From the sun-bathed islands of the Aegean and the Ionian Sea in the south to the mountains and wild landscapes of the North, Greece is a colourful canvas of natural splendour, friendly people and amazing experiences awaiting around every corner. Permeating every particle of Greek culture is its rich heritage of history and mythology. Regardless of where you choose to holiday in Greece, you’re never far from a place that in one way or another is linked to one of the great gods like Zeus, Aphrodite or Poseidon, or the historical setting of fabled demigods and heroes like Hercules, Perseus and Odysseus. Scattered across the islands and the mainland, you’ll find a great number of ruins and sites that are directly linked to these fantastic legends and which can easily be visited.
The Sacred centre of Delos
The isle of Delos, situated in the Cycladic Archipelago just next to its larger sibling of Mykonos, is one of the most important islands in the story of Ancient Greece. Said to be the refuge of Leto, one of Zeus’s many lovers, from his wife Hera, the island is where she gave birth to the two gods Apollo and Artemis. Numerous temples were built here in their honour, and Delos quickly gained status as a sacred island. Over time, various rulers took further steps to secure the sanctity of the place and even went as far as to dig up any existing graves on the island and prohibit all births and burials from taking place here, so that the island was pure and unable to be claimed by anyone through heritage. Delos later became the centre for the confederation of islands and city-states led by Athens under the name of the Delian League. A visit to the island, which can easily be reached from the mainland and Mykonos by ferry, will let you see some of the many remaining temples and ruins, as well as learn more about the importance of the island as the centre of the Delian League, who took on the warrior state of Sparta and its allies in the Peloponnesian War that ravaged the country between 431-404BC.
Knossos and the legend of the Minotaur
Located just next to the Cretan capital of Heraklion, the ruins of the Knossos Palace stand as impressive reminders of the powerful Minoan Empire that once ruled this part of the Mediterranean Sea. According to the mythology, the first king of Crete, Minos, prayed to Poseidon to aid him in his struggles to secure the throne of the island. Poseidon sent him a magnificent white bull as a symbol of his support, which the god expected to be slaughtered in his honour. When Minos refused to do this and instead slaughtered a different bull, Poseidon punished him by having his wife give birth to the hideous creature, the Minotaur. Minos had his master architect, Daedalus, construct an elaborate labyrinth where he placed this violent monster. Ruling from his palace at Knossos, he would send his enemies to face the Minotaur in the impossible labyrinth, and the legends of Daedalus and Icarus, as well as the adventures of Theseus, who eventually killed the half man, half bull, remain some of the most well-known Greek myths. While the palace still exists, the whereabouts of the labyrinths still remain a mystery.
The River to the Underworld
Greek Mythology is full of heroes and gods making a perilous journey to the Underworld, which was ruled by the mighty god of death, Hades. From Orpheus seeking to bring back his beloved Eurydice, to Odysseus making a catabasic journey into the Underworld and Hercules capturing Cerberus, the three-headed dog guarding the gates of hell, the stories are numerous. Five rivers flow into the Underworld and while four of them remain underground and found only in texts, there is one that flows in our world. Found in the north of Greece, a day-trip from Corfu, the Acheron River, which is said to be the most important of the five rivers, flow from the heart of the mainland into the Ionian Sea. The water flows along a stunningly beautiful green landscape and has its source near the city of Zotiko. While we recommend visiting this charming part of Greece, we would advise against entering the Underworld. Hades rarely appears as a nice guy.
Temple of Poseidon
Split between two seas and home to thousands of islands great and small, it is little wonder that Greece was and still is a proud nation of seafarers. It was the large fleet under Agamemnon that laid siege to Troy, it was the Spartan fleet under Lysander that defeated the Delian League outside Athens, and it was with the sea as a powerful setting that Odysseus and Jason both took on their arduous adventures. Thus, one of the most powerful gods in Greek mythology, apart from Zeus of course, is understandably the god of the sea, Poseidon. Today, a short drive south of Athens will take you to the impressive ruins of the once majestic temple that stands in honour of this omnipresent, maritime ruler. Perched high over the foaming Mediterranean waves, on top of the cliffs of Cape Sounion, this 2,500-year-old house of Poseidon truly surveys his realm and kingdom of the sea.
Not quite a manmade remnant of Greek mythology, but nonetheless probably the most important one of them all. Mount Olympus is located in the heart of the Greek mainland and is said to be the home of the gods, from where they followed (and all too often intervened in) human affairs. Reachable from the northern peninsula of Halkidiki, the mountain itself is a truly awe-inspiring sight, with its bare, rugged peaks and breathtaking views. The surrounding area has been a national park for almost 100 years, and every year thousands of visitors come to admire the flora and the lofty heights of the mountain that reach above the clouds. According to legend, 12 of the gods chose to place their palaces in the gorges of the mountain, and while this is undoubtedly true, we suspect that Zeus had popped out for the day, last time we went looking for him here. Maybe you’ll be in better luck when visiting this beautiful place –just remember that the father of the gods has a tendency to transform himself into various creatures. So an intelligent-looking goat along the way might just be him…