Ancient Greek Sites

Butrint

Butrint, located in the south of Albania approximately 20km from the modern city of Saranda, has a special atmosphere created by a combination of archaeology, monuments and nature in the Mediterranean. With its hinterland it constitutes an exceptional cultural landscape, which has developed organically over many centuries. Butrint has escaped aggressive development of the type that has reduced the heritage value of most h ...
Founded: 800 BCE | Location: Sarandë, Albania

Berat

Located in central Albania, Berat bears witness to the coexistence of various religious and cultural communities down the centuries. It features a castle, locally known as the Kala, most of which was built in the 13th century, although its origins date back to the 4th century BC. The citadel area numbers many Byzantine churches, mainly from the 13th century, as well as several mosques built under the Ottoman era which beg ...
Founded: c. 314 BCE | Location: Berat, Albania

Pnyx

The Pnyx is a hill in central Athens. Beginning as early as 507 BC, the Athenians gathered on the Pnyx to host their popular assemblies, thus making the hill one of the earliest and most important sites in the creation of democracy. Pnyx is a small, rocky hill surrounded by parkland, with a large flat platform of eroded stone set into its side, and by steps carved on its slope. It was the meeting place of one of the ...
Founded: 570 BCE | Location: Athens, Greece

Phaistos

Phaistos is an Bronze Age archaeological site at modern Phaistos, a municipality in south central Crete. The was the second largest ancient palace in Crete. Phaistos was inhabited from about 4000 BC. The palace, dating from the Middle Bronze Age (2000 BC), was destroyed by an earthquake during the Late Bronze Age. Knossos along with other Minoan sites was destroyed at that time. The palace was rebuilt towa ...
Founded: 2000 BC | Location: Phaistos, Greece

Apollonia

Apollonia was an ancient Greek city located on the right bank of the Vjosë river. Apollonia was founded in 588 BCE by Greek colonists from Corfu and Corinth, on a site where native Illyrian tribes lived, and was perhaps the most important of the several classical towns known as Apollonia. Apollonia flourished under Roman rule and was noted by Cicero in his Philippicae as magna urbs et gravis, a great and important ...
Founded: 588 BCE | Location: Fier, Albania

Gortyn

Gortyn or Gortys was a city that flourished particularly during the Roman era. It was the capital of the Roman province of Crete and Cyrenaica. It had its origins in the Minoan era (around 3200 BC). The most distinctive monuments are the Praetorium, the residence of the Roman governor of the province, and the Nymphaion (both dating from 2nd century AD), where the Nymphs were worshipped. There is also a temple of Pythian ...
Founded: 3200 BC | Location: Górtyn, Greece

Aptera

Aptera was an ancient city, now an archaeological site in western Crete, a kilometre inland from the southern shore of Souda Bay. It is mentioned tablets from the 14th-13th centuries BC. With its highly fortunate geographical situation, the city-state was powerful from Minoan through Hellenistictimes, when it gradually declined. In Greek mythology, here was placed the scene of the legend of the contest between the  ...
Founded: 2000-3000 BC | Location: Chaniá, Greece

Cumae

Cumae was an ancient city of Magna Graecia on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Founded by settlers from Euboea in the 8th century BC, Cumae was the first Greek colony on the mainland of Italy and the seat of the Cumaean Sibyl. It spread its influence throughout the area over the 7th and 6th centuries BC, gaining sway over Puteoli and Misenum and, thereafter, founding Neapolis (Naples) in 470 BC. The Greek pe ...
Founded: 8th century BCE | Location: Bacoli, Italy

Malia Minoan Palace

To the east of the modern resort is the Minoan Palace of Malia. This is the third-largest Minoan palace in Crete, built in a wonderful setting near the sea, on the road linking eastern and central Crete. This palace - the seat, according to myth, of Minos’ brother Sarpedon - was first constructed circa 1900 BC. The already large settlement, some parts of which are preserved around the palace, thus became a palace-city ...
Founded: 1900 BC | Location: Malia, Greece

Zakros

Zakros contains ruins from the Minoan civilization. The site is often known to archaeologists as Zakro or Kato Zakro. It is believed to have been one of the four main administrative centers of the Minoans, and its protected harbor and strategic location made it an important commercial hub for trade to the east. The town was dominated by the Palace of Zakro, originally built around 1900 BC, rebuilt around 1600 BC, ...
Founded: 1900 BC | Location: Zakros, Greece

Lato

Lato was an ancient city of Crete, the ruins of which are located approximately 3 km from the small town of Kritsa. The Dorian city-state was built in a defensible position overlooking Mirabello Bay between two peaks, both of which became acropolises to the city. Although the city probably predates the arrival of the Dorians, the ruins date mainly from the Dorian period (5th and 4th centuries BCE). The city was de ...
Founded: 400-300 BC | Location: Kritsa, Greece

