Greece has a fascinating history that has impacted on civilisations all over the world, with celebrated thinkers like Hippocrates (Kos), Pythagoras (Samos), Socrates (Athens), and Plato (Athens) all hailing from here. Many tourists who visit the country are drawn to it simply for the stunning beaches and delicious food, but true culture vultures and those interested in history will place it high up in their list of top destinations too. Here are our top 5 historic cities that should be visited on a cruise to Greece.
Athens is thought to have been inhabited for over 5,000 years, and as such is one of the oldest named cities on earth. It became the capital in 1833, but even before then was a centre of politics, ambition, and learning, and is recognised as being the birthplace of democracy. Athens is an eclectic mix of modern day busy life and fantastic ancient temples and Agoras (public spaces). Wandering through the winding streets of Plaka in the shade of the Acropolis you will be spoilt for choice with restaurants, small shops, and bars. With thousands of years of history spread out amongst the hotels and boutiques, Athens is a feast for culture vultures, people watchers, and foodies alike. The impressive Parthenon lives up to its reputation and should not be missed when on a cruise holiday to Greece and her islands.
Katakolo is the nearest coastal port to the Ancient site of Olympia, the hippodrome that dates back to 700BC and the home of the very first games. The flame is relit in the ancient Temple of Hera in Olympia, a few months before our modern day Games begin, and it’s here that the preceding torch relay starts. The temple is one of the oldest in Greece, with the original building dating back to around the year 590 BC. You can also see ruins of the original venues for the games, which include a stadium, training areas, and temples. Katakolo itself is a charming fishing village with plenty of tavernas and restaurants, and a friendly welcoming atmosphere.
The significant city of Sparta (or Sparti) is around 45km from the port of Gytheio. A true centre of history, it’s possible to spend hours or even days exploring the museums and ruins here. Once a rival city of Athens, Sparta has had an important impact on the evolution of Greece. Most of us are familiar with the famous Spartan warriors, who have been vividly pictured in box office films in recent years. The movies shine a light on the attitudes and beliefs of ancient Spartans, who were fearless people, brought up with a rigorous focus on war. Visitors today can wander through ruins, and see the impressive statue of King Leonidas – the courageous leader who led Spartans to the Battle of Thermopylae against the Persians, in 480 BC.
The second largest city in Greece, after Athens, Thessaloniki was founded in 315 BC by the King of Macedonia. Since then it has had great significance throughout history, likely due to its strategic position on the Aegean Sea. It was heavily developed by the Romans during the Byzantine Empire, and then became a vital city in the Ottoman Empire in 1430. Greeks regained control in 1912, and as a display of strength over the city, the Greek King George I decided to take residence in the city. He was assassinated in the following year however, due to civil unrest among socialist circles. The 4th century Arches of Galerius and Rotunda, and the 15th century White Tower fort, are just some of the historic monuments to be seen here.
The ancient city of Corinth appears frequently in Greek mythology, and is said to have been founded by Corinthos – a descendant of the God of the Sun, Apollo Helios. The city is largely associated with the New Testament’s Corinthians, specifically due to the letters written by Paul the apostle, who visited Corinth as a missionary. There are a number of temples and monuments to visit, including the Lower Peirine fountain, the water of which, according to mythology, is said to come from the tears of Peirene, when her son was killed by Artemis. Another fascinating site is the 1st century Roman indoor theatre. These are just a few examples of the city’s rich history – be sure to visit some of the local museums to gain a more in depth understanding.
So many Greek cities have an immense history, and if this is where your interests lie you might want to consider adding a few extra days in port on to either end of your cruise. Talk to our sales team about our many cruise and stay options.