Tuesday, June 16, 2009

KarenToh’s Travel Tips: Greece

I visited Greece in 2002, just before they hosted the 2004 Summer Olympics. To my regret, I didn’t manage to cover Santorini and Myknonos, which are two highly recommended vacation spots in Greece. Perhaps one day, when I take a leisurely cruise of the Mediterranean, I will have the opportunity to drop in ;D

My visit to Greece was focused pretty much on Ancient Greece, and my sister and I visited Athens, Corinth, Mycenae, Sparta, Olympia, Delphi, Meteora, Thermopylae.

P.S. Please note that all images in this blog are from http://en.wikipedia.org/, as I do not have any Digital Photos to share, as I visited Greece in 2002, before I took up Digital Photography with an SLR. However, should you like to view my other Photos, you can do so at my Webshots Community Album. You can also read my other Travel Blogs here.

Travel Blog References
· Contents compiled and written by Karen Toh Guek Bee.
· Wikipedia “Greece”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greece
· Ancient Greece for Kids: http://www.woodlands-junior.kent.sch.uk/
· Ancient Greece: http://www.ancientgreece.com/s/
· Sacred Destinations-Greece: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/greece/

Photography Images:
· Courtesy of Wikipedia.com: http://en.wikipedia.org/

Understanding Greece..

The ancient greeks lived in Greece, and in countries that we now know as Bulgaria and Turkey. The ancient greeks were once a powerful empire, and had developed ideas for government, science, philiosphy, religion and art.

Ancient Greece was split into many different states, each state were ruled differently, having their own laws, government and money, although they shared the same language and religion. Athens and Sparta were to two most important city states.

Religion was important to the ancient Greeks, as they believed that it would make their lives better, and the gods would take care of them when they died. They believed in many different gods and goddesses, and that these gods and goddesses controlled everything in their lives and environment. Hence, to show their gods how important the were, the ancient greeks built temples in every town for one god or goddess. These temples were not like the modern places of worship, where worshipers could pray in, but were actually homes for statues of gods, which were cared for by priests.

In ancient times, where there were no means of communication other than by word of mouth, stories were created of their gods and goddesses. These stories were then spread around by travelers. Many of these stories are still known today, ie. Pandora’s Box, King Midas, The Trojan Horse, the Story of the Odyssey and Jason and the Golden Fleece to name a few.

To understand the Principal Gods, click here. This would help you when you travel around Greece looking for Ancient sites :p

Geographically, Greece consists of a mountainous, peninsular mainland jutting out into the sea at the southern end of the Balkans, the Peloponnesus peninsula and numerous islands.

The greeks, like their latin counterparts like Spain and Italy, have a few things in common – the production of olive oil, their afternoon siestas, and their active night life.


Athens is the capital and the largest city of modern Greece, and is one of the world’s oldest cities, spanning around 3,400 years. In ancient times, Athens was the largest and most powerful Greek state. It was a city with beautiful public buildings, shops and public baths.

Athens deserves at least 3 to 4 days alone to absorb both modern and ancient Greece. They best way to get to know Athen is by joining Walking Tours, or by walking around on your own with a good guide and a map. Getting around Athens is pretty easy with public transportation – Athens Metro, bus and taxi.

The Acropolis: is the ancient “high city” or “Sacred Rock” of Athens, crowned by marble temples sacred to the city’s goddess Athena. It is one the most recognizable monuments in the world.

On the western and highest side of the Acropolis is the marble Parthenon, a temple, built for the Goddess Athena. It was said that there was a large gold and ivory statue of Athena. Athena was the goddess of wisdom and war and was the patron of Athens. The legend says that Athene and Poseidon had a contest to have the city named after them. Poseidon promised the riches of the sea, but Athena’s gift was an olive tree, which was felt to be more valuable.

Plaka, Monastiraki and Thissio: Charming historic districts at the foot of the Acropolis, with restored 19th century neoclassical homes, pedestrianized streets, shops and restaurants, and picturesque ruins from the city's Roman era.

Piraeus: The ancient port of Athens, Piraeus is today an independent, heavily industrial municipality located southwest of Athens, whose modern-day port serves almost all of Attica's ferry connections to Crete and the Aegean Islands.

Syntagma Square (Plateia Syntagmatos): Dominated by the old Royal Palace, Syntagma Square is the business district of Athens, complete with major hotels, banks, restaurants and airline offices.

As Athens was the host of the 2004 Summer Olympics, the city had to build and/or reconstruct buildings for the games as well as for tourism. One of the challenges the locals informed us during this period was that that every time an ancient artifact was discovered during construction, construction would come to a standstill.


The ruins of ancient Corinth is a short drive from the modern city of Corinth, and are spread around the base of the rock of Acrocorinth, which forms a natural acropolis for the city. Most of the surviving buildings are Roman rather than Greek, dating back from the city’s prosperous age after Ceaser sacked and rebuilt much of the original Greek city. Much of the city has been toppled by recurring earthquakes over the centuries.

On the Acrocorinth itself are the ruins of the Temple of Aphrodite, of which little remains. The most notable ruin is the Temple of Apollo, built in the 6th century BC. Part of the foundation and a few pillars of the remains of the Temple of Octavia, dedicated to the sister of Emperor Augustus can still be seen.

(Excerpt from Sacred Destinations: Corinth)


Mycenae is an archaeological site located about 90km south-west of Athens, in the north-eastern Peloponnese. In the second millennium BC Mycenae was one of the major centres of Greek civilization, a military stronghold which dominated much of southern Greece.

