Enter ancient Greece at Mycenae

Greece is famous for its rich amount of archeological sites. Building in the country is almost impossible due to the abundance of history hidden underneath Greek soil. As a result, even the smallest towns have archeological sites or museums. Most of these sites are fields, covered with ancient foundations and restored columns. The most famous sites might have a building that survived time, like the Parthenon in the Acropolis or the theatre at Epidaurus. At the ancient city of Mycenae, however, you can actually touch and enter the structures built thousands of years ago. This archeological site is a truly unique experience.

Argolis, Peloponnese

Archeological site

1.5 – 2 hours

€6,- to €12,-
seasonal

Be careful

Yes

Location

Mycenae lies in the North of the Peloponnese peninsula, in the Argolis region. The ancient site is just 1 hour and 40 minutes away from Athens Airport by car, and the first famous archeological site you find when entering the Peloponnese.

The location of the ancient city is impressive. On top of a hill, overlooking the sea in the south, and de fields and mountains all around.

Mythology

Mycenae is an ancient city on top of a hill built from giant rocks. It seems almost impossible that human hands constructed this city so long ago. So, Greek mythology came up with an explanation.

According to mythology, Zeus and Danae (the daughter of the king of Argos, a city close by) had a son, Perseus. He wandered around the area that is now Mycenae and either dropped his cap or found a mushroom. A cap, as well as a mushroom are myces in the ancient Greek language. So we can not know which of the two Perseus was about to pick up. But when Perseus picked up his myces, he found a water spring. He decided to settle right there and called his city Mycenae.

Perseus wanted to fortify the city he was now king of and called the cyclopes. These one-eyed giants were strong enough to pick up large and heavy stones with ease. They created fortification walls that mark the outline of Mycenae till today. The Cyclopean walls, named after their builders.

History

Mycenae is over nine thousand years old. The first signs of human life in the area date back to the Early Neolithic Age in the 7th century B.C. However, not much of the early Mycenae survived through time, and the archeological site mostly tells the story of the city’s prime time.

Between 1350 and 1200 B.C., Mycenae was a major center of Greek civilization. The city expanded rapidly to a population of 300,000. Many buildings in the citadel were rebuilt, and the fortification walls were constructed. The Lion Gate, the tholos tombs, and the palace, for example, all originate in this time in ancient Greece. Unfortunately, because of this, not much of Mycenae before this time survived. 

After 1200 B.C., Mycenae lost its status as the center of power. The site got destroyed for an unknown reason. The citadel was partly rebuilt later but caught fire and then was slowly abandoned. The ruins of ancient Mycenae have been a tourist attraction since Roman times and have remained popular till today. The site has been on the list of UNESCO world heritage since 1999.

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The archeological site of Mycenae

The archeological site of ancient Mycenae is one of the oldest in Greece. Eight hundred years older than the Acropolis and constructed two thousand years before the close by site of Mystras. However, the site is well preserved. A visit to Mycenae is like a visit to ancient Greece.

I have never felt more connected with history than during my visit to Mykines. There are ancient streets you can walk on, structures you can enter, spaces you can experience, and walls you can touch. At the site, there is a concrete path you can follow. This path leads you to all the impressive structures of the old city. I would recommend first entering the citadel and visiting the tombs at the beginning of the site afterward.

The Lion Gate

The most famous and first structure at Mycenae is the Lion Gate. This gate marks the entrance to the city in an impressive 3-meter (10 feet) tall wall. 

The reason behind the gate’s name is above the passage. There is a large, triangular, limestone slab with the image of two confronted lionesses. Although the heads are missing, the image in the stone is still clear and detailed. But more impressively, the lionesses are not just there for ornamentation. The limestone’s triangular shape gives stability to the giant rocks in the wall above the entrance. Without this stone, the gate would collapse.

Nature and History

After passing through the Lion Gate, you have entered the citadel. From the gate, a concrete path marks the route around the city. Along grave circle A, the palace, temples, and many other buildings. 

Cyclopean walls, constructed for fortification, enclose the entire citadel. From these walls, the view of the surrounding landscape is breathtaking and reveals how well-positioned this ancient city used to be. At a both strategic and defensive location in the area. You will be continuously drawn between being amazed by the ancient structures, to being astonished by the magnificent views.

