The Ancient Greek Classical city of Selinous, modern day Selinunte is on the south-west coast of Sicily in the heart of the Mediterranean.
Immigrants from the Greek settlement of Megara Hyblaea (Sicily East Coast) founded Selinous in the 7th century BCE. They named it after the wild celery that once was abundant there. Selinous prosperity and prestige grew in the next few centuries following its foundation and become exceedingly affluent and glorious from exporting wine, cereals, olive oil and ceramic artefacts.
Admired and envied throughout the Mediterranean, Selinous was a target for invaders. On a fateful day in 409BCE, 100,000 soldiers of the Carthaginian army attacked and almost destroyed the city. Of the 25,000 inhabitants, 16,000 were butchered, and another 7000 were enslaved. Any that survived escaped to the ancient Greek city of Akragas (Agrigento).
Finally abandoned around 250BCE, the forces of nature then buried Selinous as windblown sand and earth covered the city.
Modern excavations have been revealing, and it is being regarded as the most complete preservation of an Ancient Greek classical city.
Boosting several Doric Greek temples all identified by a letter, Selinunte archaeological park is the largest in Europe and one of its most beautifully located.
Two highlights being Temple E, which is one of the most complete Greek temples in the world and the massive ruins of unfinished 6th BCE Temple G, which would have been the fourth largest temple ever built in the ancient Greek world.
Nearby Ancient Selinous is Cave di Cusa which was the ancient quarry used to provide masonry for the Temples. The quarry includes many abandoned colossal cylindrical drum blocks still waiting for two thousand years to be transported to the ancient city.
Originally named Poseidonia, in honour of the Greek Sea God Poseidon, Paestum was founded in the 7th century BC by Ancient Greek colonists from the city of Sybaris which was situated in the current Gulf of Taranto in southern Italy.
Its location was chosen for its fresh water supply and rich fertile plain, ideal for agriculture. Its site also allowed for excellent land access through the Lucanian hills to the seaport. The city became wealthy enough to mint its own coins and became an important centre of Magna Graecia–Greek colonisation in Italy.
After a few hundred years, the city was occupied by the indigenous Lucanians and then by the Romans in the third century BC. Paestum succumbed to malaria after the fall of Rome and was eventually abandoned in the late 9th century.
For nearly 1000 years, Paestum and its grand majestic temples were overgrown by tangled vegetation and partially submerged in swampland until the mid-18th century, when the ancient site was rediscovered by road crews.
The three ancient Greek Doric temples of Paestum (Hera, Hera II and Athena) are ranked amongst the best preserved Greek Temples in the world.
The museum house the extraordinary cycle of mural paintings from the 5th century BC Tomb of Diver, which are the only type of its kind in the world and are the only example of Greek wall painting with figured scenes from the Archaic, or Classical periods to survive in their entirety.
Paestum is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Near the Greek island of Mykonos and part of the Cyclades, sacred Delos is the birthplace of the Greek God Apollo and his twin sister, the Greek Goddess Artemis, and one of most important archaeological and ancient sites in the Mediterranean.
According to ancient sources, Zeus (Greek king of all gods) had an affair with the beautiful young goddess Leto. Hera, rightful goddess wife of Zeus, was furious and barred every place in the world from giving the pregnant Leto a place to give birth.
The whole Greek world followed Hera’s order – with the single exception being Delos, a floating, unimportant, barren, rocky and windswept island that thought it had little to lose by giving sanctuary to Leto. So, with a haven in Delos, Leto rested under a stately palm tree and gave birth first to Artemis and then Apollo.
Today, Delos comprises rich and extensive archaeological ruins from antiquity when, as Apollo’s sanctuary, it was a prosperous and cosmopolitan Mediterranean trading port and attracted pilgrims from all over the Greek world. Even today, a trek to the summit of Mount Kynthos, the highest point on Delos, will reveal modern dedications and small shrines to Apollo.
The ferry ride to Delos from Mykonos is about 30 minutes; however, visitors are not allowed to stay on the island – apart from archaeologists working there.
In antiquity there was a law in place that forbade births and deaths on the Island. Pregnant women and persons gravely ill were transported to the adjacent island of Rheneia to avoid breaking the sacred law.
The archaeological park of Segesta is in the commune of Calatafimi-Segesta within the western province of Trapani on the island of Sicily, southern Italy. Ancient Segesta was one of the principal cities of the Sicilian indigenous people, called Elymians.
The Elymians according to legend (and the Greek Historian and general Thucydides) were originally Trojans who fled the destruction by the Greeks of the ancient and famous city of Troy. Having found haven in Sicily, they merged with local peoples and become one.
From the 8th century BCE, the Ancient Greeks colonised or influenced most of Sicily and Segesta was no different. The city adopted Greek culture, including architecture and temple building.
Standing glorious in magnificent isolation on a low hill amid verdant country side and framed by mountains is the Greek Doric Temple of Segesta.
