Exploring the Ancient World

Travel recommendations for the road less travelled from eminent historian, author and broadcaster Bettany Hughes . . .

1. Sparta (Greek Mainland)

The remains of the Menelaion, overlooking Sparta, Peleponesse. Photo courtesy of Sarah C Murray. Licensed by Creative Commons

The prominent military city-state in ancient Laconia, on the banks of the river Eurotas, was legendary for its radical social system and fearsomely self-disciplined hoplite warriors bred in its brutal ‘agoge’ training system. Sparta gave modern language the words ‘laconic’ and ‘spartan’. Birthplace of Helen of Troy, and the infamous ‘300’, its ancient remains are still visible in the stunning landscape of south-eastern Peloponnese for those who venture south-west from the obvious tourist sites of Athens and the Parthenon.

2. Milos (Cyclades Islands)

Profitis Ilias and Firiplaka Bay, Milos, Cyclades. Photo courtesy of Graeme Churchard. Licensed by Creative Commons

South-westernmost of the Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea, Milos is where the ‘Venus de Milo’ was discovered, along with many other ancient artefacts. Its natural resources (obsidian), and prominence in the ancient world for manufacture and trade (situated between mainland Greece and Crete) makes it an important historical yet often overlooked destination.

3. Santorini (Cyclades Islands)

Santorini, Cylades Islands. Photo courtesy of Pawel Loj. Licensed by Creative Commons

Santorini (ancient ‘Thera’), southernmost of the Cyclades, displays its dramatically volcanic origins as part of an archipelago which is the remnants of an ancient volcanic caldera. The picture-postcard images of its perfect white painted houses perched precariously along the rugged cliff tops may be prolific in tourist brochures, but was an eruption at Santorini and an ensuing tsunami responsible for the downfall of the ancient Minoan civilisation across the Aegean; or even the legend of Atlantis? . . .


The area is still volcanically active, so check reports before you travel!

Read our interview with Bettany Hughes here.

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