The underground cistern

At the most eastern point of the archeological site, you can find a rare experience, the underground cistern. Although its entrance looks like a cave in the fortification wall, it is actually the beginning of a spectacular piece of architecture.

The cave marks the entrance of a passage. This passage is a staircase that leads 18 meters deep and at the end of this staircase, there is an even deeper structure. A well, made of clay, collects water from a natural spring. This well used to provide a continuous supply of water to the citadel, and is one of the oldest underground aqueducts you can visit in Greece.

Unfortunately, only a part of the tunnel is open to the public. However, this is enough to reveal how advanced and intelligent the Mycenaen civilization used to be. You can enter the tunnel, descend part of the stairs and see how deep down the staircase reaches. However, even the giant stones that enclose the stairs in an arc-like shape, are an art piece by themselves.

The tholos tombs

After visiting the ancient city of Mycenae, you can enter grave circle B. Located just outside of the city’s wall, the tombs of Aegisthus and Clymentemnesta are worth the climb down the steep hillside.

The tombs are called the tholos tombs. Tholo in Greek means dome, which perfectly describes the shape of the tombs as they are large underground domes, or beehive tombs in English. But how were these impressive underground shapes created?

First, the Greeks make a large round opening into a hill. Inside this opening, they placed huge stones in circular rows, on top of each other. Each row sticks out slightly over the previous one, to decrease the diameter of the circle of stones gradually. They continue this process upward, until the circle’s diameter is as small as a singular stone. This is the top of the dome.

After the Greeks completed the dome shaped-structure, they restored the hill, by adding soil on top of the tomb. The dome shape of the structure made it survive underground. The tomb of Clymentemnesta proves the strength of the dome design. When a theatre was built on top of it at later times, the structure was able to hold the weight.

The entrance to the tombs is a wide path leading into the otherwise hidden dome. This path is called the dromos in Greek. This dromos leads to the tomb’s entrance, marked by a gate, constructed similar to the Lion Gate. 

The tomb of Aegisthus is destroyed at the top. However, the tomb of Clymentemnesta is fully preserved and impressive. The scale of the tombs at Mycenae is unbelievable, and the acoustics inside adds to their size. They are real masterpieces of ancient Greek architecture.

Tips:

  • The whole site, except for the tombs, is accessible by wheelchair. However, the concrete path is very steep at some points, so keep this in mind.
  • Visit the site in the order described above. You will go from being amazed to being more amazed, and being beyond amazed!
  • Bring plenty of water and sunscreen when you visit the archeological site of Mycenae during the summer months. The location, on top of a hill, requires quite a hike, and shading is scarce at the citadel. Therefore, it is better to visit off-season. This period will also show a clearer view of the landscape around.
  • Don’t forget to visit the museum and the tomb of Agamemnon. The museum is located slightly downhill, on the North of ancient Mycenea. You can find the tomb on the road down to the village of Mykines.
  • Combine a visit to Mycenae with Epidaurus, Nafplio, the Sunken City, the Dolines of Didyma, or any of the beaches close by.
  • You will have to pay entrance to enter Mycenae. A ticket costs €12,- from April to October. Off-season and for children, the price is €6,-. There is another ticket available that is valid for three days and combines Mycenae with other museums and ancient sites in the area. This ticket costs €20,-.
  • Mycenea is open from 8 AM to 8 PM during the summer months. When traveling outside this season, you should check the opening hours before your visit since they change each month.

Experience the ancient theatre of Epidaurus

In the north of Peloponnese, close to Nafplion and just 2 hours away from Athens, lies the ancient city of Epidaurus. Epidaurus was a small city established in the sixth century B.C. Today, it is a big tourist attraction due to the most well-preserved ancient theatre. The site is on the list of UNESCO world heritage and is famous for its acoustics. Epidaurus is known as the most impressive ancient theatre in the world. But what is the true experience of visiting this place?

Argolis, Peloponnese

Archeological site

1 hour

€6 – 12,-
depending on age and time

Yes

Yes

History

The city of Epidaurus was not like the average ancient city. Since the sixth century B.C., it is known as the healing center of the classical world. Ill people from all over Greece would come here to visit the Sanctuary of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing. Treatment would involve a cleansing diet and healing through dreams. But there are also records from performed surgeries and the use of medication.

