade links with Asia Minor and the Mainland Greece. It was strong enough to establish trading colonies on the coast of Ionia, in Thrace, and even in the western Mediterranean.

One of the most famous features is the Eupalinus’ tunnel dating from the 6th century BC, which runs 1036 m through the mountainside to bring water to the ancient city, the work of Eupalinus of Megara, Naustrofus’ son. Samos continued to be an important mercantile city throughout the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

The great Temple of Hera (Heraion) has its origins in the 8th century BC, when it was the first Greek temple to be one hundred feet in length (Hecatompedos). It is unknown if this temple was surrounded by a peristyle of columns; its 7th-century successor was also innovatory in that it was the first temple to have a double row of columns across the front. These were both surpassed by the temple begun around 570-560 BC by Rhoecus and Theodorus, who built a colossal structure measuring 52.5 m by 105 m, the earliest in the new Ionic order. It was supported by at least 100 columns, whose moulded bases were turned on a lathe designed by Theodorus. The works for the construction of a new temple, known as the Great Temple of the Goddess Hera, a colossal structure measuring 55.16 m by 108.63 m, and surrounded by a peristyle of 155 columns about 20 m high, were started during the reign of Polycrates (c. 535-522 BC).

The Heraion and the ancient city were adorned with splendid sculptures, making Samos one of the great centres of sculpture in the Ionic world. Offerings from all over the ancient world poured into the sanctuary of Hera. Samos is linked with great personalities of the ancient world, such as the philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, the philosopher Epicurus, who was of Samian birth, and Aristarchus the Samian, who first established the theory of the planet system in the 4th century BC.

Pythagoreion and Heraion of Samos bear eloquent witness of the Ionian spirit. During its apogee in the 6th century BC the ancient city of Samos achieved exceptional technical and artistic progress and created innovative methods and works, thus representing a city with a high level of civilization, which merits its inclusion in the Ionian Dodekapolis.

Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus

Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus/Photographer: Mr G’s Travels/Flickr

The Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus is a remarkable testament to the healing cults of the Ancient World and witness to the emergence of scientific medicine. Situated in the Peloponnese, in the Regional unit of Argolis, the site comprises a series of ancient monuments spread over two terraces and surrounded by a preserved natural landscape. Among the monuments of the Sanctuary is the striking Theatre of Epidaurus, which is renowned for its perfect architectural proportions and exemplary acoustics. The Theatre, together with the Temples of Artemis and Asklepios, the Tholos, the Enkoimeterion and the Propylaia, comprise a coherent assembly of monuments that illustrate the significance and power of the healing gods of the Hellenic and Roman worlds.

The Sanctuary is the earliest organized sanatorium and is significant for its association with the history of medicine, providing evidence of the transition from belief in divine healing to the science of medicine. Initially, in the 2nd millennium BCE it was a site of ceremonial healing practices with curative associations that were later enriched through the cults of Apollo Maleatas in the 8th century BCE and then by Asklepios in the 6th century BCE. The Sanctuary of the two gods was developed into the single most important therapeutic center of the ancient world. These practices were subsequently spread to the rest of the Greco-Roman world and the Sanctuary thus became the cradle of medicine.

Among the facilities of the classical period are buildings that represent all the functions of the Sanctuary, including healing cults and rituals, library, baths, sports, accommodation, hospital and theatre.

The site is one of the most complete ancient Greek sanctuaries of Antiquity and is significant for its architectural brilliance and influence. The Sanctuary of Epidaurus (with the Theatre, the Temples of Artemis and Asklepios, the Tholos, the Enkoimeterion, the Propylaia, the Banqueting Hall, the baths as well as the sport and hospital facilities) is an eminent example of a Hellenic architectural ensemble of the 4th century BCE. The form of its buildings has exerted great influence on the evolution of Hellenistic and Roman architecture. Tholos influenced the development of Greek and Roman architecture, particularly the Corinthian order, while the Enkoimeterion stoa and the Propylaia introduced forms that evolved further in Hellenistic architecture. In addition, the complicated hydraulic system of the Sanctuary is an excellent example of a large-scale water supply and sewerage system that illustrates the significant engineering knowledge of ancient societies. The exquisitely preserved Theatre continues to be used for ancient drama performances and familiarizes the audience with ancient Greek thought.

Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae

Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae/Photographer:elena944/Flickr

The columned temple of Apollo Epicurius rises majestically within the sanctuary of Bassae in the mountains of Arkadia. It is one of the best-preserved monuments of classical antiquity and an evocative and poignant testament to classical Greek architecture. It is highly significant for its architectural features and influence.

The temple was built at the height of the Greek civilization in the second half of the 5th century BC (420-400 BC). It was dedicated to Apollo Epicurius by the Phigaleians, who believed the god of sun and healing had protected them from plague and invasion. In 174 AD the ancient traveller Pausanias admired the beauty and harmony of the temple and attributed it to Iktinos, the architect of the Parthenon.

The temple appears to have been forgotten for almost 1700 years until it was rediscovered in the 18th century and attracted intense interest from scholars and artists. The isolation of the site ensured many significant features survived largely intact. The temple is one of the earliest post-Parthenonian edifices and the earliest monument in which all three ancient Greek architectural orders – Doric, Ionic and Corinthian – are found together. It also included the earliest surviving Corinthian column capital. The temple further exhibits a number of bold and innovative architectural designs that mark a turning point in the development of temple-building. Through a series of ingenious devices, the architect successfully balanced contrasting elements and blended the old with the new, contributing to the unique architectural and artistic value of the monument. The temple, as well as its sculptural decoration consist one of the best-preserved samples of the ancient Greek civilization, from the period of its heyday (5th century BC).

Meteora

Meteora/Photographer:Darby Sawchuk/Flickr

In a region of almost inaccessible sandstone peaks, monks settled on these ‘columns of the sky’ from the 11th century onwards. Twenty-four of these monasteries were built, despite incredible difficulties, at the time of the great revival of the eremetic ideal in the 15th century. Their 16th-century frescoes mark a key stage in the development of post-Byzantine painting.

The Historic Centre (Chorá) with the Monastery of Saint-John the Theologian and the Cave of the Apocalypse on the Island of Pátmos

The Historic Centre (Chorá) with the Monastery of Saint-John the Theologian and the Cave of the Apocalypse on the Island of Pátmos/Martin GrayCopyright: © Sacred Sites/UNESCO

The small island of Pátmos in the Dodecanese is reputed to be where Saint John the Theologian wrote both his Gospel and the Apocalypse around 95 AD. A monastery dedicated to the ‘beloved disciple’ was founded there in 1088 by Hosios Christodoulos Latrinos and has been a place of pilgrimage and Greek Orthodox learning ever since. Its foundation was part of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos’ policy to colonize the islands and create a base in the Aegean. The colonization of the Chóra of Pátmos took place gradually around the fortified monastic complex, which always had the absolute dominance over the island as the main governor and regulator of the organization of the social life of the islanders.

The monastery of St John the Theologian is a unique creation, integrating monastic values within a fortified enclosure, which has evolved in response to changing political and economic circumstances for over 900 years. It has the external appearance of a polygonal castle, with towers and crenellations. It is also home to a remarkable collection of manuscripts, icons, and liturgical artwork and objects.

The earliest elements, belonging to the 11th century, are the Katholikón (main church) of the monastery, the Chapel of Panagía, and the refectory. The north and west sides of the courtyard are lined with the white walls of monastic cells and the south side is formed by the Tzafara, a two-storeyed arcade of 1698 built in dressed stone, whilst the outer narthex of the Katholikón forms the east side.

Midway along the road that winds steeply up from Skála to Chorá is the Cave of the Apocalypse (Spilaion Apokalypseos), where according to tradition St John dictated the Book of Revelation and his Gospel to his disciple Prochoros. This holy place attracted a number of small churches, chapels, and monastic cells, creating an interesting architectural ensemble.