This ancient city was once thought to exist only in the ancient Greek legend and in the epic poetry of Homer, and wasn’t discovered until 1870 by an amateur archaeologist named Heinrich Schliemann.

The Mycenaean people were known to be warriors who lived for heroic battles, were ruled by Monarchs, and whose highest rank in society comprised of priests and bureaucrats. Mycenaean traders had an extensive network with their neighboring civilizations.

Legends also says that Agamemnon is the Mycenaean Greek king who led his troops into battle against Troy, which eventually was sacked.

The ancient city, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is well known for it’s Lion’s Gate at the main entrance into the citadel.

(Excerpt from this website)

Sparta & Thermopylae

Sparta was a city-state in ancient Greece, situated in the southern part of Peloponnese. From 650 BC it rose to become a dominant military power in the region and was recognized as the overall leader of the combined Greek forces during the Greco-Persian Wars. All male citizens of Sparta were full-time soldiers.

The Greco-Persian Wars were a series of conflicts between several Greek city-states and the Persian Empire that started in 499 BC and lasted until 448 BC.

Leonidas I, was the king of Sparta, who was believed in mythology to be a descendent of Heracles, possessing much of the Greek Hero’s strength and bravery. King Leonidas died at the Battle of Thermopylae in August 480 BC. The Battle of Thermopylae was a battle that took place over three days during the second Persian invasion of Greece. This occurred at the pass of Thermopylae, which was a narrow coastal passage that existed in antiquity, and named after it’s natural hot water springs.

The tomb of Leonidas lies today in the northern part of the modern town of Sparta, while the “Leonidas Monument”, a bronze statue of Leonidas can be found at the site of the Battle. A sign under the statue, reads “Come and Get Them” which Spartans said when the Persians asked them to put down their weapons.

The film 300, inspired by the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Variety was based on the story of King Leonidas and the Battle of Thermopylae.

(Excerpt: Wikipedia; “King Leonidas I”, “Battle of Thermopylae”, “Sparta”)


Olympia is a sanctuary of ancient Greece, known as Altis, which was the site of the Olympic Games in classical times, held every Olympiad (every four years), dating back possibly further than 776 BC, in honor of Zeus.

The Greeks invented athletic contests and held them in honor of their gods. One of the ancient wonders was a statue of Zeus at Olympia, made of gold and ivory, placed inside a Temple, and was said to be a towering 42 feet high. The statute scuplutred by Pheidias, was named one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World by Anipater of Sidon.

The games at Olympia started as a one-day festival and expanded into five-days with many events.


Ancient Delphi is an archaeological site located on the south-western spur of Mount Parnassus in the valley of Phocis. It was the site of the Sanctuary and Oracle of Apollo, the most important oracle in the classical Greek world.

For the ancient Greeks, Delphi was quite literally the center of the world. According to Greek myth, Zeus released two eagles from opposite ends of the earth and they met in the sky above Delphi. Impaling one another with their beaks, they fell to the ground on the very center of the world. The site was marked by the Omphalos, or “navel” stone.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, visiting Delphi is a must.

(Excerpt: Sacred Destinations: Delphi)


The Meteora (meaning “suspended in the air”, or “in the heavens above” which is what meteora means in Greek), is one of the largest and most important complexes of the Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Greece, second only to Mount Athos. To get to Meteora, the nearest town is Kalambaka.
The monasteries comprise of six Greek Orthodox monasteries built on spectacular natural rock pillars on the edge of the Pindus Mountains in Northern Greece, and is in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

It was established in the 11th century by hermit monks who were believed to be living among the caves and cutouts in the rock. Access to the monasteries were originally difficult, requiring either long ladders lashed together or large nets used to haul up goods and people.

Studies suggest that the pinnacles were formed about 60 million years ago, and later shaped into its current structure by weather and earthquakes.

(Excerpt: Sacred Destinations: Meteora; Wikipedia: “Meteora”)

Greek Islands

Greece has over 6,000 islands and islets, but only 227 of these islands are inhabited, with only 78 of these having more than 100 inhabitants.

Featured in the Mamma Mia!, the Musical, Greek Islands are an idyllic location due to the sun, seas and reflections of clusters of white washed buildings. Two of the most popular Greek Islands are Mykonos and Santorini.

The island of Delos, near Myknonos is one of the most important mythological, historical and archeological sites in Greece.

In ancient times, Delos was a major sacred site, second only to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. It is a fascinating site, located a short ride from Myknos.

One of the more boggling sights is the monuments dedicated to Apollo, each decorated with a huge phallus, emblematic of the orgiastic rites that took place during Dionysian festivals.

Santorini is located in the southern Aegean Sea, and is essentially what remains of an enormous volcanic explosion, destroying what used to be a single island, creating a archipelago of volcanic islands.
The Santorini Caldera is undoubtedly one of the natural wonders, and has also been linked to the myth of Atlantis. The caldera is actually a basin, which extends for miles, with towering and rocky cliffs, more than a thousand feet from the sea level, and extends deep underneath the sea for an additional thousand feet, thereby creating a perfect harbor.
One of Europe’s tourist hotsopots, with it’s picture perfect landscape with gleaming white churches and sparkling blue seas, Santorini is one of the most photographed parts of Greece.

(Excerpt: Sacred Destinations: Greece; Wikipedia: “Greek Islands”; Santorini Infor)