The ancient theatre of Epidaurus was created as a part of the healing practice. It was believed that the observation of dramatic shows could increase not only mental but also physical health. The original theatre was completed in the fourth century B.C. with 34 rows. Later, in roman times (2nd century B.C.), 21 more rows were added. The complete theatre provides space for about 14.000 spectators.

Architecture

The theatre of Epidavros is an architectural masterpiece designed by the architect Polykleitos. It is built as part of the Cynortion mountain and looks over the lush landscape below. Impressive and giant gates mark the entrance on both sides of the theatre.

The gate at the entrance of the theatre, against the high walls that surround the theater’s koilon or cavea.

From the entrance, you first see the perfectly circular stage, the orchestra, with a width of about 25 meters. The center of the stage is the center of the entire theatre. This spot is marked by a small circular stone, the thymele or altar. This is the stone on which the actor in ancient Greek times would stand to reach all the spectators with his voice.

Around the stage are the 55 rows of seats, the koilon or cavea. With a radius of 60 meters and at a 26-degree incline, these rows make the theatre most impressive. The scale and the height, the perfect symmetry, and the excellent preservation. The theatre of Epidaurus is one of the few places that make you understand the scale of ancient Greek society.

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Theatre experience

The instructions for visiting the theatre of Epidaurus are clear. You leave your travel partner on the circular stone plate in the middle of the stage while you start to climb up. After approximately 110 steps, you sit down on the highest row. When your friend below speaks, and you can hear every word.

In reality, however, I was not surprised when I tried to communicate with my boyfriend on stage. I could vaguely hear some of his words, but my ears mostly caught the sound of crickets around. How could it be that I was finally at this famous architectural masterpiece, and all I felt was disappointment? Was the whole story about the theatre just a way to lure tourists?

Aggrieved, I climbed down the stairs and sat in a row halfway in the theatre. When putting my phone back in my pocket, I heard a coin drop. Where did my money fall? I searched around but couldn’t see it. Another coin drops. What is happening? How can I be losing money I did not know I had with me?

Confused, I looked at the stage. And at this moment I realized just how special the theatre actually is. A man, standing in the middle of the stage, was dropping his coins. The sound started 40 meters away, but according to my ears, it sounded right next to me. That’s impressive acoustics!

The truth about the acoustics

What they often forget to tell about the theatre is how the material contributes to the acoustics. The theatre’s benches are made of limestone, except for the first marble rows for special guests. Limestone has the ability to filter out low-frequency sound and amplify high-frequency. With this material, the noise of the crowd is absorbed while the higher tones from the stage travel from bench to bench, to reach even the spectators in the highest rows.

This is why my boyfriend was surprised when I spoke to him from the stage, but reversed, the acoustics failed. His, and many other men’s voices, are too low to be amplified. So when you plan on visiting Epidaurus with a male travel partner, remember to use a coin!

The limestone benches and the theatre of Epidaurus

How did the theatre work in ancient times?

The material’s acoustics made me wonder. Did men plan in ancient Greek theatres? Or was it just women and boys before the age of puberty? Or is it the aging of the limestone that changed the acoustic aspects of the material?

No. 

The limestone properties did not change. And strangely, ancient Greek actors were men. One man, actually, during the time of the completion of Epidaurus. And although the number of men on stage changed over time, actresses were never allowed on an ancient Greek stage.

However, this one man used costumes and masks to define the different roles he played. And it is these masks that are the key to good acoustics. Ancient Greek masks both amplify the actor’s voice and change its acoustical qualities. It was the mask that helped the actor’s voice to work together with the limestone material and travel through the entire theatre. Amazing!

