Get Your Classical Fix; Top Ancient Western Sites to Explore

by bria4123 on October 20, 2011

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These are some of the places where I felt most connected with the ancient West.


1. Athens. It lived up to its billing, and then some. Its ruins aren’t the best preserved–the stoa in the above picture is a reconstruction. But this city is where drama, democracy, realistic painting, realistic sculpture, temple architecture and the thought of Socrates and Plato either emerged or were perfected into standards that still hold. See all things ancient here and piece them together.

2. Pompeii. Most of the whole town of 20,000 people has been preserved.

Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger were in the area when Pompeii was destroyed. You can read the Younger’s two letters about what it was like to be there. They’re harrowing.

Naples’ Archaeological Museum has lots of artifacts from people’s daily lives on the top floor. Herculaneum is well worth seeing too. It’s much smaller, but better preserved.

3. Ostia. This was Rome’s port city, and it’s as well preserved as Herculaneum. You can go up to the third floor in some apartments. Herculaneum’s a must-see too.

4. Ephesus. One of the most important ancient cities in Turkey. Heraclitus philosophized, several lyric poets  sang, Saint Paul preached, and one of the greatest early church councils convened here. This was a happening place for 1,000 years.

5. Paestum, Italy. This site has some of the best preserved Greek temples.

6. Heraklion, Crete. It’s archaeological museum is second only to Athens’ in Greece. The greatest Minoan treasures are here. The Palace at Knossos is a short bus ride away.

7. Pergamum, Turkey. Fantastic acropolis, built by kings trying to surpass Athens’ glory.

8. Epidaurus, Greece. The best preserved ancient Greek theater in the world. People came for healing.

9. Tiryns, Greece. Get in touch with your inner Homer here. This Bronze Age palace isn’t well preserved, but it doesn’t get the hoards of tourists Mycenae does. I had it all to myself, sat down in what was left of the throne room, and imagined scenes from Homer.

10. Rome. Obvious choices are the Forum, Palatine Hill, Pantheon and Coliseum, but don’t miss the Museo Romano or Trajan’s Forum. The latter is sort of a Roman shopping mall, and it’s better preserved than any buildings in the better known forum.

A lot of Roman churches from the 4th and 5th centuries show you continuities between Roman and Christian art. (this will be a future post)

11. Miletus, Turkey. This is where the first known Western philosophers did their stuff. Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes speechified here. The Persians utterly destroyed the town around 500BCE. The buildings you see today are from 300BCE–200CE. But this is about as close as you can get to the beginnings of Western thought.

12. Jerash, Jordan. Its impressive temples and theaters sent a message to this newly conquered area: We’re in charge.

13. Delphi, Greece. This was the most important oracle in the Greek world, and the second most prestigious place for athletic games. People considered it the center of the world.

14. Olympia, Greece. I couldn’t make it to Olympia, but it’s too important to leave out. This is where the Olympic games began, and one of the early places where people from all over the Greek world met and became conscious of themselves as Greeks. is a good blog that focuses on stories from the ancient West. Gwen Minor has a passion for them, and she writes and podcasts in ways that kids and teenagers can relate to.


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