The old settlement of Chóra, associated with it contains many religious and secular buildings. It is one of the best preserved and oldest of the Aegean Chorá. Beginning in the 13th century, the town was expanded by new quarters in the 15th century for refugees from Constantinople (the Alloteina) and in the 17th century from Crete (the Kretika). Paradoxically, perhaps, Patmos thrived as a trading centre under Ottoman occupation, reflected by fine merchants’ houses of the late 16th and 17th centuries in Chorá. The town contains a number of fine small churches. Dating mostly from the 17th and 18th centuries, they contain important mural paintings, icons, and other church furnishings.

The elements of the property are unique in several ways, considered both as an ensemble and individually. Pátmos is the only example of an Orthodox monastery integrating from its origins a supporting community, the Chorá, built around the hill-top fortifications. While fortified monasteries may be found in other parts of the Orthodox world, the Monastery of Hagios Ioannis Theologos is the only example in Greece of an organized settlement around a fortified monastic complex.

Mount Athos

Mount Athos/Photographer:ConstantineD/Flickr

Cloaked by beautiful chestnut and other types of Mediterranean forest, the steep slopes of Mount Athos are punctuated by twenty imposing monasteries and their subsidiary establishments. Covering an area of just over 33,000 hectares, the property includes the entire narrow rocky strip of the easternmost of the three peninsulas of Chalcidice which jut into the Aegean Sea in northern Greece. The subsidiary establishments include sketae (daughter houses of the monasteries), kellia and kathismata (living units operated by the monks), where farming constitutes an important part of the monks’ everyday life. An Orthodox spiritual centre since the 10th century, Mount Athos has enjoyed a self-administered status since Byzantine times. Its first constitution was signed in 972 by the emperor John I Tzimiskes. The ‘Holy Mountain’, which is forbidden to women and children, is also a recognized artistic site. The layout of the monasteries (which are presently inhabited by some 1,400 monks) had an influence as far afield as Russia, and its school of painting influenced the history of Orthodox art. The landscape reflects traditional monastic farming practices, which maintain populations of plant species that have now become rare in the region.

Delos

Delos/photographer:Marco Verch/Flickr

Delos, even though a small (350.64 ha), rocky island in the centre of the Aegean Sea, was considered as “the most sacred of all islands” (Callimachus, 3rd century BC) in ancient Greek culture. According to the legend, it was there that Apollo-Sun, god of daylight, and his twin sister Artemis-Moon, goddess of night light, were born.

The island was first settled in the third millennium BC. The Apollonian sanctuary, established at least since the 9th century BC, reached the peak of its glory during the Archaic and Classical period, when it acquired its Pan-Hellenic character. After 167 BC, as a result of the declaration of Delos as a free port, all the commercial activity of the eastern Mediterranean was concentrated on the isle. Rich merchants, bankers and ship-owners from all over the world settled there, attracting many builders, artists and craftsmen, who built for them luxurious houses, richly decorated with frescoes and mosaic floors. The small island became soon the maximum emporium totius orbis terrarium (S. P. Festus, 2nd century AD) – the greatest commercial centre of the whole world. The prosperity of the island and the friendly relations with the Romans were the main cause of its destruction. Delos was attacked and looted twice: in 88 BC by Mithridates, the King of Pontus, an enemy of the Romans, and later, in 69 BC, by the pirates of Athenodorus, an ally of Mithridates. Since then, the island fell rapidly into decline and was gradually abandoned. Captured after its abandonment successively by the Byzantines, Slavs, Saracens, the Venetians, the Knights of St. John and the Ottomans, Delos was turned into a quarry site with its temple columns burnt for lime, and its houses left in ruins.

The excavations that started in 1872 and are still in progress have unearthed the Sanctuary and a good part of the cosmopolitan Hellenistic town. The monuments that have been excavated up to now speak most eloquently for the grandeur of the sacred island and illuminate a past civilisation, which was Europe’s cradle and wet nurse. The entire island is an archaeological site, which, along with the neighbouring islands of Rheneia, Greater and Lesser Rematiaris, constitutes an immense archaeological site.

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