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Greece's Most Spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Picture of Culture Trip
Updated: 9 February 2017
Western civilization was born in Greece over 4,000 years ago. It therefore comes as no surprise that this ancient land holds no fewer than 17 World Heritage sites. Let’s take a look at some of the most incredible cultural and natural wonders Greece has to offer.

Acropolis, Athens

Year of inscription: 1987

Why it qualified: ‘The Acropolis of Athens and its monuments are universal symbols of the classical spirit and civilization and form the greatest architectural and artistic complex bequeathed by Greek Antiquity to the world. In the second half of the fifth century bc, Athens, following the victory against the Persians and the establishment of democracy, took a leading position amongst the other city-states of the ancient world. In the age that followed, as thought and art flourished, an exceptional group of artists put into effect the ambitious plans of Athenian statesman Pericles and, under the inspired guidance of the sculptor Pheidias, transformed the rocky hill into a unique monument of thought and the arts. The most important monuments were built during that time: the Parthenon, built by Ictinus, the Erechtheon, the Propylaea, the monumental entrance to the Acropolis, designed by Mnesicles and the small temple Athena Nike. ‘ – World Heritage Convention

Athens Acropolis | © Karl Baron/Flickr
Athens Acropolis | © Karl Baron/Flickr

Archeological Site of Delphi

Year of inscription: 1987

Why it qualified: ‘The pan-Hellenic sanctuary of Delphi, where the oracle of Apollo spoke, was the site of the omphalos, the ‘navel of the world’. Blending harmoniously with the superb landscape and charged with sacred meaning, Delphi in the 6th century B.C. was indeed the religious centre and symbol of unity of the ancient Greek world.’ – World Heritage Convention

Archeological Site of Olympia

Year of inscription: 1989

Why it qualified: ‘The site of Olympia, in a valley in the Peloponnesus, has been inhabited since prehistoric times. In the 10th century B.C., Olympia became a centre for the worship of Zeus. The Altis – the sanctuary to the gods – has one of the highest concentrations of masterpieces from the ancient Greek world. In addition to temples, there are the remains of all the sports structures erected for the Olympic Games, which were held in Olympia every four years beginning in 776 B.C.’ – World Heritage Convention

Archeological site of Mycenae and Tiryns

Year of inscription: 1999

Why it qualified: ‘The archaeological sites of Mycenae and Tiryns are the imposing ruins of the two greatest cities of the Mycenaean civilization, which dominated the eastern Mediterranean world from the 15th to the 12th century B.C. and played a vital role in the development of classical Greek culture. These two cities are indissolubly linked to the Homeric epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey , which have influenced European art and literature for more than three millennia.’ – World Heritage Convention

Delos

Year of inscription: 1990

Why it qualified: ‘According to Greek mythology, Apollo was born on this tiny island in the Cyclades archipelago. Apollo’s sanctuary attracted pilgrims from all over Greece and Delos was a prosperous trading port. The island bears traces of the succeeding civilizations in the Aegean world, from the 3rd millennium B.C. to the palaeochristian era. The archaeological site is exceptionally extensive and rich and conveys the image of a great cosmopolitan Mediterranean port.’ – World Heritage Convention

Ancient Greek theatre, Delos | © Bernard Gagnon/Flickr
Ancient Greek theatre, Delos | © Bernard Gagnon/Flickr

Medieval City of Rhodes

Year of inscription: 1988

Why it qualified: ‘The Order of St John of Jerusalem occupied Rhodes from 1309 to 1523 and set about transforming the city into a stronghold. It subsequently came under Turkish and Italian rule. With the Palace of the Grand Masters, the Great Hospital and the Street of the Knights, the Upper Town is one of the most beautiful urban ensembles of the Gothic period. In the Lower Town, Gothic architecture coexists with mosques, public baths and other buildings dating from the Ottoman period.’ – World Heritage Convention

Old Town of Corfu

Year of inscription: 2007

Why it qualified: ‘The Old Town of Corfu, on the Island of Corfu off the western coasts of Albania and Greece, is located in a strategic position at the entrance of the Adriatic Sea, and has its roots in the 8th century BC. The three forts of the town, designed by renowned Venetian engineers, were used for four centuries to defend the maritime trading interests of the Republic of Venice against the Ottoman Empire. In the course of time, the forts were repaired and partly rebuilt several times, more recently under British rule in the 19th century. The mainly neoclassical housing stock of the Old Town is partly from the Venetian period, partly of later construction, notably the 19th century. As a fortified Mediterranean port, Corfu’s urban and port ensemble is notable for its high level of integrity and authenticity.’ – World Heritage Convention

Paleochristian and Byzantine monuments of Thessaloniki

Year of inscription: 1988

Why it qualified: ‘Founded in 315 B.C., 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-nave 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 the rotunda, St Demetrius and St David are among the great masterpieces of early Christian art.’ – World Heritage Convention

Mosaic, Thessaloniki | © Leandro Neumann Ciuffo/Flickr
Mosaic, Thessaloniki | © Leandro Neumann Ciuffo/Flickr

Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus

Year of inscription: 1988

Why it qualified: ‘In a small valley in the Peloponnesus, the shrine of Asklepios, the god of medicine, developed out of a much earlier cult of Apollo (Maleatas), during the 6th century BC at the latest, as the official cult of the city state of Epidaurus. Its principal monuments, particularly the temple of Asklepios, the Tholos and the Theatre – considered one of the purest masterpieces of Greek architecture – date from the 4th century. The vast site, with its temples and hospital buildings devoted to its healing gods, provides valuable insight into the healing cults of Greek and Roman times.’ – World Heritage Convention

Temple of Asklepios | © Carole Raddato/Flickr
Temple of Asklepios | © Carole Raddato/Flickr

Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae

Year of inscription: 1986

Why it qualified: ‘This famous temple to the god of healing and the sun was built towards the middle of the 5th century B.C. in the lonely heights of the Arcadian mountains. The temple, which has the oldest Corinthian capital yet found, combines the Archaic style and the serenity of the Doric style with some daring architectural features.’ – World Heritage Convention

Temple of Apollo Epikourios at Bassae | © Carole Raddato/WikiCommons
Temple of Apollo Epikourios at Bassae | © Carole Raddato / WikiCommons

Mount Athos

Year of inscription: 1988

Why it qualified: ‘An Orthodox spiritual centre since 1054, Mount Athos has enjoyed an autonomous statute since Byzantine times. The ‘Holy Mountain’, which is forbidden to women and children, is also a recognized artistic site. The layout of the monasteries (about 20 of 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.’ – World Heritage Convention