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Greece (Athens, Delphi) Greece (Peloponnese)

How to get from Delphi to Olympia by bus

See this restaurant? It doubles as the Delphi bus station. Really. 

COVID-19 Preface: Greece officially reopens to travelers on Monday, June 15. According to this Associated Press story published today, “Timely and strictly enforced lockdown measures have so far kept the infection rate in Greece low and the death toll below 200.”)

It was a little confusing. The Delphi bus station appeared closed.

An arrow painted on the building facade, however, pointed to a restaurant called “In Delphi Cafe” next door. Nearby, a man wearing a crisp white shirt and black trousers, waved us down from his curious position in the middle of the street. (It’s a slightly confrontational technique to entice wandering tourists to stop for a bite.)

“Dinner menu?” he asked. 

A bus schedule would be more like it, I thought, since my husband and I still needed to plan the next leg of our trip from Delphi to Olympia. We smiled, and asked, “Bus tickets?”

“Go inside the restaurant, please. Someone will help you there,”  he answered.

We ventured inside. The restaurant immediately reminded me of the beautiful double-story trattoria from Love Actually where Jamie proposes to Aurelia. A balcony. Warm gold-colored walls. Heavy timbers. Sparkling glassware.

A woman behind the counter asked us if we needed bus tickets in plain-as-day English. 

“Yes, we are going to Olympia in two days and we need bus tickets,” my husband explained. 

She called to another waiter, who dried his hands and stepped to a computer at the bar. 

So this is the bus station, I thought to myself. Hmmm. Interesting.

An employee wearing jeans, t-shirt, and a white apron wrapped around his hips walked in carrying a stainless steel container covered with plastic wrap. He had come from the direction of the “bus station” next door. They must use the “bus station” for storage, I thought.

This photo was taken from the balcony of our hotel the night we arrived. We spent two nights in Delphi, a quaint and quiet mountain town known for its famous archaeological site. Towns around Delphi, such as Arachova, are winter skiing destinations.

Our waiter/ticket clerk stared at the computer screen, squinting, and asked us when we wanted to arrive in Olympia.

It would take all day, he said. Of course, that was fine.

It was what we expected. For although it only appears to be a jog to the southwest on a map, the bus route would take us to Itea, a small town on the shores of the Gulf of Corinth just a few miles south of Delphi.

Then the route would trace the edge of the gulf for nearly three hours before crossing south into Patras. From Patras, we would take a bus to Pyrgos (NOT the Pyrgos on Santorini, by the way).

From there, a final bus would drive us the remaining thirty kilometers to Olympia, where we would meet our AirBnB host, the fifty-seventh (okay, not really, but it seemed like it) man named Kostas who we met on our trip.

Here’s the route our waiter/ticket clerk gave to us, written on the back of a receipt:

We purchased and received our tickets, thanked the young man, and told him we would be back for dinner.

THREE HOURS LATER…

Roast lamb, moussaka, wine, potatoes, salads… all served on a candle-lit table under the leafy branches of a tree so large it sheltered like an umbrella not only the peninsula that served as the outdoor seating area for the restaurant, but also the two streets that ran on either side.

Delphi’s In Delphi Cafe is charming. We chose to sit under the large oak tree outside on a peninsula bordered on either side by highway 48, which here is actually a street..

Below is a photo of our hotel, Art Hotel Pythia, in Delphi…it was manned by one employee. In the mornings, he had to cover BOTH the front desk and the upstairs dining room simultaneously. Speaking of the upstairs dining room, it offered a very generous and complete complimentary breakfast selection of eggs, meats, fruits, cereals, coffee, pastries.

It was fabulous breakfast, even though it had been overrun by a large traveling group of students who had already dined and left. Tables were littered with used china and glasses, since the one staff employee hadn’t been able to leave the front desk to clean. Still, there were pastries and eggs to be had, and it was nice to see actual dishes being used instead of paper and plastic.

We sympathized with the employee and knew he was doing the work of three to four people.

This hotel with its impossibly small staff caused us to wonder about Delphi’s economic outlook. The town appears to be a sleepy village holding on for dear life during Greece’s financial crisis. Across the street from Art Hotel Pythia was an abandoned multi-story hotel that was probably packed during the Olympic Games in 2004.

Thank goodness for the amazing archaeological site just down the road! Read my post about the site here.

Art Hotel Pythia, our hotel in Greece.

The day we departed Delphi, we left our hotel around 11 a.m. and waited outside the restaurant/bus station for the large, air-conditioned bus that arrived about fifteen minutes late. We loaded our luggage into the lower bins of the bus and boarded.

It was a packed bus. There was a group of about ten kids travelling to the beach at Itea. Like kids everywhere, they were talking and joking, laughing over shared phone screens.

This map shows the route our bus took from Delphi in the upper right corner down to Olympia in the lower left corner. The small white dot in the blue road above the word “Archaeological” is in about the same spot as Pyrgos, our final stop before reaching Olympia.

Our bus made its way down to Itea on the shores of the Gulf of Corinth, which you can see in the distance in the photo below. This was a beautiful drive with two or three tight hairpin curves.

The weather was warm and sunny when we left; as we drove, the temperature rose. Thankfully, our bus was comfortable and air-conditioned.

After passing more and more olive groves on the way, we eventually stopped at the bus station in Itea on a road that fronted the shore of the Gulf of Corinth.

