Greece is a place that owes everything to the gods. Its cities are loaded with mythological stories that have marked the history and future of a country that has risen again and again from its ashes. Any trip to Hellenic territory involves visiting its very important archaeological remains. However, many people arrive in cities like Athens or Delphi unaware of the stories behind their shrines and temples.
We are aware that it is impossible to know all the legends that can be found in the more than 230 kilometers that separate the ends of our route. However, we advise you to take a flight to Athens, get in a car and let yourself be carried away by the stories once told to us by Herodotus, Plutarch or Thucydides.
A walk through history
Cradle of philosophy, democracy and many values of Western civilization, Athens is the heart of Greece, and we are not the only ones to say so. But where to start if you want to know the mythological past of the city? Indeed, by the Acropolis.
This citadel, built on an imposing rock mass, carefully watches over the life of the Athenians from the highest area of the city. We climb little by little along the wide pedestrian street that leads to it. We carefully contemplate the first glimpses of ancient Greece, such as the astronomical observatory, the Pnyx, the Philopapos monument or the Acropolis museum.
We reach the archaeological remains of the Acropolis and pay special attention to places such as the Theater of Dionysus or the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. We continue to climb and arrive at the great staircase of the Popileos, presided over by the small temple of Athena Nike, symbol of victory, whose wings have been cut off so that she cannot leave Athens.
Temples that watch over a city
The next picture in front of us is the Parthenon and the Erechtheum. Paralyzed before these two colossi, we pass in the year 480 BC. After the destruction of the Acropolis by the Persians, Pericles planned the construction of a majestic temple for Athena. Why she? The goddess of wisdom and Poseidon, god of the seas, compete for the guard of the Greek metropolis, Athena emerging victorious thanks to an offering made to the gods, an olive branch. From this moment, the city bears the name of its protector, Athens.
A multitude of workers worked on the construction of the Parthenon, of Doric order, composed of eight columns on the two small facades and seventeen on the long sides. The image of Athena, in gold and ivory, which unfortunately has not survived to this day, would be housed in the ship. After its inauguration in 438 BC. J.-C., the Parthenon will become the symbol of the city and of all Greek civilization.
On the other hand, the Erechtheion, although very similar to the Parthenon despite being built in the Ionic order, can boast of the majestic porch of the caryatids. These female figures transformed into columns make this temple unique. Although the ones presented to us are a replica – the authentic ones can be seen in the New Acropolis Museum – their image leaves us completely speechless.
Neighborhoods and hills that complete the visit
The Acropolis can take up an entire day on a trip to Athens. But we can’t resist visiting the Plaka district, known as the “district of the gods”. This ancient district retains narrow, labyrinthine cobbled streets. Another of its attractions is that it houses historical places such as the monument to Lysícrates or the Roman agora.
To end our itinerary, we head to Lycabettus Hill, from where we will have the best panoramic views of the city. We climb at sunset, and the colors of the sunset stain the Acropolis which makes us fall even more in love with the Greek capital.
With an eye on the seas
Another must-see is Cape Sounion. 70 kilometers south of Athens, we visited the place where the Aegean king jumped into the sea, believing his son to have died on the island of Crete. According to legend, his son Theseus volunteered for the kingdom of Minos to fight the Minotaur. They agreed that if he succeeded and returned, he would exchange the ship’s black sails for white ones. Blinded by love for Minos’ daughter Ariadne, Theseus forgot to change the candles, so Aegeus thought his son was dead, leading to his unhappy end. From him comes the name of the Aegean Sea.
With this tragic story in our heads, we gaze shocked at the beauty that this natural space offers us. The cape is one of the favorite places for tourists to enjoy the sunset.
A sacred place for sailors
If that’s not enough for you, at Cape Sunion we find the Temple of Poseidon. This temple, which appears in The Odyssey and even fascinated Lord Byron himself, well worth our visit. Of Doric order, with columns more than six meters high, and erected above the Aegean Sea on a steep promontory, it is a true marvel of antiquity.
Why is the god Poseidon worshipped? This geographical point was essential for navigation, since it was the last piece of land that the Greeks considered before leaving for their maritime expeditions. Certainly, under the watchful eye of Poseidon, from his temple, the seas would be kind to sailors.
The oracle of the god Apollo
We continue our mythological route to Delphi, where we arrive full of questions. The Greeks considered this place as the navel of the Earth and went there on pilgrimage, more precisely to the temple of the god Apollo. It was customary for cities to send sacred delegations to consult the oracle on public affairs as well as on political, military or religious matters. In addition, with these delegations, individuals traveled to inquire about private matters, such as the advisability of marriage, business, or their children.
Five hundred Delphic questions and answers survive, but only about fifty-five are considered purely historical. However, the main function of the oracle was not to predict the future, but to ratify laws or constitutions, to approve the founding of new colonies or to give advice in matters of war.
Fight of giants for Delphi
If we go back to its origins, the temple of the god Apollo was dedicated to Gea, goddess of the Earth, and her daughter Themis, the blind goddess of Justice, until the arrival of Apollo who was deceived by the nymph Telfusa to found an oracle. What Apollo did not know was the existence of a dragon that lived in Delphi. He managed to defeat him with his arrows and let the Sun rot him, becoming the owner of the oracle.
During our mythological journey, we will be able to see the ruins of what was once this great sanctuary. We travel along the southern slope of Mount Parnassus where we find a stepped amphitheater and its various temples, a theater and the stadium where the Pythian Games were played.
The Pilgrim’s Journey to the Pythian Priestess
Likewise, we found the portico of the temple of Apollo and wondered how the pilgrim was received, how the fortune teller went into a trance – it is said that she chewed laurel, drank water from the fountain of Casotis and sat on a large tripod located on a crack in the vapors coming out of it – and one imagines characters like the Spartan leader Licurgom or the father of Oedipus listening to his prophecies.
We advise you to spend the night in Delphi and enjoy its sunrises and sunsets. All that we tell you about this magical place is little. The remains of the sanctuary added to the importance of the Archaeological Museum of Delphi -which we recommend without hesitation-, the beauty of the cliffs of Parnassus, the valley and the sea in the background, mark the final touch of an incredible journey through the most mythological Greece.