Blessed with a rich and long history, Greece boasts a wide variety of monuments and archaeological sites bearing a deep cultural heritage. It is, therefore, not surprising that there are 18 Greek monuments and areas given the distinction of being UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Discover these historic gems below.
Isolated on a distant mountainside in the Peloponnese, the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae is a well-preserved Classical temple. Its uniqueness lies not only in its remote location or its dedication but also in the fact that it combines Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian elements. Built around 450 and 400 BC, it was only discovered in 1765 when French architect Joachim Bocher stumbled upon it by chance.
The archaeological site of Delphi is probably one of the most important sites in Greece, after the Acropolis of Athens. In Ancient Greece, the majority of political decisions were made after consulting the oracle, and it is said that no colony was founded around the Mediterranean without the consent of the sanctuary at Delphi. Over the centuries, the functions that took place at the Oracle of Delphi grew to include athletic games and cultural events, known as the Delphic festivals. Today, various structures still stand on the slopes of Delphi, including an ancient theater; the temple of Apollo; the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia, which includes the Tholos; the stadium; the Kastalia spring; and numerous decorative artifacts. There is also an on-site archaeological museum that contains countless ancient Greek treasures uncovered from excavations.
Any trip to Greece must involve a visit to the Acropolis. This impressive site includes four of the leading masterpieces of classical Greek aesthetics: the Parthenon, Propylaea, Erechtheion, and the temple of Athena Nike. Completed by the 5th century BC, it has exerted a deep influence on architecture across the world.
The medieval city in the heart of Rhodes has remained unspoiled throughout the centuries. In 1309, the famous Order of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, or the Hospitallers, who were returning from Jerusalem, settled in Rhodes until their departure in 1522, after a six-month siege by the Turkish forces. Their presence left an indelible mark on Rhodes Old Town, an authentic architectural gem with Gothic, Renaissance, and Byzantine elements, along with a touch of Ottoman inspiration. Exploring the medieval city is like stepping back in time – an experience not to be missed.
Thessaloniki is an open-air museum. Wander around the Lady of The North, founded in 315 BC, and she will let you discover all of her historical charms. As a starting base for the expansion of Christianity in the area, Thessaloniki boasts its fair share of Early Christian churches and other Byzantine and Roman monuments, which is another excellent reason to visit this often-overlooked city.
Nestled in a peaceful valley in the Peloponnese, the sanctuary of the god-physician Asklepios is the most celebrated healing center of the ancient Greek and Roman world. Considered the birthplace of medicine, the sanctuary is a valuable testimony to the practice of medicine in antiquity. The site is home to monumental buildings used for worship (the temple and the altar of Asklepios, the Tholos, the Abaton, etc.), as well as secular buildings such as the theatre, the ceremonial Hestiatoreion, the baths, and the palaestra. The Asklepieion survived until the end of antiquity.
In an isolated region of Thessaly, sandstone peaks rise to the sky. Perched atop are 24 monasteries established by monks who settled there from the 11th century onward. A visit to Meteora conjures a mysterious yet vibrant sense of wonder at the desire of men to reach God and find isolation in worship. Many of the monasteries are adorned with beautiful 16th-century frescoes, which signify a remarkable moment in the evolution of post-Byzantine painting.
Mount Athos is a monastic state, and it’s been a major Orthodox spiritual center since 1054, enjoying an autonomous statute since Byzantine times. A place where women and children (and female animals) are not allowed, the Holy Mountain is home to 20 monasteries and 1,400 monks.
Mystras is perched on the northern slopes of Mt. Taygetos, near Sparta. Its castle was constructed in 1249 by Frankish leader William II de Villeharduin. After 1262, the city came under Byzantine control, and during the 14th century, it became the seat of the Despotate of Morea. In 1460, the hill fell under the power of the Turks, and in 1464, Mystras was briefly occupied by the Venetians (1687-1715) before it returned to the Turks’ control. It was then liberated in 1821, although the establishment of modern Sparta by King Otto in 1834 sealed the fate of the old town’s life, leading to its decline.
Located in Western Peloponnese, the archaeological site of Olympia is one of the most visited destinations in Greece. Dedicated to Zeus, the site, despite its isolation, was a major religious and athletic center in ancient Greece. Indeed, the site was highly frequented and celebrated, especially during the Olympic Games, a national festival organized every four years in honor of the father of all gods, Zeus. The site includes the Temple of Hera, the Prytaneion, the Bouleuterion, the treasuries, and the first stadium built during the Archaic period. During the Hellenistic period, non-religious buildings, such as the gymnasium and palaestra, were built, while during Roman times, the majority of the existing buildings were restored, and a few new ones were constructed, including hot baths, luxurious villas, and an aqueduct.
According to mythology, the sacred island of Delos – known throughout ancient times as one of the main pan-Hellenic sanctuaries – was the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. And Apollo’s temple was an important attraction which captivated pilgrims from all over the country, turning the island into a flourishing port.
Despite its small size, Chios packs a powerful world heritage punch with no less than three monasteries considered extremely important based on their historical value. Although all three are not located in the same area, they share identical aesthetic characteristics. All churches were built on a cross-in-square plan and decorated with stunning marble work around the 11th and 12th centuries. According to historians, they represent the second golden age of Byzantine art.
This tiny Aegean island has seen many invaders during its history, but the remains of the Pythagoreion and the Heraion (an ancient port with stunning Roman and Greek monuments and a temple honoring the Samian Hera) are where you can witness the most visible signs of invasion to date. The Pythagoreion includes a sophisticated tunnel part of an ancient aqueduct and ruins of the ancient harbor.
In ancient times, the town of Aigai (today Vergina) was the first capital of the Kingdom of Macedon. In 336 BC, the town’s theater was the site of Philip II’s assassination, and his son Alexander the Great was proclaimed king shortly after. Archaeological discoveries include a grand palace, decorated with mosaics and painted walls, and over 300 tombs, one of which belonged to King Philip II.
Underrated Greek paradise Patmos is known for being the place where St John the Theologian wrote his Gospel and the Book of Revelation. This Dodecanese gem boasts a monastery – built in the late 10th century – dedicated to the apostle, which is still a place of pilgrimage to this day. The settlement of Chora, for its part, contains many religious and secular buildings worth visiting.
Two important cities during the Mycenean civilization, Mycenae and Tiryns flourished between the 15th and 12th centuries BC. Artifacts and monuments such as the Lion’s Gate or the Treasury of Atreus at Mycenae have been regarded as ‘outstanding examples of human creative genius.’ It is also the place where Agamemnon’s golden funeral mask was discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in 1876.
Beautiful Corfu is home to one of the many wonders of the world. The Old Town of Corfu is strategically located at the entrance of the Adriatic Sea and has been around since the 8th century BC. Equipped with three forts, created by Venetian engineers, the town always managed to defend itself against the Ottoman Empire, and though the forts were rebuilt and renovated often, the Old Town is one of the few historical landmarks that has managed to preserve its authenticity and integrity.
Lying in the present-day region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, Philippi (now called Kavala) was conveniently located on the road linking the East with the West. Founded in 356 BC by King Philip II, the city grew to become a ‘small Rome,’ not knowing that the Roman Empire would establish itself there in the decades following the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC. The site includes a Hellenistic theater and a funerary temple, as well as a forum, added after the Roman Empire ascent. The city was also a center of Christian faith following Apostle Paul’s visit in 49-50 CE. The ruins of its basilica are a beautiful reminder of the arrival of Christianity in the area.