Itea was a quiet little town that, based on the many outdoor cafes and shops, we could tell would be busy with tourists in July and August.

I took this photo of my husband Mitch standing across the street from the bus station at this small dockside park.

We were nervous about missing our bus to further points south, so we crossed back over to the bus station and waited. The bus station was little more than a hallway with a counter at the back, so we couldn’t wait inside where it was warm. Instead, we bought spinach pies at the small restaurant next door and ate them sitting outside on the sidewalk next to our four pieces of luggage.

And then we waited. It was fun.

Our bus finally arrived and we boarded, knowing this would be a much longer leg of the trip than the short jaunt down the hill to Itea from Delphi.

Our bus ride meandered part of the way through the lowland hills along the coast of the Gulf of Corinth.

We stopped here and there at several towns to drop people off and allow others to load. In the photo above: a market along the way.

Of course, olive trees were everywhere, tucked into any field available. Note the Greek Orthodox church on the horizon.

We stopped several times to board more passengers.

Driving along the coast often meant driving about twenty feet from the water. Waves splashed onto the road in several places.

We passed through several nondescript towns. Many have boarded up or shuttered stores and offices. Greece’s financial state is quite obvious, especially in the more remote and smaller towns. Last summer, some blamed the Olympic Games for at least part of the economic crisis.

Along the road, we would often see Olympic statues such as this one that traces the route the torch bearers took as they carried the flame toward the games in Athens in 2004.

I took this shot of a sidewalk in Nafpaktos, one of a dozen or more towns we traveled through on our way to Olympia. It’s north of the Gulf as we made our way west to cross over to Patras.

We were nearing Patras, Greece’s third largest city (after Athens and Thessaloniki).

This majestic bridge can be seen from a distance. It’s the doorway into Patras and points south on the Peloponnese peninsula

This photo shows another point on the Olympic torch trail.

We were dropped off in Patras as this bus station. After going inside and inquiring about our next leg of the trip, we discovered we needed to be three blocks away at a different station to meet our bus, which was scheduled to leave in about fifteen minutes.

The only solution to get there quickly was to walk.

We each grabbed our carry-on and pulled our jumbo suitcases and took off for the right train station. We charged through empty sidewalk cafes, deserted in the mid-afternoon. At one, an employee was hosing down the seating area. The coolness from the water kept us moving on.

We finally made it to the Patras train station. As Mitch took care of buying our tickets inside, I waited outside to make sure we got on that bus.

Which we did.

Safe and secure in another air-conditioned motorcoach, we settled in for our next-to-last leg of the trip to Pyrgos.

This leg of the trip held its own frustrations for us.

We’re not absolutely sure, but we think we booked a local bus that stopped numerous times. One city we spent an especially long amount of town in was Amaliada. Either our bus driver was lost or he was just playing a trick on us because we spent about an hour piddling our way back and forth in this town.

More dawdling in Alamiada…. but we did spy another church and some non-touristy scenes of typical Greek living: old men sitting at card tables outside of cafes or clubs, kids playing in playgrounds, young men drinking beer in the brittle, dusty grass of an abandoned city park. (I rarely saw women out visiting and socializing, by the way.)

True, Amaliada wasn’t Skopelos, but part of the reason we took bus transit was to see an unfiltered version of Greece. In fact, check out our neighborhood where we stayed in Heraklion.

Finally on our way out of town to Pyrgos, we spotted these hothouses of strawberries and watermelons.
The bus station in Pyrgos was a bright, airy place.

Victory! We finally made it to Pyrgos… ten minutes late.

Our bus to Olympia had departed ten minutes before we arrived. Instead of trying to book another bus for the remaining thirty-mile ride, we opted to take a taxi instead.

It had been a long day, but the end was in sight. And what a different world it was from mountainous Delphi!

Welcome to Olympia! Yesssss.

We met our AirBnB host, the sixtieth man named Kostas, for some friendly introductions. He met us in the middle of the street of our AirBnb, waving his arms to catch our taxi driver’s attention.

Kostas gave us a short tour to the entrance of the Olympia archaeological site so we could find it easily the next morning.

It’s quite a haul to get from Delphi to Olympia in one day, but it’s…

  • quite possible,
  • inexpensive,
  • and full of scenery that runs the gamut from the beautiful to the mundane.

While we plan to rent a car the next time we’re in the Greek countryside, we are definitely glad we took the public transit options that were available on our first trip.

Even though taking the bus requires you to engage in some risk-taking, confusion, second-guessing, and moments that will test your patience, we would recommend it if you want to experience authentic Greece.


Thanks for reading! I’m amazed that story ideas are still surfacing from our travels last summer. Leave a like, make a comment and become a follower for more travel posts. While travel stories aren’t my only genre on this blog, they do seem to dominate my posts lately. That will be changing soon.

For my totally separate English teaching blog, click here.

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Greece (Skopelos) Photo Friday Uncategorized

Video Friday: Can you hear the people sing?

Listen carefully for the summer sounds of Skopelos, Greece.


Listen carefully… can you hear it? Last summer, I heard voices rising from the depths of Skopelos Town on the island of the same name in Greece. I don’t know who was singing or for what reason, but it was a beautiful moment and one I had to capture and share. The sense of community in this village is strong. Enjoy this brief glimpse of Skopelos life! For a post from my blog full of photos of Skopelos, click here.

