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15 Ancient Sites to Inspire You to Plan a Trip

Updated: Aug 19, 2023

In 1977, I traveled out of the United States for the first time. I was 17 years old and traveled to Israel during the Christmas holidays with my Aunt. It was on this trip that I experienced a budding fascination with all things ancient. Ancient is defined as anything from 3000 BCE to 500 CE. The previous year, the United States celebrated its bicentennial and in Israel, I was walking on cobblestones that had been traversed by people for thousands of years. That same year, the artifacts from the Egyptian Tomb of King Tutankhamen toured the United States and I had the opportunity to see the exhibit.

With the visions of ancient treasures swirling in my mind, I absorbed all I could from ancient Israel. Early in 1983, I made my first trip to Greece. On this trip the ancient historical sites we visited solidified my love of ancient history. Pictured above is the temple of Athena, atop the Acroplis, in Athens. It was built in 438 BCE. I love to step away from the crowds and consider the lives of all who have walked those paths before us. To avoid the lines to enter the Acroplis and the new Acroplis Museum check out option.

When wandering around the streets of Athens, everywhere your eyes travel, you gaze on something ancient. Yes, Athens is very crowded and very hot in the summer and yes, a few days visit is worth it, just to soak in the antiquity. Pictured above is the remains of Temple of Olympian Zeus. Construction started on this colossal temple in the 6th century BCE. It was designed to be the greatest temple of all time, situated in the center of the Greek capitol Athens. The construction took 638 years when it was completed until the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century CE. The temple had 106 enormous columns , 16 of the original still exist. These ruins are located at the south side of the National Garden, about 2.2 km from Syntagma Square. To get a taste of local cuisine check out this option.

The Temple of Poseidon stands grandly overlooking the sparkling Aegean Sea 76 km south of Athens at the tip of Cape Sounion. Fifteen of the original 34 columns are still standing. Each column is 20 feet high and 3 feet wide, with one alleged signature of Lord Byron from his visit in 1811. It is not easy to reach the Temple of Poseidon by public transportation. The best way to visit is by organized tour, or sailing vessel or rental car. It makes a lovely day trip from Athens, especially when you add on a visit to Sunio Beach for an afternoon swim.

The Ancient Theatre at Epidaurus was built in 340 BC on the Peloponnesian Peninsula. It was built on the grounds of a healing sanctuary dedicated to the greek god of medicine, Asclepius. This 13,000 seat wonder is still used today because it is in excellent condition and has outstanding acoustics. After exploring the theatre and archeological site, dine under the orange trees at To Perivoli tis Gogos. Whether making a road trip to Sparta from Athens or sailing along the Peloponnesian Peninsula, Epidaurus makes an interesting stop. For more inspiration on Greece see my blog post 21 Photos of Greece to Inspire You to Plan a Trip.

The tropical coast of the Yucatan Peninsula was home to the Mayan Tribes until 1500 CE. The greatest of their temples Chichen Itza and Tulum can still be visited today. Scattered throughout the peninsula are other smaller sites. Xcaret, just north of Playa del Carmen, was a commercial port and trading center in 350 BCE to 1500 CE. Ruins of small, low lying buildings can be found throughout this coastal property. The above photo was taken at the Occidental Xcaret Resort. A visit to Xcaret is a great way to add some history to your Mexican beach vacation.

Situated on the north side of the island of Hvar, Croatia, Stari Grad is one of the oldest cities in Europe. Colonized in 385 BCE by the Greeks, Stari Grad was also under Roman and Venetian rule. Pictured above is the early Christian Church of St. John, a continuous sacred center from 500 CE. Inside the church you will find exceptionally well persevered mosaic floors that date back to 500/600 CE. The Church's back garden contains an immersion style baptistry in the shape of the cross. Stari Grad is the charming but quieter older sister to Hvar Town on the south side of the island. It is accessible by ferry from Split, private sailing vessel or bus from Hvar Town. For more Croatian Inspiration see my blob post 13 Photos of Croatia to Inspire Your Next Sailing Trip.