Itanos

Itanos was particularly powerful community during the Greek era and it was flourishing by the seventh century BC. Itanos was continuously at war with its neighbours Praisos, and later Hierapytna.  In the 8th century AD Itanos was destroyed in an earthquake but the inhabitants stayed and rebuilt the town. Only in the 15th century after attacks by pirates the town was finally destroyed and deserted. Because the west of Cr ...
Founded: 700 BC | Location: Vai, Greece

Gournia

The Late Minoan town of Gournia was excavated by Harriet Boyd in the first years of the 20th century. The original name of the settlement is not known and its present name comes from the hollow vessels found all over the site, many of which can still be seen at the entrances to the rooms. Gournia lies on a small hill, a few hundred metres from the sea in the Gulf of Mirabello. Its position is important as it lies on the ...
Founded: 1700 BC | Location: Ierapetra, Greece

Lissos

Lissos and Syia were the harbours of the city of Elyros, the most important ancient city of the area, located near the village Rodovani. It was established in the Classical period and flourished until the Late Antiquity. The early history of the city is unknown. Based on inscriptions and coins of the 3rd century BC, we know the city allied with King Magas of Cyrene, and joined the League of Oreians. Lissos had powerfu ...
Founded: 400 BC | Location: Kandanos Selinos, Greece

Azoria

Azoria is an archaeological site on a double-peaked hill overlooking the Gulf of Mirabello in eastern Crete. The excavations have recovered evidence of an Archaic Greek city, established c. 600 BC, following a long period of continuous occupation throughout the Early Iron Age or Greek Dark Age (1200-700 BC) and Early Archaic (700-600 BC) (or Orientalizing) periods. The city was destroyed by fire early in the 5th ...
Founded: 600 BC | Location: Kavousi, Greece

Byllis

Byllis was an ancient city located in the region of Illyria, today in Vlorë, 25 kilometers from the sea in Albania. Dating back to the 4th century BCE, it is one of the most important archeological sites in Albania. The city, although a Greek speaking settlement was located on the territory of the Illyrian tribe of Bylliones. The later were first attested in the mid-4th century BC, in the description of the geographer P ...
Founded: 4th century AD | Location: Vlorë, Albania

Eleutherna

Eleutherna was an ancient city-state in Crete. During the ninth century BCE, in sub-Mycenaean times, in the Geometric Period of the later Greek Dark Ages, Dorians colonized the city on a steep, naturally fortified ridge. The city"s location made it a natural crossroads, as it lay between Cydonia on the northwest coast and Knossos, and between the shore, where it controlled its ports, Stavromenos and Pano ...
Founded: 800-900 BC | Location: Rethymno, Greece

Antigonea

Antigonea was an ancient Greek city in Chaonia, Epirus, and the chief inland city of the ancient Chaonians. It was founded in the 3rd century BC by Pyrrhus of Epirus, who named it after one of his wives, Antigone, daughter of Berenice I and step-daughter of Ptolemy I of Egypt. 'The straits near Antigoneia' were mentioned in 230 BC, when a force of Illyrians under Scerdilaidas passed the city to join an invading ...
Founded: 300-200 BCE | Location: Gjirokaster, Albania

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French château built between 1658-1661 for Nicolas Fouquet. It was made for Marquis de Belle Île, Viscount of Melun and Vaux, the superintendent of finances of Louis XIV, the château was an influential work of architecture in mid-17th century Europe. At Vaux-le-Vicomte, the architect Louis Le Vau, the landscape architect André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of the 'Louis XIV style' combining architecture, interior design and landscape design. The garden's pronounced visual axis is an example of this style.

To secure the necessary grounds for the elaborate plans for Vaux-le-Vicomte’s garden and castle, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. The displaced villagers were then employed in the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens. It was said to have employed eighteen thousand workers and cost as much as 16 million livres. The château and its patron became for a short time a focus for fine feasts, literature and arts. The poet La Fontaine and the playwright Molière were among the artists close to Fouquet. At the inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Molière play was performed, along with a dinner event organized by François Vatel, and an impressive firework show.

After Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The king seized, confiscated or purchased 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palace and gardens of Versailles.

The Marshal Villars became the new owner without first seeing the chateau. In 1764, the Marshal's son sold the estate to the Duke of Praslin, whose descendants would maintain the property for over a century. It is sometimes mistakenly reported that the château was the scene of a murder in 1847, when duke Charles de Choiseul-Praslin, killed his wife in her bedroom, but this did not happen at Vaux-le-Vicomte but at the Paris residence of the Duke.

