For cultivated Romans, Greece was the ultimate culture tripan
unforgettable vision of the Old World, sprinkled with olive groves and bathed in summer
light. As the very wellspring of civilization, every inch of Hellenic soil was
steeped in history and myth: Ancient tourists sought out the hallowed glades
where the Gods had romped and legendary heroes, from Hercules to Ulysses and
Agamamnon, once fought. The dry, craggy mountains above were riddled with
sacred grottoes, the playgrounds of nymphs and sprites; Greek temples were full of
wondrous relics; while Arcadian villages still practiced religious rites that
could be traced back to the Homeric age. Today, Greece's allure is still
potent. In fact, Roman travelers would have sympathized with the author Henry
Miller who visited in 1939: "Greece is what everybody knows," he raved. "Even
as a child or an idiot or a not-yet-born. It breathes, it beckons, it answers."
Modern ferries still ply the ancient merchant route from Brindisi in Italy through Greece's Gulf of Corinth.
View from a hotel rooftop in Athens to the Acropolis. For the Romans, this sacred summit was one of the great "must-sees" of the entire Empire; in ancient times, it was crowded with statues, shrines and temples, including a giant statue of the goddess Athena, whose polished bronze spear and helmet sparkled in the Aegean sun.
Ethereal Delphi: the shape of the classical Greek amphitheater blends with the natural arena. In the Temple of Apollo, a priestess would inhale sacred gasses and babble oracular prophecies. The popular site was also one of the great tourist traps of antiquity: Mystagogi, freelance tour guides, would harass tourists from every side, prattling their spiels, while visitors tried to concentrate on the sculptures and paintings.
Remnants of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, where the sacred Olympic Games were held every four years. The event would lure 40,000 spectators from around the Mediterranean, who would camp out around the temple in conditions as unsanitary as a badly planned rock concert today. See The Naked Olympics: the True Story of the Ancient Games.
Mist drifts through the Lousios Gorge in Arcadia. This wild and remote part of Greece was the mythic prototype for the earthly paradise, haunted by the god Pan and his sprites. These original Arcadians of Greek myth were lusty primitives, dressed in goatskins and lashed by rains (Pan himself apparently masturbated constantly); it was Roman poets who civilized the image, creating a tamer vision of Arcadia as a gentle, manicured garden.
One of the last undeveloped beaches in Greece still lies on the west coast of the Peloponnesus, near "sandy Pylos"in Homer, ruled over by the wise King Nestor.
The so-called "Mask of Agamemnon," unearthed by the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann at Mycenae in 1876. Schliemann used the second century AD tourist guide, Description of Greecewritten by a dotty scholar named Pausanias for erudite Roman touristsas his key to exploring the forgotten site.
Statue of King Leonidas, the hero of Thermopolyae, in Sparta today. Roman tourists loved to visit "warlike Sparta" for its macho ritualsincluding one brutal festival where youths were driven through the streets by men with sticks and whips, rather like the annual "running of the bulls" in modern Pamplona.