Archeological sites in Northern Greece top 7 places to visit

March 30, 2024

Greece is paradise for archeology and history lovers. Discovering of cultural heritage is important part of Greek tourism. Majority of tourists coming to Greece are interested in beautiful beaches but there is so much more to see beside all shades of blue. There are hundreds of archeological sites that are yet to be discovered by tourists. Everybody knows about Acropolis, Sparta and Olympia in Peloponnese. Well known and visited sites are in southern parts of Greece, but there are so much to see in northern Greece, especially in Central and Eastern Macedonia. You can reveal leyers and leyers of history in archeological sites such as Olynthus and Philippi. This is list of top 7 places that you have to visit in northern Greece if you are interested in cultural tourism and you love antique history:

1. Toroni

Ancient Toroni was one of the biggest and wealthiest towns of Halkidiki. Its location is described by Thucydides, along with the siege of Likithos (the small and steep rocky peninsula on the south end of the beach, which was part of the walls of Ancient Toroni) by the Spartans during the Peloponnesian War. During the years of the Roman Occupation and the Byzantine Era, the walls of the town were reinforced to protect it from sea and land. They were built with the construction material that had been left from the ancient acropolis. Migrants from Evia inhabited Toroni in the 8th century BC. The town joined the Athenian Alliance, until the Spartans conquered it. King Philip II of Macedonia conquered the town in 348 BC while in 168BC the region fell to the Romans. You can read more about this archeological site on official website of Visit Halkidiki.

Archeological site of Toroni – Halkidiki

2. Philippi

Philippi – major archeological site in Eastern Macedonia was one of the most important cities in this part of Greece in antiquity. During Roman times this city was place of one of the biggest battle – during civil war between forces of Octavian and Marcus Aurelius on one side and Casius and Brutus on another, with more then 200.000 soldiers. Its original name was Crenides. The city was renamed by Philip II of Macedonia in 356 BC and abandoned in the 14th century after the Ottoman conquest. The present village of Filippoi is located near the ruins of the ancient city and is part of the region of East Macedonia and Thrace. The archaeological site was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016 because of its exceptional Roman architecture, its urban layout as a smaller reflection of Rome itself, and its importance in early Christianity.

Philippi – ancient city in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace

3. Olynthos

Ancient Olynthos was one of the most important cities of Halkidiki and northern Greece. The accuracy of the city plan of Olynthos helps us understand how the Ippodamio city planning system was applied. Although the ruins are remarkable, the findings of the excavations are exhibited at the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki and Polygyros. The area was constantly inhabited since the Neolithic Age. According to mythology, the town was built by the brother of Olynthos, the son of the mythic King of Thrace, Strymonas. Olynthos was killed by a lion and his brother built the town to honour his brother’s name. However, the linguists insist that olynthos is the name of the wild fig tree, which is in abundance in the area, and the town was named after it.

Mosaics in ancient Olynthos

Around 650 BC refugees from Pieria, hunted by the Macedonian army, settled in the area. The Persian army destroyed the town in 479 BC and offered the region to their allies from Evia (Halkida). Later on, Olynthos joined the Athenian Alliance and then the Community of Halkida (Evia). From this alliance, the town gained great profits (mainly financial). So, it became the capital of the Euboan colonies in Halkidiki and was able to support a huge army (about 20.000 soldiers). During the Peloponnesian War the area grew more, had its own monetary unit and provided protection to all the Euboan refugees in Greece. When the Macedonian State faded, the army of Olynthos conquered its territories and reached the ancient town of Pella (389 BC). In 382 BC, after a three-year-long siege, the Spartans captured the town and destroyed the Euboan Community. Nevertheless, the town quickly recovered and became wealthy and powerful again. In 348 BC the Macedonian Army, under the command of Philip II, conquered it and destroyed it. The town was never again inhabited and its destruction is remembered as one of the darkest moments of the entire ancient world. You can read more about this amazing archeological site on Visit Halkidiki website.