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Greece (Skopelos)

Come see the churches of Greece’s Skopelos Island

…where Panagitsa Tower is just the beginning. 

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All photos: Marilyn Yung

How do I stay for three weeks on a Greek island that contains more than 300 churches and 24 monasteries and leave the island with only a handful of photos of them? Tell me how that happens. 

Here’s how: they’re everywhere. One can’t possibly photograph them all.

That was me last June when my husband and I spent three weeks on Skopelos Island in Greece, as part of our five-plus week journey across Greece. Yes, we were on the island for three weeks and yes, this meager post contains the entirety of my church photo collection. I wish I had seen more, but that’s for the return trip, right?!  

No matter where you look, whether in town or in the countryside, you’ll see a church of some sort. 

A chapel, part of Panagitsa Tower of Skopelos Old Town.

Some churches — whether they’re in the town (Skopelos Chora) or on the greater island — are quite large and are designed to hold a small congregation.

Others, on the other hand, are private and built by a family for their own use.

We took a short tour inside this church, Agios Michael Synadon in Skopelos Town. Here’s a post on that visit.
This is the back side of Agios Michael Synadon. The curved apse contains the altar. The exterior of this church features Roman sarcophagi, pieces of old stone coffins.
The interior of Agios Michael Synadon. Read this post to learn about our experience inside.

Even so, you’re looking at what photos I do have because (let’s be real), these churches are simply stunning.

Spectacular yet humble.

Ornate on the inside, yet unassuming on the outside.

In short, so very different from what I’m used to here in the United States that I was captivated.

This little church was closed the handful of times we walked by. Notice the turquoise-colored glazed “plates” above the door and on the tower.

Each church is so different in design from the others! To think that someone designed these buildings, supervised their construction, and saw them built in this little village where they continue to be used to this day.

This little church is wedged deep into the winding streets of Skopelos Town.
Here’s a closeup of the beautiful icon painting above the front door.
My husband peeked inside this church and here is what he saw. Notice the gold-painted icons at the altar.
A sunny church just around the corner.
Stacked belfries are a common design.
Panagitsa tou Pyrgo, the Holy Mary of the Castle, greets everyone when you enter Skopelos harbor.
Notice the church bell tower in the center back of this photo. Churches are everywhere!

Once you wander outside of Skopelos Chora, you’ll start to see the many small, private family churches that dot the countryside.

We hiked across the island one evening and stopped to rest outside some private family churches along the way. We signed up for a tour with Heather Parsons, founder of Skopelos Trails.
Here is another church we encountered on our cross-island hike from Skopelos Chora to Panormos.
And here’s another. Note the curved apse that usually contains the altar. Photo: Marilyn Yung
Here’s a church we noticed on our return one afternoon from Stafilos Beach. Read this post for more information.
Still more churches were seen on our hike to Panormos.

And now let’s head back to town to see a few more…

Churches seem to be literally around every corner.
This tiny church was perched on a bluff above the Old Town. We walked by this at least once a day on our way up or down the steep hill that took us downtown along the harbor.
Another stacked belfry nestled deep with the labyrinth of Skopelos Chora.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed these photos of the churches we saw on Skopelos Island in Greece, including those in Skopelos Chora. Follow my blog for more posts from our travels last summer. Also, check out my categories for more destinations near and far.


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Greece (Skopelos) Photo Friday

Photo Friday: Sunny Church in Skopelos

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On every Sunday morning last June, my husband and I were mesmerized by the calming tones of musical chants floating on the breezes wafting across the natural amphitheater arrangement of Skopelos Town. Also known as the Old Town or Skopelos Chora, the largest town on Skopelos Island is home to 123 churches Greek Orthodox churches.

We discovered this church last June when we visited the island, one of three that compose the Northern Sporades east of Athens on the Pelion Peninsula. I’m not sure exactly where this church is within the town… somewhere down the hill, tucked among whitewashed homes and shops, nestled along a cobblestone street that may or may not show on Google Maps.

Follow my blog to catch my next post on the churches of Skopelos (both those in the Old Town and those scattered about the island), where I’ll show you a slew of charming places of worship, both private and others.

Click on this video to hear music similar to that heard on Sunday morning in Skopelos.


Thanks for reading! Follow my blog for more posts about Skopelos Island and other near-and-far travel destinations.  Click here for my latest post titled Three Weeks in Skopelos Greece: The Old Town.

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Greece (Skopelos) Photo Friday

Photo Friday: The blue waters of Skopelos, Greece

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Crystal clear Aegean waters frame these rugged rocks just offshore the beach below Panagitsa Tower in Skopelos Old Town on Skopelos Island in Greece’s Northern Sporades Islands. To read more about our three weeks in Skopelos, check out this post. 

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Greece (Skopelos) Uncategorized

Three weeks in Skopelos, Greece: The Old Town

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Our time in the Old Town on Skopelos Island

Last June, my husband and I spent three weeks on Skopelos Island in Greece, as part of our five-plus week journey across Greece. At the time, I posted daily on this blog about our itinerary as we traversed the country from Skopelos Island, to Athens on the Pelion Peninsula, to the Peloponnese (Mycenae, Delphi and Olympia), and then a final five days in Heraklion, Crete, Knossos Palace,  and Phaistos.

