When it comes to the world of the ancient Greeks, just about every facet is interesting and exciting. The many beautiful locations the ancient Greeks have left behind is there for everyone to experience—an echo of what once was. History buffs from all over the world love to visit Greece as it’s still littered by remnants of its rich history.
It’s understandable to be interested in what ancient Greece left behind, as well as the true splendor of its ancient cities. The Greeks went through great lengths to create cities that were practically timeless due to the idea of hysterophimia, or the posthumous legacy. It is this very reason why Greek architecture stands the test of time, and why so many people can still enjoy the vivid structures of the ancient past. Here are a few top ancient Greek cities you should know about.
It would be remiss to talk about the greatest cities of ancient Greece and not mention the most famous one: Athens. It’s considered one of the most important culture centers in antiquity, as Athens was considered the philosophical center of the world back in its prime. Its impact on Western civilization can still be felt today, as people still follow the teachings of some of Athens’ most notable philosophers and scholars.
For the history buffs and the lovers of high culture, you can’t go wrong with visiting the philosophical center of the ancient world. Athens was known for its enlightened views and lessons, and people from all walks of life would visit Athens as a form of pilgrimage. While it might not have been considered a holy site, based on its impact it might as well have been when you think about everything Athens has achieved.
In the ancient region of Boeotia lies Thebes, one of the most important cities of the ancient Greek world. Today, it’s mainly known as the birthplace of Heracles, but there’s much more to Thebes—both in the realm of reality and fiction. In the latter, Thebes played plenty of roles in various Greek myths, including the stories of Dionysus, Oedipus, and much more.
As a rival to the great city of Athens, Thebes was known to be impenetrable due to the sacred band of Thebes—an elite military unit. That said, the city was eventually felled by Alexander the Great. These days, the once great city houses a museum, and several important sites and ruins.
For a city to grow, it needs to be open to trade. Even then, a city has to be particularly good at trading to grow in popularity and eventually flourish. While ancient Greece had many popular cities, perhaps one of the most famous (next to Athens) would be the city of Corinth.
Corinth was one of the largest cities of the ancient Greek world, boasting a population of 90,000 people back in 400 BC. It was considered both a trading and cultural center back in the day, and people would visit from all over the known world. Eventually, the Romans demolished the city around 146 BC, building a new city in its place over a hundred years later. In the modern age, tourists can enjoy the Acrocorinth—as well as the Temple of Apollo, which was built as early as 560 BC.
Modern Corinth continues to be a blast from the past, showcasing some of the greatest structures of the ancient Greek world.
While Athens is considered the most famous city in all of ancient Greece, there is one city that has managed to keep up with Athens’ popularity in the modern age, mainly due to pop culture. Sparta was a city of ancient Greece, and was the home of perhaps the most lethal military force of the age. Spartans were bred for battle, and though the movie 300 took plenty of liberties, it still partly showcased the legend behind the story of King Leonidas.
From the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian war to the sacrificial battle of Thermopylae—the inspiration for the 300—Sparta continues to inspire people of all ages with stories of heroism and the ultimate sacrifice for one’s countrymen. History buffs from all over the world visit Sparta, as many of the ruins have stood the test of time.
Ancient Greece is littered with religious and holy sites, though none stand quite as tall as Eleusis, considered to be one of the most crucial religious sites, not only in ancient Greece but in antiquity. The town itself was named after the event called the eleusis (the arrival). The eleusis involves the goddess Demeter searching for Persephone, her daughter who had been abducted by Hades.
There are rituals celebrating the arrival of Demeter in search of her daughter, known as the Eleusinian mysteries. It’s one of the most secretive initiations of ancient Greece, and is often considered a victory of life over death. While Hades is not quite as repulsive or evil as popular culture makes him out to be, his abduction of Persephone still makes for excellent storytelling, and its lore can be felt throughout the ruins.
Surprisingly, many of the old structures still survive to this day.
There’s only one word that can really be used to describe Messene, and that’s breathtaking. In the modern age, Messene represents one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece, as it’s considered to be one of the largest and most well-preserved. It’s also considered one of the oldest cities, having been around since the Bronze Age of man. That said, most of the ruins you’ll find today come from the settlement founded by Epaminondas of Thebes.
As if that wasn’t enough, Thebes is also considered the origin of the Greek language, since the earliest tablets containing the Greek language were unearthed in Messene, dating back to around 1450 BC. Modern Messene holds various stage plays and athletic events for those who want to make the most out of their trip to the ancient Greek city.
The capital of Macedon, Pella was a majestic city for its time, and most of its expansion was thanks to Alexander the Great’s father, Philip II. As the birthplace of Alexander the Great, Pella holds a great (no pun intended) distinction among the many cities of ancient Greece. Unfortunately, Pella turned into a much smaller provincial town when it was eventually conquered by the Romans in 168 BC. Macedon has a treasured history as far as ancient Greece is concerned, as its many powerful rulers and battles can attest.
That said, Pella is known as the ancient Greek city that keeps on giving. It feels like every single year something new pops out from the archaeological findings in Pella, unearthing all sorts of new structures—including tombs, relics, and much more. While Pella might be a shadow of its former self, the Macedonian empire is slowly but surely being unearthed.
Cities had a habit of flourishing whenever it could trade with neighboring countries—especially if those areas were rich in trade. Megara became a powerful city-state in ancient Greece specifically due to its proximity to other colonies, including Byzantium. It was an ancient city famous for its experienced seafarers, who could trade between various locations to make Megara that much richer. As a city that focuses on trade through the sea, there was always something new and exciting in Megara.
One of the most notable philosophers of ancient Greece, Euclid, was born in Megara. The city was also considered to be the city of ancient comedy, mainly due to the inhabitants of Megara being well-known for their high spirits and willingness not to take things seriously. Megara was a popular city during its prime, and it remains popular even as a ruin.
Ever heard of the Olympics? The Olympics is arguably the most watched sporting event in history. Even those who aren’t interested in sports still find the Olympics interesting due to the sheer passion, talent, and scope of the event.
It’s only natural that Olympia finds its place in this list, as it was home to the very first Olympic Games, the earliest of which was recorded around 776 BC. These events were held in honor of the Greek god Zeus, also known as the king of Olympus. The Archaeological Museum of Ancient Olympia houses many of the artifacts and treasures found throughout the years, giving history buffs a glimpse into the prime of this once great city.
Those looking to visit Olympia are in for a treat, as it’s quite a bit like stepping into the past. Despite the many ruins, Olympia still feels as though it’s experiencing its prime.