Visiting Ancient Sites in Europe - Italy, Greece, France

May 28, 2010

The remnants of the buildings, objects, roads of ancient times are so well preserved in parts of Europe that you can walk among them and imagine the real lives of people thousands of years ago. This is partly why the ruins in places such as Italy and Greece fascinate us. View our list of some of the best ancient sites to visit on your next trip to Europe.

Pompeii and Naples

Pompeii Street
Pompeii Street/Paul Vlaar

The volcano that struck the ancient city of Pompeii near Naples preserved in detail buildings and even bodies, offering a real glimpse into the lives of ancient people. To give yourself, enough time for visiting Pompeii, you might consider making a town in the Amalfi Coast and the Bay of Naples your base for a few days. You can then use the Circumvesuviana train to visit the ancient ruins. Or, visit the sites on a Pompeii tour departing from Rome.

Because the devastation at nearby Herculaneum was not nearly as complete as Pompeii, houses and furniture remained intact. It's also worth a visit.

While you're visiting Pomeii and Herculaneum, make a stop at Oplontis located in the town of Torre Annunziata, where Nero's second wife, Sabina Poppea, is believed to have had a villa. The villa is adorned with the original frescoes created during her time.

Beneath Naples a huge labyrinth of tunnels forms what used to be a city. This underground city, called Napoli Sotterranea dates from 5000 years. Tours, offered daily, take you through the maze of underground streets to learn about the people who built it.

South of Naples, three temples, dating from the first half of the 6th century BC, are the main features of the ancient Greek Paestum. Founded by the Greek, Paestum, originally known as Poseidonia, is about 2 hours from Naples.

Rome

Roman Forum, night
Roman Forum/Mr G

Rich in ancient ruins, Rome is constantly discovering new sites for excavation with hundreds of years of history built on top of them.

Most travelers start with tours of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. From there, over Palatine Hill and beyond brings you to the ruins of the Circus Maximus.

Crossing the Tiber river near the Vatican area you can visit the ominous Castel Sant' Angelo, built as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian. It also served as an escape corridor for Popes during times of trouble.

The Baths of Diocletian near the Termini Train Station were the largest public baths in ancient Rome, first established in 306 AD. The complex was so well preserved that parts of it were converted into churches and other uses, namely the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri and the Museo Nazionale Romano.

Near Rome

Right outside Rome, the ancient road, the Appian Way, is still in existence after 2000 years. Visits to the Appian Way are often paired with a stop at the Catacombs, the early Christian burial sites.

Continuing along the Appian Way will show you several stretches of Roman ingenuity, the aqueducts that served ancient Rome.

About 2 hours north is a jaw-dropping example of ancient aqueduct construction, the Ponte delle due Torri in Spoleto. This 754-foot bridge lined with 10 arches, stands 262 feet above the Tessino River. Historians have not yet come to consensus on whether or not it is Roman. Still, it's spectacular.

Closer to Rome, by train, is ancient Roman city of Ostia Antica. The town, which used to be on the banks of the Tiber River, was the old port of Rome. Its buildings are well intact and worth a visit.

Sicily

Along the southern Sicilian coast is the town of Agrigento with five well-preserved Greek temples dating to the fifth century BC. This ancient Greek city, formerly known as Akragas, is accessible by train from Palermo taking about 1.5 hours.

Greece

Delphi, an UNESCO World Heritage, site is famous for being the site of the oracle of the god Apollo as well as for its ancient theater and ancient ruins.

The most famous of the ancient Greek sites, Acropolis, features the Parthenon, the largest temple on the Acropolis, Temple of Athena Nike among other ruins.

In the small village of Epidaurus is the Peloponnesian theatre, one of the best preserved classical Greek buildings still today holds performances of the annual Greek Festival.

France

Farther north, France has its share of ancient ruins as well, many in the Provence region. Le Pont du Gard, is a massive Roman aqueduct on the UNESCO World Heritage List that at one time supplied water to the Roman city of Nimes.

In Nimes, the ancient amphitheater accomodated crowds of 20,000 spectators. It is still used today for cultural events. Also in Nimes, Maison Carrée (Square House), surrounded by 30 Corinthians columns, has a flourish of altars and mosaics, as well as the statue Venus of Nimes. It's easy to combine all of these in a tour of the Roman sites in Nimes.

Arles, also in Provence, was once a thriving city in ancient times. Its ancient Theatre Antique and Forum still stand today.

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