You will hardly find a better place to travel back in time than Greece. Not only do the Greek islands come in all shapes and sizes but they also hide tremendously rich cultural heritage that’s hard to find anywhere else in the world. Although there are significant monuments and remnants of the antique times on the Greek mainland, the islands of the Aegean and the Ionian Sea only add the final touch to the magic of this land, making them undeniably appealing to anyone who has a knack for history.
Located just 27 kilometres from Athens in the Saronic islands, Aegina was once a marine superpower – the one that easily rivalled Athens. With such a glorious historical past, it comes as no surprise why there are so many archaeological sites found on the island. There are three major archaeological sites on Aegina – the Temple of Aphaia, Kolona Hill with the Temple of Apollo, and the Hellanion Altar. Especially haunting and mysterious is the ghost village of Paleochora whose uninhabited stone-built houses and churches still defy the ravages of time, even after it had been completely abandoned in 1826.
Delos was once the most important island in an ancient world. Its significance was paramount – as a religious site, as a treasury of the Athenian elite, and as one of the busiest commercial ports in the entire Mediterranean. The ruins of the temples located on the island marked the birthplace of the twin gods – Apollo and Artemis and the remnants of a bygone era still testify of its opulence. The iconic row of sphinx-like lions, intricate mosaics, and artfully carved pillars undoubtedly demonstrate that this was one of the finest cities in the ancient ear. Today, visitors can explore the ruins in their entirety. Climbing to the summit of the island, you will be able to admire the chain of islands around Delos, magically swirling in all directions and giving you a clear idea why this archipelago was given the name the Cyclades (Circle).
Just by looking at the map of the Greek islands, it becomes obvious how huge Crete is. Not only is it the largest island but it’s also hiding some of the most dramatic landscapes and an abundance of historical sites. The most imposing fact about Crete is that the human settlements are said to have existed here four millennia before the ancient Minoan civilization. Nowadays, what was left of the ancient civilizations are spectacular ruins of fortresses, churches, and palaces. The Minoan Palace of Knossos, the Palace of Phaistos, the Roman city of Gortyna, and the Isle of Spinalonga cover different periods of Cretan history and each of these fortifications tells a story of the extensive past. In addition to that, visitors can appreciate Greek heritage exhibited in the Historical Museum of Crete whose extensive collections of artefacts cover the periods of Cretan history, from prehistoric times throughout Christianity and Ottoman conquests all the way to the present day.
Located at the crossroads of the two major sea routes in the Mediterranean – from the Aegean Sea to the coasts of the Middle East and from Cyprus to Egypt, the island of Rhodes has played a vital role in the lives of Greeks since the beginning of time. Throughout history, the different people who settled on Rhodes left their mark on every aspect of the island’s culture. The old town, encircled by Medieval walls, is a brilliant example of the architecture popular in the 13th and 14th century. The port of Rhodes was once dominated by a statue of Colossus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It is miraculous how much of the Rhodes history has been preserved and intact over the centuries. One of the most impressive collections of the vestiges of those times is being kept in the Archeological Museum of Rhodes, comprising excavated items from all over the island.
Thought to be the location of the lost city of Atlantis, the island of Santorini is the one to hide countless mysteries and significant archaeological sites. Many of the remnants of the Hellenistic temples and edifices are still visible in the antique city of Thera dating back to the 9th century BC while many of the relics retrieved from the site are on display in the archaeology museum in Firá, Santorini’s capital. Certainly not to be missed is Akrotiri, a beautifully preserved prehistoric settlement, discovered at the break of the 20th century. This captivating site is open to the public where visitors can walk on footbridges suspended above the remains of the ancient city.
Unrightfully left out of the popular Greek itineraries, the island of Lemnos is anything but ordinary and dull. Apart from having mesmerizing beaches and spectacularly diverse landscapes, this island hides centuries-long history. It is mentioned in many myths about Greek deities and claimed to be the land of Hephestus, the god of fire. The evidence of the ancient settlements are evident on the island and the most notable example is Poliochni which is thought to be one of the oldest in Europe, dating back from the 3rd millennium BC. Ancient Ifestia and the Temple of Kavirio belong to some of the island’s most important archaeological sites and are definitely worth visiting.
Technically closer to the Turkish mainland than to the Greek, Kos is nonetheless home to several historical sites significant for the Greek culture and tradition. With a dozen of significant historical sites, sightseeing on Kos is always a great idea. The most notable antique monuments include Asklepieion, the Hellenistic Gymnasium, and the Temple of Dionysus dating from the 3rd century BC.
Corfu has not always been an island. During the Paleolithic era, Corfu had been a part of Greece’s mainland until the level of the sea rose enough to create an independent island. Archaeological excavations uncovered a few Bronze Age settlements dating back to 2nd century BC. After the Greeks settlements around 750 BC, Corfu went through several cultural influences, including the Byzantine Era and the Venetian rule, all of which endowed the island with a unique mixture of heritage and historically significant localities. The Old Fortress, Palace of Saint Michael and George, the remnants of the Byzantine castle in Gardiki, and numerous monasteries attest to the days of yore when Corfu was one of the most powerful islands in the Ionian Sea.
The former centre of the Cycladic culture and the largest island of the Cyclades, Naxos is home to an array of ancient ruins from different historical eras. With the Archaeological Μuseum of Naxos treasuring some of the most significant relics and artefacts from the Neolithic period and the Portara, a large marble gate which is the only remnant of the temple of Apollo from the 7th century BC, Naxos is an unmissable gem of historic riches. Venetian rule also left its mark on the island, gracing it with a spectacular Tower of Glezos and the Tower of Fragopoulos.
At just a stone’s throw away from the Turkish coastline, this mountainous Greek island has been attracting tourists with its picturesque Medieval villages, lovely beaches, unique mastic trees, and rich cultural heritage. Centuries of history have left their stamp on this island in the form of countless fortresses, monasteries, and castles.