With sweeping views to the south, west and north, a defensive fortress has topped the hill above the Hvar Town harbor since 1000 BCE. That first fortress was built by the Illyrians, a grouping of tribal people living in the western Balkan Peninsula. In 600 CE, the Greeks built a Byzantine Citadel in the same strategic location. The current structure built by the Venetians and pictured in the photo above was built in 1551 CE. This fortress connects the the 13th century city walls that you see coming down the center and right of the photo. This fortress and the city walls created protection for the city against marauding pirates and threats from the Ottoman Empire. The fortress is refereed to as the Spanish Fort, because Spanish engineers worked on its construction. It is a 20 minute walk to the fort from the harbor, where you will be rewarded with panoramic views, interesting historical displays and a cafe serving beer, wine and cocktails. The entrance fee is 40 kn or about $7.00 US. For more information on Hvar check out my blog post Bare Boating Croatia-Hvar

One of the best persevered Romanesque/Gothic city structures in Central Europe, Trojir, Croatia is 27 km northwest of Split on the Adriatic Sea. Inhabited continuously for 2300 years, the Greeks founded the city in 400 BCE. We spent a delightful morning wandering inside its walls stumbling upon many Churches and dead-end alleyways. The coffee shops and restaurants that line the quay offer excellent people watching and refreshments. For more information on Trojir, check out my blog post Bareboating Croatia - Solta

Once a flourishing coastal city, Ephesus is now an inland archeological site in Turkey. It was originally inhabited in the Neolithic Age about 6000 BCE. The Greeks founded it as a colony in 900 BCE. The Theatre of Ephesus was built by the Greeks and is an excellent example of a Hellenistic Theatre. Hellenistic theaters were typically built into the side of a hill. Romans built their theaters free standing, which took much longer to build, This theatre was built in only 60 years. It could seat 25,000 and was the largest theatre of its time in Asia Minor. This theatre is written about in the Christian Bible New Testament Acts Chapter 19, as the place where Paul gave his farewell speech which erupted into a riot.

Ephesus was the home to the Temple of Artemis which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the Library of Celsus pictured above. The Gospel of St. John may have been written in this city of classical greek architecture. Having been destroyed by Goths, rebuilt and then destroyed by an earthquake, it was river silt clogging the harbor that was the ultimate demise of Ephesus. Through the ruins, we get a peek at the intricate and ornate structures that made up this city.

The modern city of Istanbul sits proudly on the Bosporus Strait, the border between Europe and Asia. Founded in 660 BCE by the Greek Byzthanation, it was originally named Byzthantium. It was conquered by the Romans in 330 BCE and remained Constantinople. The Theodosian Walls were built in 450 CE to protect the city from attacks Ottoman Empire. The city fell to the Ottomans in 1435 CE. The parts of the Theodosian Walls still stand today. They are incorporated into the modern city's landscape.

About 51 km north of Dublin is the prehistoric site at New Grange. This burial mound dates back to 3200 BCE. It is older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian Pyramids. The entrance pictured above has been reconstructed from the original stones The large stone in the foreground with the curvilinear cravings is believed to be the entrance stone. Visitors are allowed inside the grass covered circular mound where bones and burial offerings were found. Inside there is a roof hole that receives direct sunlight on the winter solstice. It is best to visit early in the day because this site can get very crowded during the summer months.

The Roman Coliseum is the grandest all amphitheaters in the Ancient Roman Empire. It was finished in 80 AD as a gift to the Roman people and held 50,000 to 80,000 people. It is most famous for the gladiator battles that took place there. The above photo is from our first visit to Rome in 1988.

Rome's first aqueduct was built in 312 BCE. it was created to bring water to a drinking trough at the cattle market. By 200 CE, Rome was crisscrossed by 11 aqueducts providing one million inhabitants with water for public fountains and bathhouses. Cities and towns throughout the Roman Empire began to emulate the aqueduct system. Pictured above is a piece of the aqueduct system in Rome.

Our only visit to Pompeii was on a gray, rainy day. The weather seemed appropriate for a visit to the ruins of a city that was destroyed by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius. Frozen in by a storm of pumice rock and hot ash clouds, the excavated city of Pompeii offers an authentic picture of life in the Roman Empire in 79 CE. Many of the homes, public buildings and bathhouses with their colorful mosaic tile work and frescos are intact. Most of the 20,000 inhabitants survived of which 1150 bodies were discovered. Many of these remains had jewelry, coins and silverware on them, indicating they were trying to escape. Pompeii is now a protected UNESCO world heritage site, which has about 2.5 million visitors a year.


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