Ancient Olynthos city plan and streets

4. Stagira

Ancient Stagira is known for being the birthplace of Aristotle, the greatest philosopher of ancient times and the tutor of Alexander the Great. The city was founded in ca. 655 B.C. by colonists from the island of Andros. Down to the Persian Wars, Stagira was a free, independent and prosperous city. After the Persians retreated, it became an ally both to the Athenians and later to the Spartans until the city was occupied by king Philip II of Macedon in 349 B.C. A few years after the destruction, however, Philip himself repopulated the city in return for Aristotle’s, tutoring of his son Alexander. Yet Stagira never recovered its former brilliance and it is henceforth mentioned by ancient authors only on a few occasions, invariably in connection with the great philosopher. An enchanting later written tradition records that after Aristotle died, the inhabitants of Stagira transferred and buried his relics inside the city, in a place called “the Aristoteleion”, a large altar was erected on his grave, and an annual festival was instituted in his honour, called the “Aristoteleia”. The excavations in the region began in 1960. The most impressive piece that was brought to light is the wall, at the top of the hill that was built in the classic years. The different ways of construction can be distinguished. The wall determines the western limits of the ancient city, surrounded by the sea. 

Ancient Stagira

5. Potidea

Ancient Potidea, together with Olynthos was the most important place of Halkidiki. Today is famous for its tirqouise water and canal dividing Kassandra peninsula from mainland. Before the village, there is a thin strip of land which features the canal of Potidea to serve ships that come and go to Toroneos Gulf to fish.

Remains of the ancient walls of Potidea

The canal is the main attraction of Potidea as it impressively joins Toroneos and the Thermaikos Gulfs. These two gulfs embrace the village. On either side of the isthmus (canal), there are seaside parks where one could enjoy long and relaxing walks in the green. According to specific historical sources, “the first canal in Potidea was opened by Kassandros while its existence is dated from the 1st century BC. Later, the canal was fixed by the Byzantine emperor J.Palaeologus in 1407.

Canal of Nea Potidea

It is the only entrance to the peninsula of Kassandra. Extensive excavation works conducted by the 16th Inspectorate of Classical Antiquities have revealed many ancient objects, which are on display in museums in the region of Halkidiki and Thessaloniki.

Walls of ancient Potidea

6. Sanctuary of Zeus AmmonKalithea

The sanctuary of Zeus Ammon at Kallithea is three related deities were worshipped. The cult of Dionysos and probably that of the Nymphs began in the late 8th century BC or earlier in a cave in the southern part of the sanctuary. The cult of Zeus Ammon was introduced in the first half of the 4th century BC, and in the second half of the century a Doric peristyle temple and an open-air corridor running parallel to the temple and flanked by two rows of monumental bases that supported sculpture were built. The cult of Asclepios was introduced in the same period. In the 2nd century AD the sanctuary reached its apogee: the area was reorganized, the old buildings were altered and new edifices (two oblong buildings for spectators in front of the temple of Zeus Ammon, a balneum-therapeuterion etc.) were built. You can read more about this site on Visit Halkidiki, with text of Elisavet Bettina Tsigarida. In the late 5th c. B.C. an altar was constructed, but later, during the second half of the 4th century, a peripteros temple of Doric order with stone entablature (superstructure) was built next to the altar. In the late 3rd or early 2nd century, it was replaced with another one made of marble, while the roof was decorated with embossed and colored clay tiles. The restoration of its design is possible based on the architectural parts found dispersed.

Sanctuary of Zeus Ammon – Kalithea

7. Xerxe’s Canal

Xerxe’s Canal is one of the most significant engeneering feats of antiquity. The canal was 12 stades in length (about 2.900m) and was wide enough to fit two triremes. Today, it can be seen as a part of Nea Roda – beautiful coastal village in Athos peninsula, in eastern part of Halkidiki. With golden shores, plenty of taverns, bars and accommodation, tourists are discovering this place that is combination of beautiful beach and antique history.

You can see remains of Xerxe’s Canal in left part of this image