Tips:

  • Attend a theatre at the summer festival of Epidaurus. For a unique experience, Epidaurus offers ancient theatre plays, performed at the ancient theatre during the summer months. After sunset, you can watch a play from the same spot the Greeks used to sit thousands of years ago. For more information and tickets, check https://aefestival.gr.
  • Combine with a visit to the museum and the rest of the site. At Epidaurus, not only the theatre is well-preserved. Instead, the whole site provides a unique look into ancient times. 
  • Epidaurus is close to Mycenae, another UNESCO world heritage site. Mycenae is famous for its lion’s gate and well-preserved tombs.
  • When visiting during summer, the temperatures at Epidaurus might ask for a refreshing swim afterward. At Palaia Epidaurus, a picturesque town on the coast, 15 km away from the ancient site, you can find the sunken city of Epidaurus. Here, you can swim around the ruins of an ancient villa, a rare and exciting experience. Don’t forget to bring water shoes and snorkeling or diving gear.
  • The site of Epidaurus is well accessible for people with a disability. Paths are paved or asphalt. However, the theatre and the paths between the ruins are not.
  • Bring water, sunblock, and a hat. Not unlike anywhere else in Greece, temperatures in summer can rise to 40 degrees Celsius. Be prepared and protect yourself. Drink lots of water while you explore the ancient site.

Frequently asked questions

How to reach the ancient theatre of Epidaurus?

The ancient theatre of Epidaurus is easiest to reach by (rental) car from Athens in about two hours. For tourists, there are also many organized day tours to the site from Athens and other towns around. However, when joining these tours in summer, be prepared for high temperatures since you will reach in the middle of the day.

Do I have to pay an entry fee at Epidaurus?

Yes. A ticket for the ancient site of Epidaurus, the theatre, and the museum costs 12 euros per adult and 6 euros for children in summer. From November till March, tickets are half-price. There are a couple of days each year on which entry is free. Examples are the 18th of April, International Monuments Day, and the 18th of May, International Museums Day.

What are the opening hours of the theatre of Epidaurus?

In general, the site is open when the sun is up. From 8 am to 8pm in the summer months, and from 8 am till 5 pm during the winter. In April, September, and October it is best to check the opening hours before your visit. During holidays the site is either closed or has adjusted opening hours.

What is the best way to experience the acoustics of the ancient theatre of Epidaurus?

Drop a coin in the middle of the stage, and check how many people start looking around for money. Many guides tell you to speak from the center point of the theatre, but the best and most impressive experience is dropping a coin. You can literally hear a pin drop at all the 14.000 seats. 

The many abandoned and unfinished buildings in Greece

During your stay in Greece, you might be surprised by the many empty or half-finished buildings you come across. You find them in cities, towns, villages, and even remote areas. They are everywhere, and as an architect, I wanted to understand the reason behind them. After talking with many Greek citizens and homeowners I created a list of the most common reasons for abandoned and unfinished buildings in Greece.

Economic crisis

Let’s start with the simplest reason for the amount of abandoned and unfinished structures throughout Greece. The economic crisis in 2008. The downfall in economics hit Greece hard after the start of an economic burst just 8 years before. People had loans to either build their house or own one when all of a sudden they could not afford their mortgage anymore.

These people lost their houses or had to leave their ongoing construction projects and since the crisis hit the whole country, the government could not sell the empty houses to anyone else, leaving many abandoned and unfinished buildings in Greece.

Building is a life-long project

Ownership of property is very important in Greek culture. It is the symbol of wealth for a family. But where people from other countries precisely plan and budget their future house before taking on the construction of it, the Greeks have a slightly different approach.

Greeks will start building their house, even if they know they do not have enough funds to complete it. They are super optimistic, or naive maybe, hoping that money will show up at one point. But it can take up to a whole generation before even completing the first floor.

They basically start building as soon as they have their land. And stop when money is finished. There can be 10 years between building the walls and putting in the windows. And of course, the economic crisis only made this worse. Siga, Siga.

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Claiming the land as yours

In Greece, ownership of land is something not well registered. In fact, only since 2019, you are obliged to register your property or plot with the National Cadastre of Greece and even today this system is not fully functioning. Records about ownership get lost, and therefore you basically have to physically claim your land as yours.

When a Greek finds a plot, perfect for his or her future house. Buying it and then leaving it empty for years could result in losing the land as well as the money it cost to buy. To avoid this, the Greeks build frames for future houses. This structure can be owned while you barely have to pay taxes.

Building rules change continuously

Another benefit of putting up the structure of the house before actually building it is the fact that you’ll later be able to build the size of house you wanted in the first place.

Building regulations change quickly in Greece, as a counter-act on basically everything described before. When you buy land in Greece today, wanting to build a mansion in thirty years, there is a chance you might not be able to build more than a shed. However, if the structure already exists and has the size of a mansion, your volume is safe. No matter what rules will come in the future, they will not be able to decrease the size of your property.

