3 Hidden Archaeological Gems in Attica for Day Trips

These three lesser-known archaeological sites, a short drive from Athens, will add a cultural touch to Sunday outings in May.


While the archaeological sites of Elefsina and Vravrona are well known, how many people have actually been to Ramnous, the ancient Greek city overlooking the Evian Gulf? How many know that an important oracle once flourished in the nearby town of Oropos, where people in antiquity consulted it for physical and mental healing? How many have seen the Egyptian statues in the small Sanctuary by the sea in Nea Makri?

Spring temperatures are ideal for pleasant walks, and blooming wildflowers add color to the landscape, so Sunday outings become more appealing.

The Amphiareion in Oropos; the oracle of your dreams

The Amphiareion is one of Attica’s most beautiful archaeological sites, but it remains relatively unknown to most people. Walking through the archaeological site, with its pine trees and wild orchids in full bloom at this time of year, is a peaceful experience, interrupted only by the playful chirpings of birds. However, thousands of people visited the oracle at its peak in the 4th century BC.

It was founded in the latter half of the fifth century BC in response to a prophecy that the declining Amphiareion of Thebes should be relocated to Oropos. Here, near the Mavrodilesi, or Charadra, ravine in what is now known as Kalamo, people worshipped Amphiaraus, the chthonic god who could heal body and mind with his prophetic and therapeutic powers. Pilgrims sacrificed rams to the god, hung offerings (small statues and miniatures of body parts) on the altar or glued them with wax to his statue, dropped coins in the sacred spring, and slept at the sanctuary in the hope of being healed of their ailments, because ancient beliefs held that the god’s treatment or counsel would come to them in their dreams.

 

On one bank of the ravine, you can see the ruins of the official buildings (temple, theatre, altars, stoa, bathhouses), and on the other, what remains of the settlement, including the ruins of a guesthouse, taverns, and the agora. Some of the more impressive pieces of the Amphiareion are the clepsydra, one of two known ancient monumental water clocks, and the five marble seats that still stand today in the 2nd-century BC theater.

Info

Tel. (+30) 22950.621.44, open daily 8:30-15:30, Ticket: €3.

Rhamnous, an unforgettable outing

Comfortable shoes and a hat are required because a visit to the archaeological site of Rhamnous, north of Aghia Marina, is not a simple affair, as it is one of Attica’s largest and most important archaeological sites, despite its relative obscurity. This is where the ancient city of the same name once thrived, at a strategic location that allowed for unimpeded shipping in the Evian Gulf and facilitated trade. Rhamnous also housed the most important sanctuary of Nemesis, the chthonic goddess of retribution.

The route to the archaeological site is approximately 1.5 kilometers long and follows a rough path with a spectacular view of the Evian Gulf. The site is well-preserved. Archaeologists believe that the region’s flora and fauna, as well as its settlement, have remained largely unchanged since antiquity.

Info

Tel. (+30) 22940.634.77, open daily except Tuesday, 08:30-15:15 (last visit to the ancient city is 14:00), Ticket €4.

You will be able to see the restored burial monuments and structures that were built along the main street (as was also customary in ancient Athens), as well as the ruins of the Temple of Nemesis, which was built in the late 5th century BC (on the site of an older temple from the 6th century BC that was destroyed by the Persians). The statue of Nemesis, the work of Agoracritus, a student of Pheidias, once stood here.

Ordinary citizens’ houses were built around the Sanctuary, while the Fortress housed the agora, gymnasium, theatre, and the residences of prominent citizens. The walk ends at the port gate, where you can find Rhamnous’ beautiful hidden beaches. However, because the paths to the beaches have not been cleared of underbrush, they can be accessed via side roads.

Unexpected encounters at the Sanctuary of the Egyptian Gods in Brexiza

Isis and Serapis, the Sphinx, symbols of the ancient Egyptian god Horus, oil lamps with depictions of Egyptian deities, statues depicted with their left foot forward and arms held close to the body, the famous knot of Isis (a pleated robe with the characteristic knot), and a pharaoh’s costume with an Egyptian cobra headdress are some of the surprises awaiting visitors at the small archaeological site of Brexiza in Nea Makri.

There aren’t many similar sanctuaries in Greece, so this is a rare chance to see cast replicas of the original and get a peek inside a sanctuary dedicated to the Egyptian gods. The orator, sophist and patron of Athens Herodes Atticus built his sanctuary and bathhouse here in AD 160. Originally from Marathon, Herodes Atticus appears to have modelled his work after Emperor Hadrian’s Serapeum (his villa in Tivoli), who had based his villa on the Serapeum that was located in Canopus, on the Nile Delta. Both had been built on small islands, so Herodes Atticus’s sanctuary in Brexiza was also built on a small island, with the waters of Mikro Elos surrounding it in the winter and the reed beds with eucalyptus trees adding to the exotic atmosphere.

Info

Tel. (+30) 22940.551.55, open daily except Tuesday, 08:00-15:15 (last entry), Ticket: €6 (the price of the ticket also includes a visit to the Archaeological Museum and to the Tumuli of Marathon).

There are still excavations going on in the area, so the available route is quite limited. In the bathhouse, which can only be seen from the outside, archaeologists have uncovered marble floors, tanks, and hypocausts (central heating systems). Nonetheless, you can always visit Marathon’s Archaeological Museum, which houses the original statues, sculptures, and ritual oil lamps discovered at the site. You can also combine your visit with a stop at the Tumuli and the dam of Marathon, and don’t forget to bring your bathing suit because the Sanctuary is right next to the sea.



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