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Attica, the Saronic Gulf Islands, and Delphi Travel Guide

Places To Explore In Attica, the Saronic Gulf Islands, and Delphi

If anything was ever truly "classical," it is the landscape of Attica. Atikí is a mountainous country, bounded on three sides by the sea and an indented coastline fringed with innumerable beaches. On stony foothills pungently aromatic shrubs grow: thyme, myrtle, and lentisk. Higher up, the feathery Aleppo pine of Attica becomes supplanted by dark firs. Inland, gently undulating hills are laced

with vineyards and, over all, hangs the famed light, the purest of lights sharply delineating a majestic land.

It is the proper setting for a region immensely rich in mythological and historical allusions. In fact, recorded history began here, in the towns of the Boeotian plain, although where legend leaves off and fact begins is often a matter of conjecture (witness Thebes, home to the luckless Oedipus). However, the story of Attica has been almost inextricably bound to that of Athens, the most powerful of the villages that lay scattered over the peninsula. By force and persuasion Athens brought these towns together, creating a unit that by the 5th century BC had become the center of an empire. The heart of the region was the sacred precinct of Delphi. For the ancient Greeks, this site was the center of the universe, home to Apollo and the most sacred oracle, and, today, its archaeological site remains a principal place of pilgrimage.

For more wordly pleasures, travelers head to the sun-gilt sea bordering the Athens Riviera and the "Apollo Coast"—home to the famed Temple to Poseidon atop Cape Sounion—and the Saronic Gulf islands. Aegina, Hydra, and Spetses are especially popular with Athenians, owing to their proximity to the big city and, especially in the case of the latter two, their beauty. Aegina in ancient times was renowned for its bronze and ceramics work and two millennia later played a pivotal role in the War of Independence. Extant proof of Hydra's and Spetses's prosperity in the 18th and 19th centuries are the stately, forbidding mansions built by the fleet-owning shipping magnates; they are now the playground of carefree European vacationers, with Hydra a powerful magnet to the fabulously rich and famous. Soak up the scene but don't forget the fake tan-lotion.

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