But the structure is not only put up to avoid rules that will come in the future. The Greeks even try to avoid the rules that are existing today. Only in Greece, it is possible to buy land on which you can not build a house, and legally build a house afterward.

What happens, in this case, is that the structure of the house is built. Then, the Greeks go to the municipality, saying that since they already built this structure, it should be legal to build a house. Often, the municipality decides to make it legal to build and hands out a building permit. But when they don’t, you have an extra abandoned unfinished structure. And of course, the Greeks blame the government for this.

Read more about illegal buildings in Greece here, where a political engineer advertises to make money by legalizing illegal buildings or building parts. According to him, ” all the buildings that were built in the previous years – and I mean all!!- have some type of arbitrary building.”

Family inheritance

The final reason for the number of abandoned buildings in Greece is heritage. As I said before, homeownership is important in Greek culture. And because of this, a house is not really a tradable thing for the Greeks. It is a family legacy.

This made sense until the second world war, when most of the Greeks lived in the villages, in their family legacies. But things started changing after the 50’s. When the economy started growing, the Greeks started moving toward the cities, driven by work and money. The generation after moved even further away, this generation spread out over Europe and the US in search of a better life. However, they still own their family houses in the villages.

The Greeks today don’t use the family house anymore, but still recognize the value this house has to the family. They don’t want to sell, they want to own. And to make things more complicated, many of the houses are not owned by one person but instead by the whole family.

Selling the family house means agreeing with the whole Greek family. And trust me, there will always be someone who will not agree. Even if the whole family knows they will not live in the house, they will not find an agreement on selling it. Maybe they will use it to celebrate Easter together once a year, just to have a reason to keep it.

Myths, culture, and future

Tax evasion

There are many stories about the Greeks not finishing their houses to avoid taxes. However, nowadays this is more than a myth than it is reality. Years ago, there was a rule in Greece that when you would not finish your house, you would pay fewer taxes. And as a result, many Greeks just left a little part of their house unfinished, to avoid a higher (or normal) tax rate. However, this rule does not exist anymore and has not for a long time. The only way to avoid a higher tax is for buildings that are unfinished, uninhabited, never been inhabited, and are not connected to electricity.

Perception & culture

As a Dutch architect who knows Greece, I believe it is not just the structures that are actually unfinished that I perceive as such. Yes, there are quite a few abandoned and unfinished buildings in Greece, but I think that cultural differences play a big part here as well. It happened often to me that I thought a building was either abandoned or unfinished while it turned out to be a family home.

Greece doesn’t know a municipal beauty committee, nor do the Greeks actually follow the rules of building. Making the cities look a bit like a mess. Besides, the Greeks are very practical. They want to be able to easily add an extension or extra floor to their house, or they leave the ground floor completely open so they can park cars between the concrete columns. They care about function more than about design and this might cause some confusion.

Future

Walking through a Greek city today, you can see that the Greeks started doing something about the many abandoned buildings. Renovation starts to become popular, especially in the big cities, so hopefully soon the number of abandoned and unfinished buildings in Greece will become something from the past.

Read more about buildings in Greece

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Building amongst archeological sites

Around 50 years ago, Thessaloniki decided to do something about the endless traffic jams in the city. The idea was a metro, connecting the rectangular-shaped city center underground. Today, however, not one station opened. Why? Because building amongst archeological sites is nearly impossible.

The tunnel for Thessaloniki’s metro resulted in the largest archeological dig in northern Greece. While construction of the metro quickly came to a stop, 300 archeologists had 20 square kilometers of Byzantine structures to be unearthed. With over 10 years of delay, the metro is still not functional today, but archeologists found a real treasure.

Although I fully agree that the archeological findings in Greece are valuable and do need to be preserved. I want to show you a different side of this story. Because while living in a country with ancient stones in every back garden might sound romantic to you. It is actually not as great as it seems. Building amongst archeological sites actually causes big problems all throughout Greece.

As soon as construction starts, it stops

Whenever someone wants to build something, somewhere in Greece, there is one main rule he or she has to follow. Stop when there is a sign of any kind of old object in the ground.