One of the three orders designed by the Greeks was the Doric order. The other two were the Ionic order originating from the Ionian Greek city states from Asia Minor and the Corinthian order, named for the Greek city-state of Corinth. The Romans later adopted these orders.
It was built to impress the ambassadors from Athens whom the Segestans were eager to win over to help protect them from their hostile Greek rival Selinous (modern day Selinunte).
Believed to be the work of a great Athenian architect, the Doric order peripteral temple authentically follows the existing models of classical architecture of Greek cities in Sicily and comprises 36 limestone columns, arranged by 6 columns on the facade and 14 on the sides.
The temple was abandoned before completion, possibly due to war and conflict. Incompletion is assumed because the columns are unfluted, the lifting bosses (knobs) have been left inserted in the structure and there is no evidence of a cella and roof being built.
Nearby is the well preserved ancient Greek Theatre, which stands on the highest part of the ancient city at about 400 metres on the cliffs of Mount Barbaro. Dating from the second half of the 2nd century BCE, the theatre originally accommodated 4000 people and has a stunning backdrop overlooking the beautiful panorama of the Segesta territory which is dominated by Mount Inici.
A stone’s throw south of Athens lays Aegina, an unspoiled and historic Greek island endowed with splendid archaeological remains, beautiful beaches and charming harbour towns.
Located between the Attica and the Peloponnese, the island of Aegina (Aigina) is part of the archipelago known as the Saronic Gulf Islands which are regarded by Athenians as their own a little secret paradise to escape to from the hustle and bustle of the capital. (Salamis, Poros, Hydra and Spetses are the other Saronic Gulf Islands)
In the 7th and 6th centuries BC, Aegina was a mighty maritime state that rivalled Athens in power and prestige.
Aegina minted the first ancient Greek coins (marked with a tortoise) and traded and established colonies throughout the Mediterranean. However, the imperial ambitions of Athens eventually eclipsed and then conquered Aegina in the 5th century BC.
Between 1826 and 1828, Aegina town became the first capital of the new Greek state after winning independence and the new government of Greece was set-up there.
Aegina Town is a picturesque harbour town, overflowing with colourful fishing and coastal boats and a lively waterfront lined with neoclassical buildings, taverns, churches and many stands selling Aegina’s famous pistachios, considered the tastiest in the world.
On eastern side of the island, set atop a pine crested hill, stands the impressive 5th century BC Temple of Aphaia, which is one of the best-preserved ancient temples from the ancient Greek world. Dedicated to Aphaia, a local goddess, the perfectly proportioned Doric Temple has twenty-five of the original 32 monolithic limestone columns still standing.
The Temple of Aphaia, together with the Parthenon in Athens and Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, form a perfect isosceles triangle which continues to mystify scholars today.
Aegina is easily reachable from the port of Piraeus, with many ferries available throughout the day ranging from approximately 40 minutes to 75 minutes in travel time.
Founded by the Greeks, Cyrene is a one of the great cities of antiquity. A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, the vast evocative ruins of Cyrene in North Eastern Libya are one of the most impressive of the ancient world and provide a majestic insight to its wondrous and celebrated past.
In the 7th century BC, the Greek island of Thera (modern Santorini) was experiencing a severe drought which overwhelmed its limited resources, causing its monumental struggles in sustaining its increasingly distressed population. Because of this, the island’s leaders sent a committee to mainland Greece to seek advice from Apollo’s Oracle at Delphi, the largest and most famous mystical spiritual centre in the ancient Mediterranean world.
The Oracle at Delphi advised the committee that to change their fortunes and to survive as a people that they had to establish a new settlement in the lush north-eastern coast of Libya, a place that rained regularly, a place that the “sky leaked through a hole in the heavens”.
So in 631 BC, led by Heroic Battus (the first Greek King in Libya) the Therans founded their new city-state, Cyrene, on the fertile highland ground overlooking the Green Mountain plateau or Jebel Akhdar uplands, 13 kilometres inland from the Mediterranean. Note: The famous Ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, describes the foundation of Cyrene in his ‘Histories’, which is the founding work of history in Western literature.
Cyrene produced and traded olives, dates, apples, grapes, and cereals and was renowned for its horses and medicinal plant silphium.
The city and people thrived in the lush environment, and Cyrene quickly established a profitable maritime trade with other Greek cities. Cyrene soon became the principal and most prosperous city of Libya and because of its success; four more cities were founded in the region. Known as the Pentapolis, these flourishing cities were Cyrene, Apollonia, Teuchira, Ptolemais and Eusperides.
The city was established as a Roman province in 74 BC and continued to prosper and be a major influence and important player in the Mediterranean world. Cyrene was severely damaged in AD 115 because of the Jewish revolt and then completely rebuilt during the reign of Roman Emperor Hadrian (117 to 138).
