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Pensive Athena, 5th-century BCE relief sculpture from the acropolis in the name-sake city-state of this goddess of wisdom, justice, civilization, the arts and warfare, among other things. The Acropolis Museum holds hundreds of artefacts from over a thousand years of history beginning around the 7th century BCE, when urban centers began to form around the country. About 1/2 of the sculptures from the Parthenon are on display, including 165 feet of the frieze.

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NAME THAT COUNTRY

The fresco pictured above is from Akrotiri, a Minoan city that was buried in ash from one of the largest volcanic eruptions ever recorded. This site is known as the “Pompeii” of our mystery country. Unlike Pompeii, it seems the inhabitants of Akrotiri had time to evacuate, as no human remains have been found at the site.

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Charming Nafplion has a reputation as one of the prettiest towns in our mystery country, and that’s saying a lot. It’s located on the Peloponnese, a large peninsula  to the southwest of the mainland. Nafplion is often a gateway stop for tours of the Peloponnese, which continue on to historical sites such as Mycenae, Epidaurus and Olympia.

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Paros Island, Greece

Parikia port, Paros Island, Greece

Parikia port, Paros Island, Greece

Paros, Greece is the second largest island in the Cyclades group, after Naxos. It’s located just 5 miles from Naxos across a windy choppy channel. The waters of this windy, choppy channel are excellent for windsurfing and kiteboarding. Paros beaches frequently host international windsurfing events.

Since antiquity, Paros was known for the fine, translucent-white marble mined from the island’s interior mountain. Today the mines are closed but Parian marble buildings, monuments, statues and streets still stand all over Greece and around the Mediterranean.

Manto Mavrogenous, heroine of Greek independence, lived on Paros. As a wealthy young woman, she financed land and sea campaigns against the ruling Ottomans and lobbied her rich friends across Europe to support the revolution. Her house in Parikia is a historical monument.

The main village of Paros, Parikia, is situated on the western coast and is a hub for Aegean ferry traffic. This lovely town manages to be both lively and mellow, with plenty going on but no urgency to be found. Visitors are welcomed like old friends.  Restaurants serving just-caught seafood line the busy port and provide front-row viewing of the fishing boats as they come and go. Aimless wandering in the bougainvilleaed Cycladic streets is the best way to experience Parikia.You’ll find lots of fun shops, friendly locals and not as many tourists as nearby Mykonos.

Don’t miss the 4th-century Panagia Ekatontapilani (Church of 100 doors), built on the order of St. Helena, the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine, according to legend.

Naoussa, Paros Island, Greece

Naoussa, Paros Island, Greece

On the north coast of the island, the fishing village of Naoussa maintains its authentic character while catering to crowds of tourists. Pick any one of the many restaurants that cluster around the postcard-perfect port and you’re sure to have a superb, thoroughly Greek meal. Follow any street into the inner village to find the cheery embrace of Cycladic buildings perfectly packed around gentle, marbled alleys.

Lefkes, Paros Island, Greece

Lefkes, Paros Island, Greece

Drive (or take a bus) about 7 miles inland from Parikia to Lefkes, a beautiful little mountain village, a world (and seemingly a few centuries) away from the bustle of the coast. Lefkes looks out over the island from its perch at 1,000 feet. Cars are not allowed inside the village but there are parking lots on the perimeter. Neat Cycladic and Venetian buildings ease down the hillside at the foot of the tranquil, no-nonsense Church of Agia Triada, which watches over the town like a mother hen.

Byzantine Road, Paros Island, Greece

Byzantine Road, Paros Island, Greece

For hikers, the Byzantine Road is an easy walk on a section of one of the 1,000-year-old paved roads that connected Lefkes, then the capital, to points around the island. The best-known walk is from Lefkes eastward to the village of Prodromos, about 2.5 miles. For a longer walk, carry on another 4 miles (approximately) eastward from Prodromos through Marpissa to the coastal village of Piso Livadi. You can catch a bus back to Lefkes or Parikia.

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In the shadow of sacred Mount Parnassus, Delphi was an important religious sanctuary and known as the center of the world by the ancient people of our mystery country.
For centuries, pilgrims, including civic and military leaders, came from near and far to consult the oracle here, where the wisdom of the sun god was channeled through priestesses known as Pythia. Today, the site is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations.

 

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