But imagine that you bought a piece of land in your favorite region in Greece. The plans for your dream house are ready, construction starts with digging for the foundation, and then… it stops. Either you will have months or even years of delay. Or archeologists will tell you after this time that you can forget all about your dream house. You instead bought yourself an archeological site. Yay..?

The same thing can happen even when you inherit the family house. Maybe the foundation needs to be strengthened or maybe you want to make an extension to fit the whole family. Well even if the house and garden have been in family for years, chances are big that you as well, will stumble upon some artifact that either leaves you with an unhabitable house or a big delay.

It is too expensive to build

During countless construction projects in Greece, both big and small, something valuable is found. Resulting in delays, higher costs, or loss of invested money. The Thessaloniki metro, for example, went from a budget of 1.1 billion euros to costing over 3.5 billion. With an additional 132 million euros spent on archeology, of which the budget was just 15 million. But where this project was able to continue because of funding, many Greeks are not able to pay 3x more as planned for a simple house.

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Do they stop at every stone?

As a result, many building sites are left abandoned and unfinished. And although ancient ruins are not the main reason for the abandoned structures, it is one that seems so surreal to me.

I can imagine the frustration of developers when again an ancient wall is found by a bulldozer. I wonder if they would really stop at every single stone or just throw away a few to speed up the process. It is not easy, building amongst archeological sites when they are litteraly everywhere.

It reminds me of the projects I worked on in Germany, where it is very common to have either a bomb or a bunker underneath your plot. A different kind of history but one that prevents architectural growth as much as the ancient ruins in Greece do. Funny.

The old, the empty, and the ugly. The story behind architecture in Greek cities.

The Greeks are famous for their architecture, they even invented this type of art. Look at the Parthenon, the temple of Apollo, or the theatre in Philippi. All amazing architecture, and all on the list of UNESCO world heritage sites today. But also on the islands, the architecture resembles an art. The idyllic villages with narrow stone streets. Surrounded by white walls, and blue roofs that match the color of the sky. The Greeks knew what they were doing, but what happened with architecture in modern Greek cities?

A quick history of Greek Architecture

Architecture was born in Greece almost three millennia ago. The White House, amongst so many other political buildings, is inspired by Ancient Greece architecture. But even more important, the Greeks invented the elements that are needed to turn a structure into a piece of art. Which became, and remained, the base of architecture as we know it today, all around the world.

After Ancient Greece, architecture continued to evolve in the land that is now Greece. With influences from the Byzantines, the Venetians, and the Ottomans, many cities became a combination of beautiful churches, mosques, and castles. But unfortunately, history does not end there. After the Second World War, the country was in ruins. And when years later Greece was finally in an economic situation to rebuild. The country seemed to have forgotten about architecture.

Rapid expansion after the war

In the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s the economy in Greece was booming. Many people left their houses in the villages and moved to the cities to work. Quickly, more houses were needed and they needed to be built fast. So instead of letting architects and urban planners design the cities and housing, an enormous amount of apartment buildings were built and designed by engineers. Paid by whoever had the money to make such an investment.

There was no “beauty committee” from the municipality. Neither did the Greeks follow the rules that were there. The reconstruction after the war resulted in a loss of architecture in Greek cities. Everyone could, or just did, build whatever they wanted. What they wanted was the same as what any investor wants. Investing the least amount of money to earn the most of it later.

As a result, the cities became packed with six-story high concrete apartment blocks, leaving no space for parks or proper pavements for pedestrians to walk on.

Lack of maintenance

Although these apartment blocks were ugly from the start, the Greeks did not really take care of their buildings either. The investors knew that there was a shortage in housing so they did not feel the need to maintain their buildings. And since many of the Greeks rented their apartment, they did not care for it either, for the outside at least. A Greek interior is always clean and tidy, but on the outside, paint is falling off, windows are broken and graffiti is covering the facade on the first floor.

In the ’90s Greece became a part of the European Union and with this came money. The Greeks were rich again and ready to invest in more housing. As a Dutch, I would say great! Time to get rid of the now-abandoned concrete blocks and make our cities great again. But unfortunately, this is not what the real Greeks wanted to do with their money.

