Greece, one of the oldest civilisations in the world, is home to 18 Unesco World Heritage Sites. We take a closer look at seven of them
Acropolis of Athens
Sitting high on a rocky outcrop that rises above the Greek capital is the most striking and complete ancient Greek monumental complex still standing today. The Acropolis houses the remains of several ancient buildings of architectural and historic significance with artefacts dating to the Middle Neolithic era. Today, for an entrance fee of €20, visitors can walk around sites including the Parthenon, the temple of the goddess Athena; the Pandroseion, a sanctuary dedicated to one of the daughters of the first king of Attica; and the Chalkotheke, which housed the treasury of the goddess of Wisdom, Athena.
Mycenae and Tiryns
Forever linked to the Homeric epics the Iliad and the Odyssey,the archaeological sites of Mycenae and Tiryns (whose “mighty walls” he refers to) are the ruins of the two greatest cities of the Mycenaean civilisation, which dominated the eastern Mediterranean world from the 15th to the 12th century BC. Unesco notes that the architecture and design of landmarks such as the Lion Gate and the Treasury of Atreus, and the aforementioned walls of Tiryns, are an “outstanding examples of human creative genius”. The cities, today, are a 20-minute drive from each other.
According to Greek mythology, Apollo was born on this tiny island in the Cyclades archipelago, which soon developed into a famous trading port. Considered “the most sacred of all islands” in ancient Greek culture, it has played an enormous role – for an island its size – in the development of Greek civilisation. Many of its treasure of masterpieces, found during excavations, are exhibited today in Delos Museum. Through its remote location, and the fact it has been uninhabited since the 7th century AD, Delos has remained remarkably preserved. The entire island is designated as an archaeological site.
Aghios Ioannis Theologos Monastery, Pátmos
Pátmos, a small island in the Dodecanese, is said to be where St John the Evangelist wrote the Book of Revelation. It’s no surprise to learn that a monastery dedicated to him was built during the 11th century AD and has been a place of pilgrimage since. The complex looms over the island, while the old settlement of Chorá contains many religious and secular buildings. The Cave of the Apocalypse, spiritual and miraculous, is the place where St. John is believed to have received his revelations and forms part of the World Heritage Site status.
Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessaloniki
Founded in 315 BC, the sea port of Thessaloniki is home to an array of Christian monuments and fine churches. Constructed over a long period, from the 4th to the 15th century, they constitute a “diachronic typological series”, according to Unesco, which had an enormous influence in the Byzantine world. The organisation lists the mosaics of the Rotunda, St Demetrius and St David as being among the great masterpieces of early Christian art. See p33 for more on Thessaloniki.
The mostly recent addition to Greece’s World Heritage sites list (Unesco added it in 2016), the remains of the walled city of Philippi lie at the foot of an acropolis in north-eastern Greece on the Via Egnatia, an ancient route linking Europe and Asia. Founded in 356 BC by the Macedonian King Philip II, the city was known as
‘small Rome’. It became a vibrant Hellenistic city with walls, gates, the theatre and the funerary heroon (temple) established. Later the city became a centre of the Christian faith following the visit of the Apostle Paul in 49-50 AD.
The Old Town of Corfu
The Old Town of Corfu, on the island off the western coasts of Greece, and at the entrance of the Adriatic Sea, can be traced back to the 8th century BC. Unesco lists the three forts of the town, designed by Venetian engineers, as of particular interest. The forts were repaired and partly rebuilt several times, including under British rule in the 19th century. In the Old Town, you will find mostly neoclassical housing, some of which is from the Venetian period.