However, for some reason, I never devoted a post to Skopelos town, the largest city on Skopelos Island, and which is also known as the Old Town or the Chora. This post will remedy my negligence, and furthermore, in writing this, I’ve stumbled upon three more upcoming topics that need to be covered as well. These upcoming posts are listed at the end of this post, so press the Follow button and keep on reading.

If you’re unfamiliar with Skopelos…

Along with the islands of Skiathos to the west and Alonissos to the east, Skopelos Island comprises the Northern Sporades Islands. These small landforms are located east of the Pelion Peninsula in the inky blue waters of the Aegean Sea.

Skopelos covers 37 square miles.

According to our hosts at the Skopelos Foundation for the Arts, the island has a summer population of approximately 6,000 residents. That number decreases by half during the winter months.

According to skopelosweb.com, Stafylos, the first mythical resident of Skopelos was the son of Dionysus, the God of Fertility, Euphoria, the Vine and Wine, and his mother Ariadne, daughter of the Minoas, King of Crete. Relics of these mythological lives were excavated in 1936. The grave of King Stafylos was found in the town and its namesake beach that to this day is named Stafilos. Inside the grave, excavators found the king’s sword with its golden handle. Today, this sword is kept in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Read this post about the museum.

Now that I’m back home and reminiscing…

I do wish I had taken photos of all of the “normal” places in this town… such as when we visited the bustling pharmacy, the chic coffee bistros (such as Kahili’s Bakery) on the main drag, the Vodaphone store, the grocery store where the locals shop, the hardware store up the hill, the butcher on the back road, the post office.

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This centuries-old church is right across from the Vodaphone store.

But when you’re spending time in a place that’s off the beaten path a bit, you start to feel intrusive when you’ve constantly got your camera out shooting every little establishment. Yes, it’s expected in the more touristy areas, but not necessarily in those places that provide the basic needs of daily life.

And, yes, most of those places aren’t much to look at, by the way, but they do show you a little town that functions like most others… except that people call out to each other and wave more, or they stop and chat for a few minutes, or they just quit working in the middle of the day and just… stop. doing. everything.

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There is always a church in view in Skopelos Old Town. Notice the upper right skyline. Many of the churches are privately owned by families.

This more social atmosphere, I am convinced, is afforded when cars aren’t in the mix. When you can’t seal yourself inside your car and drive right up to the door of your destination, and you are required to walk there on foot, you tend to mingle with people more.  True, in Skopelos Old Town, there are cars, and scooters, et al, but they don’t dominate the scene. Just keep your eyes and ears open and you can walk safely anywhere.

We travelled to Skopelos so my husband could serve his three-week residency at the Skopelos Foundation for the Arts. He had applied for the residency in July of 2018 and had been accepted about a month later.

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We didn’t really know much about Skopelos Island when we applied for the residency.

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Here I am with Barbi, the dog next door, at the home where students stay while they work at Skopart. I plan to write a post about the arts center soon. Follow my blog to catch that post.

However, after his application was accepted, we began to do more research on the island that would be our home for three weeks the following summer.

We quickly learned that Skopelos Island was the shooting location of the 2008 movie, Mamma Mia! starring Meryl Streep.

While the island’s economy experienced a boom during that time, life on the island eventually returned to normal; today, Skopelos Island has retained much of its charm and non-touristy feel.

With the Mamma Mia! buzz long over…

And, based on our visit that is also long since over, I would agree that yes, Skopelos Island has much to boast about… incredible beauty, intriguing history, and a quiet small-town atmosphere. With the Mamma Mia! buzz in the past, Skopelos Island provides an authentic Greek island experience.

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Part of that might be because there’s no airport like there is on Skiathos Island right next door. (In fact, being a regional hub of sorts, compared to Skopelos, Skiathos feels congested, chock full of tourist retail shops and restaurants. Follow my blog for a post on Skiathos soon.)

The good news: there’s no airport on Skopelos.

The bad news: there’s no airport on Skopelos.

To arrive on Skopelos means taking a ferry, and there are several types of watercraft at your disposal: freight ferries, passenger ferries, hydrofoils, water taxis, and more. Find schedules at this website.

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These Hellenic Seaways ferries are pretty posh. There’s a cafe inside, TVs, good lighting and comfortable, air-conditioned seating.

We found that there’s no need to book ferry tickets ahead of time. Even though we were unsure what boat would work best for our schedule, the clerk at the ticket office knew. It was just easier to let them figure that out for us. And there really aren’t more than a couple of choices any day anyway.

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This ANES (say Ann-Es) carries both passengers and freight.

The ticket office, which will have tickets and schedules for all the ferry companies, is located near where the taxis will drop you off from the airport. It won’t be hard to find. After unloading from taxi ride from the Skiathos Airport, our taxi driver noticed us scanning the street for the ticket office. As he sped away, he read our minds, gave us a loud whistle, and pointed us down the block. Sure enough, the ticket office was about 100 yards away.

Still, had he not whistled at us, we could also have asked anyone standing nearby. There were waiters, restaurant owners, and others eager to seat us for a cold drink at the several eateries that line the main street across from the ferry docks.

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The Flying Cat. Expect a bouncy ride even in calm waters. It takes about an hour and a half to ride from Skiathos to Skopelos.  Our ferry made one stop in Glossa on Skopelos Island on our way to Skopelos Town..

