Greece will always lure travelers in with its fascinating ancient history, vibrant culture and watercolor scenery. A land built on myths, Gods and monsters, this is the place for anyone who wants to take a journey back in time. Athens is rife with ancient sites and artifacts that tell some of the country’s backstory, however, Greece holidays aren’t complete without visiting at least one of its islands and discovering some of its secrets. Here are just some to get you in the spirit…
Ancient Greek Mythology in Crete
The tale goes that King Minos of Crete kept a hungry half-man-half-bull Minotaur in a labyrinth on the island. He made a deal with the king of Athens and said that he would stop attacking the city if in return the king sent over seven girls and seven boys every nine years for the Minotaur to feast on. Nine years passed and Prince Theseus of Athens offered himself as the seventh son to be taken to the Minotaur. Ariadne, the Princess of Crete, offered to help Theseus by handing him a ball of string and sword on the promise that the prince would take her back to Athens with him if he survived. Inside the terrifying labyrinth, the 13 other children held onto the string that was tied to the door and Theseus followed it back after he sought and slew the bull monster with his sword. They all escaped on a boat, but Theseus left the beautiful princess on Naxos before sailing home. Men!
Where to Visit
Visit the well restored Palace of Knossos, which allegedly sat atop the infamous, but never found labyrinth. Walk around, learn about the Minoan civilization and see the artifacts that they produced. It’s definitely worth taking a guided tour to hear the full gruesome story as well as what life was like some thousands of years ago.
Ancient Greek Mythology in Pahpos
It is thought by many that the Greek Goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite was born here. Old Paphos became the most famous and important place for worshiping her in the ancient world.
Where to Visit
Near Palaepaphos (Old Paphos) at the seaside of Petra tou Romiou is the modern mythical birthplace of Aphrodite. Once the capital of Cyprus, Paphos is home to ruins, fine mosaics and extensive heritage drawing in thousands of tourists. It is included on the Official UNESCO list of Cultural and Natural Treasures of the World.
Ancient Greek Mythology in Zante
According to Homer, the name Zante derives from the name of its founder, Zakynthos (son of King of Troy). Walking around the island you might see many an image of Zakynthos strangling snakes; the legend goes that he rid the island of our slithery friends. From then he was carved into coins, stones and pretty much anything that would help hold his legend.
It is also said that Artemis, Goddess of Hunting, used to wander around the green woods of Zakynthos. Her brother Apollo would play the lira under bay trees to chant the beauty of the island.
Photo credit: Heather Cowper
Where to Visit
Today, away from the party seeking holiday goers, there are still many beautiful and historical landmarks to visit in Zante. The Blue Caves on the west coast of the island invite divers to explore its waters. Newer, but equally as fascinating, sites include the Venetian Castle, Strani Hill and Saint Dionysios church. Museums are also dotted around the island where you can learn about its past inhabitants, such as the Post-Byzantine Museum.
Ancient Greek Mythology in Corfu
Corfu is another island shrouded in myth. It is named after the beautiful nymph Korkyra who fell in love with, and was swept away by, Poseidon. Corfu is also home to Achillion Palace which celebrates to the story of Achilles, who was dipped into the enchanted River Styx by his mother to protect his body from physical harm. Unfortunately, the water touched all but the heel of one foot. Later in life, Achilles was offered a quiet but long life without honor or a short life filled with fame and action. He chose the latter. He fought like a true warrior in the Trojan War and killed his biggest opponent, Hector. However, Achilles was soon killed by an arrow to the ankle.
Where to Visit
Find statues of the vain war hero scattered around the Achillion Palace and learn the full story of his efforts and their consequences — there’s a lot more to it than a dodgy ankle!
Where will your Greek adventure take you? With so many incredible islands to explore, it’s going to be hard picking just the one. A good enough reason, one might say, to book another adventure for next year.
Images by Jagrap, Steve N, Paul Barnett, Jarkko Lehtoranta and Heather Cowper used under the Creative Commons License.
Want to know more about ancient Greece? Check out my contribution to Air Charter Service on the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World where I talk about the Statue of Zeus at Olympia at the Temple of Zeus.