In 365 AD, a catastrophic earthquake (and subsequent tsunami) struck off the Western coast of Crete that lifted that island 9 metres. Because of this event, Cyrene and many other cities in the region were severely damaged or destroyed and many thousands of people died. Cyrene never recovered from this and eventually declined as an influence and fell under the Arab conquest in 643; however, by then it was only dusty footprint of its glorious and opulent past.
Famous Ancient Greeks from Cyrene:
Eratosthenes–Born 276 BC – Died 194 BC (82 years). Mathematician, Geographer, Poet, Astronomer and Librarian. First, to prove the earth was a sphere. The first person to calculate the circumference of the Earth. First, to calculate the tilt of the Earth’s axis. Calculated the distance from the Earth to the Sun and invented the leap day. He created the first map of the world and inventing the idea of latitude and longitude. Became the Chief librarian of the Library of Alexandria: the most important library of the ancient world.
Arete–Born c 400 BC – Died c. 340 BC (60 years). Teacher and Philosopher. Daughter of Aristippus of Cyrene, who was a close follower of Socrates. Arete was a career teacher of natural and moral philosophy at the academies and various schools of Ancient Greece. She also wrote over forty books.
Arete was so highly esteemed that they had inscribed on her tomb a truly beautiful epitaph which declared:
she was the splendour of Greece, and possessed the beauty of Helen, the virtue of Thirma, the pen of Aristippus, the soul of Socrates and the tongue of Homer.
Built on a series of terraces on a rocky steep hillside overlooking stunning mountainous and valley landscape, Arykanda’s location resonates like mystical Delphi in Greece and is perhaps the most beautiful of ancient cities in the whole of Lycia, an ancient geopolitical region in Anatolia. It is in the province of Antalya on the southern (Turquoise) coast of Turkey.
The city was well known for its grand and lavish buildings, however according to ancient sources, the citizens of Arykanda were apathetic and in the habit of living extravagantly beyond their means. It is said that they fell into debt; and it is believed they repaid their extravagance through new special taxes.
Arykanda was a small obscure settlement when it was invaded by the Persians in the 5th century BC. Like other Lycian cities, Arykanda heroically resisted the invasive powers, however, they eventually succumbed to the might of the Persian Empire.
During 333 BC, Alexander the Great arrived in Lycia (on his way to defeat the Persians) and was welcomed as a liberator by the citizens of Arykanda.
With Alexander came the overwhelming force of Hellenism. Arykanda fully embraced the Greek culture and way of life, which included the Greek language, and it was transformed with all the buildings necessary for a Greek metropolis.
Arykanda continued to grow and prosper after the premature death of Alexander and remained under the control of the Ptolemaic dynasties. It briefly changed hands to Antiochus III and again to Rhodes around 190 BC (ally with Rome at the time). It was formally annexed to Rome in 43 Ad.
The city continued to prosper as a Greek city under Roman authority; however, its prosperity was stalled when it was struck by two significant earthquakes in 141 and 240 AD.
After a bitter struggle with the city’s pagans, Christianity prevailed in Arykanda and the city became a bishop’s seat in the Byzantine age. However, the city was on the decline and sometime between the ninth and eleventh centuries AD; the site was abandoned because of the Arab invasions of the region.
British researcher and explorer Sir Charles Fellows rediscovered Arykanda in 1838. The isolated archaeological site is extensive and thoroughly sign-posted.
It has a very impressive array of excavated architectural remnants from its illustrious past including: Stadium, Theatre, Odeon, Agoras, Baths, many Temples or Sanctuaries, Nymphaeums, Houses and Villas and at least 15 monumental tombs.
The birthplace and spiritual home of the Olympic Games, Ancient Olympia continues to captivate as it did for a thousand years from 776 BC, when Greeks assembled in war and peace to celebrate the games and life.
Ancient Olympia is magically set in a lush valley between two rivers in the western Peloponnese prefecture of Elia, southern Greece. Dedicated to the Ancient Greek God Zeus, the games which according to one legend were established by Ancient Greek Hero Herakles to honor the achievement of his 12 labours.
The games were held here every fours year’s from 776 BC onwards for over a thousand years and remarkably the champion’s name of each event is recorded.
Amidst its shady groves of pine, olive and blooming Judas trees, Olympia’s evocative ruins of its celebrated past are on show, including the remains of the Palaestra where the athletes trained, the stadium where the foot races were held and the hippodrome where the horse events took place.
At its centre, in the sacred sanctuary, the glorious 5th century Temple of Zeus lays in ruins. Its colossal Doric columns lay toppled in the ground unmoved since being destroyed by tremendous earthquakes in the 6th century. Comparable in size to the Athenian Parthenon, The Temple of Zeus housed the long-lost 12-metre high golden statue of Zeus, created by the Greek sculptor Pheidias (Phidias) and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Finally, its marvellous museum is full of world-class exhibits and masterpieces of antiquity, including 5th century BC statue of the winged Nike by the sculptor Paeonius (or Paionios) of Mende and the Praxiteles’ marble statue of Hermes, possibly the finest figurative sculpture ever made.
Ancient Olympia is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.