They were more than happy to help us find the ticket office as well. While it’s obvious their true motive is to fill another table in their establishment, they are actually very helpful and to me did not seem overbearing at all. They can call a taxi for you, hold your luggage, or direct you to their restroom.

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In Skiathos, we enjoyed chatting with our waiter, Kostas. We sat at the cafe for an hour or so sipping on cappuccini and breakfast. He kept us abreast of the arguments ensuing with the boat captains across the street. They were arguing about schedules and such. Kostas, a college student who also attends university in Athens, said the men argue all the time.

For now, enjoy these photos from Skopelos Island and the its largest city, Skopelos Town.

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Around this bend (plus a couple more, I think) would be our final destination, Skopelos Town.

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At this point, our nearly 24-hour journey was coming to a close. It had been a long haul to Skopelos Town.

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Skopelos Old Town glistened in the warm Greek sunshine as we pulled into the docks. The red arrow indicates our studio unit at Mayorka Apartments. Click here for a tour!

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The ferry will disembark at the large parking lot, and then your journey on Skopelos begins.

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Transportation on the island runs the gamut: ATVs, compact cars, buses, vans, delivery trucks, and of course, scooters and cycles.

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This sign at the bus stop shows the layout of Skopelos Island. The red circled part shows the amphitheater setting of the Old Town. The Old Town lines the harbor and climbs up the surrounding hillsides forming a bowl-like city.

Our host from the Skopelos Foundation for the Arts met us at the parking lot. At that point, we drove outside of the central business district to a grocery store about a mile away. We zipped along the narrow streets alongside scooters, trucks, motorcycles, and more compact cars.

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Our first stop after arriving in town: groceries. We picked up a selection of things to stock our small studio apartment that was located way up high on the hillside above the Old Town.

Once we returned to our room, we unpacked, put the groceries away, and enjoyed the incredible view from our balcony. Sitting on our balcony during the day or at nighttime and watching boats and people, mere tiny dots way down below, come and go provided my favorite memories from our time on Skopelos.

It’s the little things, people.

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Our room overlooked the harbor of Skopelos Old Town.

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The evening view of Skopelos Old Town was breathtaking.

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We walked down these stairs every single day. What a workout climbing back up!

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These stairs were the final push when we returned from Old Town. Yes, we could have called a taxi, but why not get a workout instead?!

My husband worked during the mornings in the studios at Skopelos Foundation for the Arts just up the hill from our studio apartment. During the afternoons, we would walk down, down, down the hill into the central business and residential district.

By the time we devoured lunch — Greek salads usually — and ventured down into the town, the cobblestone streets were quiet with the afternoon break that most businesses take. The streets were eerily vacant, and it compelled us to whisper our conversations, since we definitely had the feeling that people were napping inside their homes as we walked by.

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Bougainvilleas were in abundance on Skopelos!

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Afternoons are quiet — except for the buzz of air conditioners overhead — in the Old Town.

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You can see the slight indentation in the walk for water to drain down during a rain.

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Google Maps doesn’t always work here. If one gets disoriented in the maze of streets, it’s best to keep your eyes up to see landmarks and distinctive buildings.

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I bought a pair of sandals at a shop near here. All the walking (at least four miles a day, I would guess) quickly wore out the older pair I had brought with me.

It’s impossible to take a bad picture in Skopelos Old Town. Seriously.

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My husband was always taking pictures of interesting brickwork, chipped paint patterns, or centuries-old stonework.

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Greek Orthodox churches are ubiquitous on the island and in the Old Town. Follow my blog for a future post on the “Churches of Skopelos.”

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Some stairways seem to never end. We walked up one of these at midnight after a dance recital concert in our attempt to find our way back up the hill to our apartment.

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This garbage truck somehow manages to snake its way through the teeny streets of the Old Town.

Venetian influence and power can even be found here in the Old Town.

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This wall is ancient and provides a border for the Panagitsa Tower.

This wall in the photo above is the only remaining piece of the original Venetian Castle of Skopelos,which was repaired by the Venetians in the 1300s. In fact, we were amazed at how far Venetian influence extended from northern Italy and across the Mediterranean. When we visited the island of Crete a few weeks later, we would tour another Venetian Fortress and also walk atop Heraklion’s own Venetian Wall.

I’ll include this photo of a chapel in the Old Town in this post, but there are literally hundreds more on the island.

Follow along for a future post about this and other beautiful Greek Orthodox churches.

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This church is part of the Panagitsa of Pyrgos Tower, the white-washed church structure you see when you first enter the harbor. I plan to write a post dedicated to the churches of the island soon. Follow my blog for that post!

You can’t visit Skopelos and not meet a feline friend.

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This cat visited our room a few times during our stay…

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… this one made himself quite at home, too.

No rushing allowed…

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Cappucini, a bottle of sparkling water, and a slice of baklava. Yum! Or how about…

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…a delicious spinach pie! Dishes like this are popular on the island, including the well-known Skopelos Pie, a similar pastry filled with cheese.

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We took a walk across the harbor on a couple of afternoons. This photo shows another angle of Old Town Skopelos from the opposite edge of the harbor from where we spent most of our time. This side of the harbor features more modern, resort-style hotels.

