Inspiration Rafael de Rojas

Route through classical Greece: from the Athens of Pericles to Byzantium

“At the palace erected on the top of Mount Olympus, the highest summit in Greece, were the private apartments of King Zeus, the father-god, and Queen Hera, looking towards the famous cities of Athens, Thebes, Sparta, Corinth, Argos, and Mycenae.” So wrote the classical scholar Robert Graves. As if they were Olympic gods themselves, visitors to today’s Greece can luxuriate in all the glory of classical Greece while remaining fairly close to Athens. And this can be done in a single journey that encompasses the prodigious era in which the Greeks invented everything, from democracy to philosophy, to the end of the Byzantine Empire, without missing Alexander the Great's conquers; from the birthplace of the Olympics to Corinthian glory, the mysterious cliffs of Delphi and the rural pleasures of the Hosios Loukas Monastery. And, as Graves recommends, despite the imposing ancient remains, visitors can lighten the solemnity by recalling that almost all of them were built in honour of a “large, quarrelsome” family of gods eternally immersed in disputes about boundaries, desires and love affairs.

Fly to Athens from 20,000 Avios each way and lose yourself to classical Greece among gods, conquests and visual delights. 

  1. 1 Stop 1: the Acropolis

    The fascinating city of Athens boasts unique museums, omnipresent olive trees on its slopes and green areas such as the National Garden, Athens. However, what brings it true meaning is its ancient heart of stone, the remains of a golden Athens – a city that experienced the radical democracy of Pericles in the fifth century BCE, with the Parthenon literally at the head. A striking white Dorian silhouette crowns the Acropolis, the most iconic monumental complex in the history of Hellenic civilisation.

    To truly understand this, we must descend to the Acropolis Museum, where the remains are displayed and explained. Here, the stars are the caryatids that decorated the Erechtheion

    The imposing acropolis of Athens, probably the most important stop on a journey through classical Greece.
    There is no better place to watch the changes in the play of light on its columns (from white to orange) than the hill of Philopappou, which offers a close, upfront view / Image of sea and sun: Adobe Stock
  2. 2 Stop 2: The Olympieion

    After this visit – which puts everything that came after in context, from Rome to America, from paganism to Christianity, from cathedrals to main squares – the city still has plenty of classical delights on offer. The Temple of Olympian Zeus – the Olympieion – took 700 years to be finished, is an unmissable appointment, since for centuries it was the largest temple in Greece.

    The Olympieion was reconstructed using marble to host the first modern Olympic Games in 1986, and is an essential stop on a journey through classical Greece.
    In Roman times, the Olympieion was already inspiring sporting and religious events in the Panathenaic Stadium built in the 4th century BCE. It was reconstructed using marble for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 / Image by TTstudio: Adobe Stock
  3. 3 Stop 3: The Ancient Agora and the Roman Agora

    After this exciting encounter, there are many more to discover: the Ancient Agora, where daily life, democracy and business were conducted, with the Temple of Hephaestus and the Stoa of Attalos being must-see visits. The Roman Agora and Hadrian’s Library are ideal for understanding the subsequent evolution of Pericles’ city.

    The Temple of Hephaestus, in Athens, is the best-preserved Doric temple in all of Greece
    The Temple of Hephaestus is the best-preserved Doric temple in all of Greece / Image by Juan Carlos Muñoz: Adobe Stock
  4. 4 Stop 4: Ancient Corinth

    In the vicinity of never-to-be-finished Athens, and always within two hours of travel, classical Greece is preserved in cities as majestic as Ancient Corinth. The capital can boast that its moment of glory preceded that of Athens, in the 6th century BCE, when its strategic sea access turned it into a prominent business centre. The city we see now is fundamentally Roman, after centuries of wars and looting.

    The Temple of Apollo in Ancient Corinth is an unmissable way to explore Ancient Greece.
    The Doric Temple of Apollo (5th century BCE) is the exception, along with the remains of a stoa, where we might imagine the long columns that supported the building / Image by borisb17
  5. 5 Stop 5: The Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus

    The next leg of the route takes us to the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus, a public work in the same league as the Colosseum of Rome. This amphitheatre, built in the 4th century BCE, could seat 12,000 spectators. It is tempting to walk along the stands, especially if you’re lucky enough to attend the modern performances that make good use of its incredible acoustics, as the voice of the softest-spoken actor can be clearly heard from the highest row in the stands.

    The Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus is the best preserved of ancient theatres and is located just two hours from Athens.
    The Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus, in the small city of the same name, is the best preserved of all ancient theatres and was once the site of Pan-Hellenic games in which sport, theatre, religion and politics all played part / Image by Oriol: AdobeStock
  6. 6 Stop 6: Acropolis of Mycenae

    The next stop is the Acropolis of Mycenae, the legendary kingdom that Agamemnon took to its peak and that dominated Greece for 400 years. A World Heritage Site, its impossible walls – 13m high, 7m thick and made of blocks weighing up to six tonnes – convinced the ancient Greeks that it had been built by the Cyclops, who were the masons that built the gods’ own home on Mount Olympus. Today, you can visit the Tomb of Agamemnon, which dates from 1,300 BCE and has a vaulted ceiling and a 40m corridor that leads to a large beehive-shaped chamber. The Mycenae Museum displays the fine jewellery, bronze weapons and frescos that decorated the buildings and are evidence of the grandeur of the city.

    To explore classical Greece, a visit to the Acropolis of Mycenae – less than two hours from Athens – is essential.
    The Acropolis of Mycenae is described in Homer’s Iliad as “rich in gold” / Image by Oriol: Adobe Stock
  7. 7 Stop 7: Delphi

    Delphi is related to the Ancient Greek word delphoi, which means ‘womb’, and is a clear example of the Greeks’ high esteem for their cities and culture. The famous Oracle of Delphi, which was consulted on the most important decisions – was located in the Temple of Apollo and was a woman. Her always cryptic predictions changed the course of Hellenic history. Its buildings, its high location on the slopes of Mount Parnassos and its extensive views overlooking valleys dotted with olive and cypress trees that end at the Gulf of Corinth form a complex where it is easy to let your imagination soar back to those mystical times.

    The ancient city of Delphi is located on a spectacular cliff and is an unmissable element in the story of Ancient Greece.
    The ancient city of Delphi is located on a spectacular cliff that gives a sense of being at the top of the world / Image from Mapics: AdobeStock
  8. 8 Stop 8: The Hosios Loukas Monastery

    Half an hour from Delphi, we conclude the route with a somewhat more culinary stop. The Hosios Loukas Monastery, lost among the mountains and protected as a World Heritage Site, boasts a number of records. From its monk-pampered olive groves come the best organic oils and honeys in Greece. And the walls of its main church, Agios Loukas, have the best Byzantine frescoes in the country – surrounded by marble, icons and mosaics, their effect is highlighted by dramatic contrasts of light and shadow.

    The Hosios Loukas Monastery makes the best organic oils and honeys in Greece
    The Osios Loukas Monastery is the resting place of Saint Luke of Steiris, the Orthodox hermit who founded it / Image by Pavel: Adobe Stock