The old, the ugly, and the empty

Why invest money in someone else’s leftovers if you can build something that is completely your own? While the ugly buildings from after the war were falling apart, more concrete was put in the city by engineers. Until the crisis hit Greece in 2008.

After 2008, not only were many buildings left unfinished, many companies, as well as people, lost their houses. I stayed last February in a hotel in the city center of Thessaloniki. On the corner in front of the hotel I stayed in, there was one abandoned building, one unfinished structure, and one apartment building with only a few residents almost falling apart.

It makes an interesting scenery. All those years of history in architecture in Greek cities, combined with the complete lack of it in modern times. Every time I visit a Greek city the architect in me imagines the potential of all the beautiful old empty buildings. As well as parks and skyscrapers in the places now occupied by the concrete, earthquake-proof engineer blocks. But will Greece ever make her cities beautiful again?

Much more than a beach. Paralia Mikro Fanaraki

In the East of the island of Lemnos, there is a small beach called Fanaraki. A small lantern. Probably named after the little lighthouse on the rocks in the sea a bit more west. The beach itself is micro, small. But there is so much to see and do around that it deserves a visit during your stay on the island.

Beach & Sea

Because the beach is almost completely enclosed, the sea will be clear, blue, and smooth, almost every day. A sea-like oil is what the real Greeks would say. The water is shallow making it the ideal beach for families with younger children. And with the whole beach being surrounded by white rocks, it feels like you enter a paradise.

But there is so much more on this beach!

The rocks in mikro Fanaraki – by google’s local host Apostolos Petalotis

Rocks

Swimming a little bit to the left coming from the beach, there are some small rocks in the water that make for a perfect playground. The rocks here are easy to walk on, steady, and go into the water like a ramp. Amazing for older kids to play on but even better for couples or adults that want some peace.

Since the beach of mikro fanaraki itself is pretty small and busy, these rocks make the perfect place to enjoy the beauty of this area. You can pick your own spot, away from other people. Spend some time enjoying the scenery, cooling off with a swim in the crystal clear water.

little blue clear bay with white cliffs and green
Abandoned estate in the cliff close to mikro Fanaraki in Lemnos.
Almost invisible between the surrounding nature.

Abandoned estate on the cliff

Following the rocks, you will end up at a small bay with its own little sand beach. This beach was once owned by a rich man, who build an estate in the cliff above. After building, the man was forced to leave because of economic reasons. And now the beach, as well as the property, are abandoned and open for a visit.

First I have to say, as an architect, the house is an amazing design. From the sea it is nearly impossible to distinguish the house from the cliff it is built on. The color of the stones matches perfectly with the rocks around and the greenery in front makes it part of nature. Just the big round window in the front of the house reveal’s its presence. It is not often in Greece that villas are so polite to the nature they’re built in.

Coming back to the beach below. From here you can take a path with stairs up to the house that is part of a giant abandoned estate. Walk around but definitely take the paved walkway all along the cliffs. The view is marvelous and it is easy to walk. This path will eventually take you back to the mikro fanaraki beach.

Seal’s cave

Seal’s cave – by google’s local host Lucian Bagia

Coming back to the beach, there is one more thing you should do, swimming to the right side. Or go for a hike, whatever you prefer! Seal’s cave is a place with beautiful stone structures where you can swim through. The stone’s here are volcanic, meaning that many have beautiful colors and textures. Although the water in the caves can get a bit dirty and it smells like sulfide, the cave is a beautiful creation of nature.

Tips:

  • Mikro fanaraki is one of the most popular beaches on Lemnos and in summer it can get very crowded. Come early in the day or late in the afternoons to have a more peaceful experience. Or leave the beach itself and find a spot around on the cliffs in the afternoon.
  • There is quite a big parking near the road. From here you walk down to the beach through the sand, making it difficult for disabled people to get there.
  • The sunbeds on the beach are owned by the beach bar here and using one means buying something to eat or to drink from here. They are slightly overpriced. But we had just two coffees and spend the whole afternoon exploring the area. Meaning it was worth the price.
  • If you visit the beach at the end of the day. Move to paralia fanaraki (the beach on the other side) to watch the sunset. This is super beautiful because you will see the sun go down behind the mountains of the western part of the island.

Did you see the abandoned house in the picture? Or do you know another beach house that truly blends in with it’s surroundings? Let me know in the comments below.