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On the morning we left (around 6 a.m.), this was our hilltop view as we waited for our taxi to drive us downtown to our ferry.

Eventually, it became time to leave Skopelos after our three-week visit. We were glad we planned to spend enough time there to visit the grocery store a few times, walk downtown nearly everyday for various needs, and just to feel as if it was our home-away-from-home.

We would love to revisit the town someday–whether it’s just the two of us again perhaps with a group of students from the university where my husband teaches. In fact, I would even like to experience Skopelos in the winter months when the population plummets. I know it would be a drastic difference, but I would still like to experience it.


Thanks for reading! Even though it’s been several months since our visit, I’m still finding topics to revisit and write about. In the words of Anais Nin, writing lets you taste life twice.

Follow my blog for these upcoming posts: 

The Churches of Skopelos

Skopelos Foundation for the Arts

Skiathos Island

Categories
Greece (Crete) Uncategorized

Phaistos, Crete: The most famous Greek ruins you’ve probably never heard of

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A peek into the past in the hills of southern Crete

Phaistos. Phaestos. Festos. Faistos. And then in Greek, it’s spelled Φαιστός.  No matter how you spell it, each name refers to Phaistos Minoan Palace, the second most important site (after Knossos Palace in Heraklion) of the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete.

We visited Phaistos last summer in late June. After touring the archaeological sites at Athens, Mycenae, Delphi, Olympia, and Knossos, we made a final stop at Phaistos. After a confusing morning journey by public bus from Heraklion, we made it to Phaistos in plenty of time to take a leisurely self-guided tour, eat a small lunch beneath a pine tree, and have a cold drink and ice cream in the small, on-site gift shop before hopping on a bus back to Heraklion. Here’s my post about how to get from Heraklion to Phaistos, click here.

If Minoans are new to you, here are a few facts about the culture from my husband:

  • The Minoans, named for their ruler, the mythical King Minos, are known for their advanced civilization that settled the island of Crete and other surrounding islands.
  • The Minoans were great sea travelers.
  • They built enormously sophisticated palaces for their royalty. The palaces were very “high tech” for the time period and exhibited a distinctive and advanced architectural style.
  • Phaistos was the region that produced Kamares ware, a pottery style dating from the 1800-1700 BC. Kamares ware, named for the nearby cave where it was found, is known for its dark background and white brushwork. Kamares wares were considered luxurious to own and were exported throughout the Mediterranean to Cyprus, Egypt and Palestine.

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Kamares ware, including these vessels, were found at the Minoan palaces at Knossos and Phaistos. | Photo: M. Yung

A self-guided tour of Phaistos is relaxing and quiet. Unlike Knossos, there are no guides-for-hire who approach you as you enter offering to walk you through the site for a fee.

While these guides are likely very helpful for many tourists, we doubted that they were truly needed, considering the large number of detailed placards placed throughout the site. Granted, that assumes one doesn’t mind reading.

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This photo is taken from the opposite side of the palace grounds.   Jerzy Strzelecki [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D
When you do stop to read the signs, you can learn a lot. Here are some basic facts taken from a placard found at the entry to the main site:

  • The hill of Phaistos was inhabited as early as 4500-3200 BC in the Final Neolithic Age.
  • The first palace of Phaistos was active from 1900-1700 BC. The palace controlled the plains and valleys found below the palace hilltop.
  • The city of Phaistos — and Minoan culture in general — flourished until  323-367 BC.
  • The Phaistos Palace grounds included a central court, surrounding wings, multi-story buildings (similar to Knossos), gateways and open balconies.
  • More facts follow the next few photos.

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Phaistos is found on a hilltop in southern Crete. The valleys on all sides of the hilltop are blanketed with olive trees, grape vineyards, cypress trees, and farms. There are several caves in the surrounding hills also. Many items, including pottery, have been found in these caves. | Photo: M. Yung

  • The first Phaistos Palace was built around 1900 BC.
  • It covered 8,000 square kilometers over three terraces.

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Tickets to the Phaistos site are 8€ each. Getting there is inexpensive, too, via public bus.

  • The original palace was inhabited for 250 years and destroyed and rebuilt three times.
  • It was destroyed the last time by an earthquake around 1700 BC.

It’s amazing that visitors are allowed to walk on stones laid nearly 3,700 years ago!

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Little at Phaistos seems to have changed since the 1919 photo above. It’s still isolated, quiet, and remote. | Photo: M. Yung

  • After the earthquake, the ruins were covered and a new palace was constructed on that.
  • This last palatial site was smaller, but according to the placard, “more monumental.”
  • This last Phaistos Palace was destroyed in 1450 BC, but not rebuilt.
  • Two more facts follow below.

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It’s amazing how little has changed over the years. This photo from 1919 shows the steps leading to the West Court. The theatral area and diagonal wall appear in the lower half of the picture. | Frederic Boissonnas [Public domain]

  • The city of Phaistos continued to be inhabited and thrived in Hellenistic times from 323-367 BC.
  • In 150 BC, Phaistos was finally destroyed by Gortys. When Rome conquered Crete in 67 BC, Gortys became the capital, replacing Knossos.

But back to our tour…

The main reason we wanted to visit Phaistos: the pithoi.

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Two pithoi appear below a reconstructed walkway. | Photo: M. Yung

These pithoi (the singular word is pithois) are well-known in art history circles and Phaistos is considered the premier site for this particular kind of storage vessel. In fact, my husband hoped the site would have more available to see, as he had seen photos of many more pithoi on display here.

