Last updated: 03:00 AM ET, Fri September 30 2016

7 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Ancient Ruins

Features & Advice | Melinda Crow | September 30, 2016

7 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Ancient Ruins

Photo by Gary Crow

No trip to the Mediterranean is complete without a tour of some ruins. There are ruins throughout much of Italy, Greece, and Turkey. In some areas, modern facilities and dwellings are built directly on top of ancient ones. It has been that way throughout time. Old buildings crumble and new ones are built on the foundations, often re-using materials from the rubble heap. Ruins with the most significant historical value are the ones most tourists come to see. As you prepare for your explorations, here are a few things to help you make the most of your trip.  

Refresh your memory

There is nothing worse than standing in front of a Greek temple trying to remember exactly who Zeus was. An appreciation for the architecture is enhanced by even a bit of knowledge about the society that erected the buildings-- what they believed and who their enemies were. A full-blown course in ancient history is not necessary, but a guidebook with the basics is helpful. Guides by Rick Steves are packed with on-the-ground information as well as historical background. For slightly deeper history lessons look to something as simple as a "For Dummies" book. Ancient History Box Set for Dummies covers the basics of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian history.

There will be tour busses

It does not matter which ruins you choose to visit. It does not matter if you choose to visit them independently. There will be busloads of people on tours. They will be speaking all languages. They will have tour leaders holding color-coded signs yelling instructions. They will clog the trails and photobomb your perfect shot. They will have selfie sticks. Accept these facts before you ever leave home and your explorations will be far more pleasant. The best advice to avoid tour crowds is to time your visits for late afternoon when possible. Tours are often scheduled for the morning and just after lunch. Go at three or four and you may have peace.

There will be construction

This is one of the things most visitors are surprised about. The most significant ruins are in a constant state of re-construction. Crumbling pieces are re-created and inserted back where they came from to maintain stability. Columns are rebuilt. Facades, statues, and art are re-constructed like jigsaw puzzles. All of this work requires cranes, scaffolding, and restricted areas.

READ MORE: 4 Stunning Ancient Ruins To Visit In Mediterranean Europe

See the museums

The most fascinating and valuable artifacts are not in the ruins. They are in museums dedicated to the ruins. Skipping the museum means you miss art, history, coins, and other items unearthed at the site that give a clearer picture of everyday life during ancient times. The museum will also have overviews of the ruin site to help you get your bearings. A visit to the museum before you visit the site can help put things into perspective and provide background knowledge you might have missed when you did your history homework.

Expect sites within sites

In an effort to maximize crowd control and to preserve sensitive areas, you may find parts of a ruin site require an additional fee or tour charge. The Terrace Houses at Ephesus are a prime example of this. The excavation work at these houses is ongoing under protective roofs. An additional entrance fee is charged to tour that part of the city. At Ephesus, as in most other cases, the site within is well worth the nominal charge.

There will be hawkers

You will be offered souvenirs, selfie sticks, and special tours almost everywhere you go. The only respite from the hawkers is usually within the ruin site itself. 

READ MORE: Malta’s Haunting Ruins

The necessary facilities are at the beginning and end of the tour

In most cases you should expect refreshments and restroom facilities only at the beginning and end of the ruin tour. There are restroom facilities at the top of the Acropolis, but the line of people who just got off tour buses is likely to be a long one.

You need a guide

Even if you choose to explore some areas independently, use a guidebook to get the most from your visit. But also consider utilizing the services of a good local guide at the ruins that hold the most interest for you. Someone knowledgeable in archaeology can literally bring a site to life for you. 

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