In 1875, after thirty years of neglect, the estate was sold to Alfred Sommier in a public auction. The château was empty, some of the outbuildings had fallen into ruin, and the famous gardens were totally overgrown. The huge task of restoration and refurbishment began under the direction of the architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, assisted by the landscape architect Elie Lainé. When Sommier died in 1908, the château and the gardens had recovered their original appearance. His son, Edme Sommier, and his daughter-in-law completed the task. Today, his descendants continue to preserve the château, which remains privately owned by Patrice and Cristina de Vogüé, the Count and Countess de Vogüé. It is now administered by their three sons Alexandre, Jean-Charles and Ascanio de Vogüé. Recognized by the state as a monument historique, it is open to the public regularly.

Architecture

The chateau is situated near the northern end of a 1.5-km long north-south axis with the entrance front facing north. Its elevations are perfectly symmetrical to either side of this axis. Somewhat surprisingly the interior plan is also nearly completely symmetrical with few differences between the eastern and western halves. The two rooms in the center, the entrance vestibule to the north and the oval salon to the south, were originally an open-air loggia, dividing the chateau into two distinct sections. The interior decoration of these two rooms was therefore more typical of an outdoor setting. Three sets of three arches, those on the entrance front, three more between the vestibule and the salon, and the three leading from the salon to the garden are all aligned and permitted the arriving visitor to see through to the central axis of the garden even before entering the chateau. The exterior arches could be closed with iron gates, and only later were they filled in with glass doors and the interior arches with mirrored doors. Since the loggia divided the building into two halves, there are two symmetrical staircases on either side of it, rather than a single staircase. The rooms in the eastern half of the house were intended for the use of the king, those in the western were for Fouquet. The provision of a suite of rooms for the king was normal practice in aristocratic houses of the time, since the king travelled frequently.

Another surprising feature of the plan is the thickness of the main body of the building (corps de logis), which consists of two rows of rooms running east and west. Traditionally the middle of the corps de logis of French chateaux consisted of a single row of rooms. Double-thick corps de logis had already been used in hôtels particuliers in Paris, including Le Vau's Hôtel Tambonneau, but Vaux was the first chateau to incorporate this change. Even more unusual, the main rooms are all on the ground floor rather than the first floor (the traditional piano nobile). This accounts for the lack of a grand staircase or a gallery, standard elements of most contemporary chateaux. Also noteworthy are corridors in the basement and on the first floor which run the length of house providing privacy to the rooms they access. Up to the middle of the 17th century, corridors were essentially unknown. Another feature of the plan, the four pavilions, one at each corner of the building, is more conventional.

Vaux-le-Vicomte was originally planned to be constructed in brick and stone, but after the mid-century, as the middle classes began to imitate this style, aristocratic circles began using stone exclusively. Rather late in the design process, Fouquet and Le Vau switched to stone, a decision that may have been influenced by the use of stone at François Mansart's Château de Maisons. The service buildings flanking the large avant-cour to the north of the house remained in brick and stone, and other structures preceding them were in rubble-stone and plaster, a social ranking of building materials that would be common in France for a considerable length of time thereafter.

The main chateau is constructed entirely on a moated platform, reached via two bridges, both aligned with the central axis and placed on the north and south sides. The moat is a picturesque holdover from medieval fortified residences, and is again a feature that Le Vau may have borrowed from Maisons. The moat at Vaux may also have been inspired by the previous chateau on the site, which Le Vau's work replaced.

Gardens

The château rises on an elevated platform in the middle of the woods and marks the border between unequal spaces, each treated in a different way. This effect is more distinctive today, as the woodlands are mature, than it was in the seventeenth century when the site had been farmland, and the plantations were new.

Le Nôtre's garden was the dominant structure of the great complex, stretching nearly a mile and a half (3 km), with a balanced composition of water basins and canals contained in stone curbs, fountains, gravel walks, and patterned parterres that remains more coherent than the vast display Le Nôtre was to create at Versailles.

Le Nôtre created a magnificent scene to be viewed from the house, using the laws of perspective. Le Notre used the natural terrain to his advantage. He placed the canal at the lowest part of the complex, thus hiding it from the main perspectival point of view. Past the canal, the garden ascends a large open lawn and ends with the Hercules column added in the 19th century. Shrubberies provided a picture frame to the garden that also served as a stage for royal fêtes.

From the top of the grand staircase, this gives the impression that the entire garden is revealed in one single glance. Initially, the view consists of symmetrical rows of shrubbery, avenues, fountains, statues, flowers and other pieces developed to imitate nature – these elements exemplify the Baroque desire to mold nature to fit its wishes, thus using nature to imitate nature. The centerpiece is a large reflecting pool flanked by grottos holding statues in their many niches. The grand sloping lawn is not visible until one begins to explore the garden, when the viewer is made aware of the optical elements involved and discovers that the garden is much larger than it looks.