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A room with storage jars known as pithoi. | Photo: M. Yung

Still, it was fun to wander the grounds and find a pithois tucked away here and there. There were more to see in an area of the grounds covered with metal shelters; however, these shelters were in large areas closed off to visitors.

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Mitch walked as far as he could into the Magazine of the Giant Pithoi, a room that contained  several large pithoi jars. | Photo: M. Yung

In fact, this was our main disappointment with Phaistos:

a good portion of the site was closed.

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The shrines of the West Wing were predominantly small rectangular rooms that contained benches. According to the placard, inside these rooms excavators found ritual vessels, figurines of deities and other cult objects. | Photo: M. Yung

There was definitely a feeling that Phaistos is overlooked and forgotten.

  • a few signs were missing
  • some barriers were broken
  • a wooden observation deck had missing boards

Generally, Phaistos seemed neglected. And this isn’t really surprising, considering Greece’s other economic priorities.

True, due to its location, Phaistos sees fewer visitors than other more popular Greek archaeological sites. In fact, Phaistos doesn’t even make this Top 20 list of Greek ruins.

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Photo: M. Yung

Still, Phaistos is a valuable peek into the past, and among art historians, it’s well-known and revered.

The Phaistos Minoan Palace reminds us that we shouldn’t underestimate the abilities and ingenuity of ancient cultures. For example, precisely placed stairs and drainage pipes made of solid stone show us the resourcefulness of the Minoans.

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Drainage pipes were used at Phaistos. | M. Yung

 

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This is the Queen’s Megaron (throne room) found at Phaistos. It is covered by a metal shelter on this side…

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…and this side, too. | Photo: M. Yung

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The Phaistos Disk is on display at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. The disk represents one of the greatest mysteries of archaeology. No one knows the meaning of the symbols incised into the clay. It was made between 2000-1000 BC. It measures about six inches in diameter. | Photo: M. Yung

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Photo: M. Yung

It was a beautiful sunny day when we visited Phaistos. In fact, by early afternoon, we were ready to hop on an air-conditioned bus and make the trip back to Heraklion.

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This photo shows the theatral area on the left and stairway to the West Court on the right. | Photo: M. Yung

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Here I am walking near the theatral area in the West Court. The wall to my left can be seen on the left side of the preceding photo.

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Kouloures, large stone-built structures, show time-consuming craftsmanship. | Photo: M. Yung

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Relics from the past are scattered across the grounds. | Photo: M. Yung

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This photos shows the surrounding hillsides. I’ve circled in red additional outlying structures that were subordinate to the palatial hilltop above.  We ate our lunch (that we had packed and brought with us) on benches beneath a pine tree right above this scene. | Photo: M. Yung

Mysteriously, no one knows for sure the reasons for the collapse of Minoan culture, including the civilization at Phaistos.

Perhaps that’s a fitting conclusion for this archaeological site that today is still out-of-the-way, obscure, and famous.


Thanks for reading! This post is another installment from our cross-country Greek odyssey last summer. It’s amazing how many more sights I have yet to write about. Follow my blog for more travel posts, including this one from our final day in Greece when we visited the site of Paul’s To an Unknown God sermon.

Categories
Greece (Peloponnese) Uncategorized

Visit Mycenae: Feel the quiet power of the Lion Gate

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No, this isn’t our photo, but we did take the next one below. The photo above, however, shows more of the famous Lion Gate at Mycenae. Credit: Andreas Trepte [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D

What you can expect to see at Mycenae

Ask an art historian about Mycenae and they will likely mention the Lion Gate, the monumental sculptures carved at the entrance to the citadel at the Mycenaean acropolis.  While the Mycenaean civilization they guarded through the millennia was buried and ravaged by time and destruction, the lions remained quietly standing, sentinels that protected the inhabitants within.

Today, Mycenae is still a protected site. Mycenae and the nearby Tyrins were inscribed upon the UNESCO World Heritage Liston December 4, 1999.

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According to a placard at the entrance to the site, “Inscription on this list confirms the outstanding universal value of a cultural or natural property which deserves protection for the benefit of all humanity. The two most important centers of the Mycenaean culture dominated the Eastern Mediterranean from the 15th to the 12th centuries B.C. and played a vital role in the development of the culture of Classical Greece.  The two citadels are indissolubly linked with the Homeric epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, that affected European art and literature for more than three millennia.”

 

This isn’t the first post I’ve written about Mycenae. My first post was written on the road during  the middle of our cross-country six-week Greek odyssey last summer. That post was much more concise; it included a handful of photos, but nowhere near the number of photos in this post.

Enjoy these photos and if you have a visit to Mycenae in your future or if you’ve been there already, please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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Tickets are 12€ each and include entrance to the archaeological site, the museum and the Treasury of Atreus.

After purchasing your ticket, you’ll walk on grounds that surround the hillside below the citadel on the acropolis, the uppermost part of the site. Beehive tombs and other city structures can be seen around you.

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The latest “funerary monument” beehive tomb is on the hillside below the acropolis. It was discovered by chance by villagers during the time of Ottoman rule.

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The same tomb… just a little closer.

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And closer still. Here, I’m standing in the doorway where apparently some scaffolding is used to bolster the heavy stones. My husband, Mitch, is standing along the far wall, to show the size of the tomb.

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And… looking up at the ceiling of the beehive tomb.

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Outside the tomb, you can see theater seating (circled above in red) put in place by Greeks in Hellenistic times.

And another tomb…

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Another beehive tomb we encountered on our way up to the acropolis.

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I took this shot inside the tomb. The stonework is unbelievable.

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Get a load of those lintels above!

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Here’s a shot looking straight up at the underside of those mammoth lintel stones.

 

 

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There’s more than one acropolis in Greece. This is the acropolis –the highest place — at Mycenae. It is also referred to as the citadel and was the home of the palace, House of Columns, grave circles, and other structures. If you tap the photo and zoom in you can see tiny figures walking along the very uppermost edge. The walking tour takes you from the edge of this parking lot up to the various sights on the acropolis and the surrounding hillsides.

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This is Grave Circle A, part of “an extensive cemetery” at Mycenae, according to a placard at the spot. “It was used exclusively for royal burials during the 1500s BC. The shafts, which you can walk down (see below), were near graves that held the bodies of royal family members and grave goods. Those goods can be found at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Here’s my post on that museum.

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This circular enclosure was an updated feature added to enhance the royal burial ground. When was the updating done? 1250 BC.

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A view from the citadel at the acropolis. The hillside is filled with myriad structures, foundations, and remains.  According to a nearby placard, most of the ruins visible today date to the 13th century B.C., but there is evidence that use of the site began in the Early Helladic period (3000-2000 BC.) 

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This is another photo from the citadel. Some of the structures on the acropolis include a large court complete with porticoes and antechamber, and the megaron, a political hub with administrative and military functions.

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We marveled at the size of this lintel piece on the citadel. 

There’s much more on the acropolis at Mycenae. Click here to see my other post about Mycenae that includes more photos from the top, including the House of Columns.

But for now, on to the museum…

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The sign at the entrance  to the museum reads in Greek “Archaeological Museum Mykines,” which English speakers say Mycenae.

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The cup looks very contemporary; however, it was made from 1350-1300 BC. The deep bowl in the back was made 1250-1150 BC.

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This ivory Mycenaean sculpture was made between 1250-1180 BC. It stands between only 3-4″ h. Read this post for more information about this little number.

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These “anthropomorphic figure” sculptures captivated me. I still am surprised at how contemporary the expressions and poses appear. These were made about 3,200 years ago… 1250-1180 BC! Simply stunning. 

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This anthropomorphic figure appears at the far right in the photo above.

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The spiral motif is timeless. This stairstep was decorated with a repeating pattern. 1450-1350 BC.

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A variety of personal items were excavated from the sites at Mycenae. These combs are dated 1300-1180 BC. The colorful faience and glass necklace at left? 1400-1040 BC.

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This large storage jar is overwhelming in its size. 

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This photo, found on Creative Commons, shows the back side of the museum. When you visit the museum, you enter on the opposite side and and unable to see the various levels of the museum that descend down the mountain slope. Photo Credit: George E. Koronaios [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D
After touring the museum, we decided to leave the main site and walk back down the highway to bring our Mycenaean odyssey to a close. The sun was out in full force and we felt the pull of a mid-afternoon nap in our comfortable AirBnB. Here’s a post about our wonderful hosts.

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By the time we left, the crowds were increasing. Even so, the park wasn’t especially crowded. No lines. No waiting. No hassle.

But before that, we knew we wanted to check out the Treasury of Atreus, also known as the  Tomb of Agamemnon. One arrives at it when you head back down the highway toward the town of Mycenae. We had noticed it on our way up earlier that morning.

The Treasury of Atreus isn’t an afterthought… it’s a must-see.

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Just outside the main site, your ticket will allow you into the Treasury of Atreus. Here, you’ll find a guard station, a park bench or two under some pine trees, and, if I remember correctly, a vending machine. There are no facilities. 

But why is it called a treasury?

It’s called a treasury — and not a tomb — because treasures were placed inside to commemorate the ruler buried within.

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This is the Treasury of Atreus, also known as the Tomb of Agamemnon. It’s a large “tholos,” or beehive tomb on Panagitsa Hill at Mycenae. It was built in 1250 BC.

Just so you know…

The Treasury of Atreus has no real connection to Agamemnon. The Mycenae archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann named it thus and the popular name persisted. According to this article, the royal buried here would have ruled at an earlier date than Agamemnon.

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I took this picture looking back from the entrance to the Treasury of Atreus.

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That lintel above the entrance to the tomb weighs 120 tons!

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This is a more accurate picture of the inside of the Treasury of Atreus. It’s dark inside… and nice and cool, too.

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We walked along an asphalt highway up to the Mycenae Archaeological Site. It was a sunny and breezy day. 

I hope you enjoyed this photo essay about Mycenae. It’s a lonely yet so important archaeological site.

Greece, including the Peloponnese region (that part of Greece connected to the mainland by the land bridge at Corinth), offers a plethora of ancient sites. It’s truly difficult to visit them all. In fact, we already are making a list for sites to see when we return someday.

But in the meantime, if Greece is in your future, make time for Mycenae.


Thanks for reading! Make sure to leave a comment or share a thought about this post or to share news about your own visit to Greece. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.