General Information on Delphi

The ancient site of Delphi is one of the most historical destinations in Greece and one of the most important archaeological sites in the world, welcoming thousands of visitors every year. Delphi was the site of the Delphic oracle, the most important in the classical world, and a major worship site of Apollo. His sacred precinct in Delphi was a Pan-Hellenic sanctuary, where athletes from all over Greece competed in the Pythian Games every four years.

Delphi was revered throughout the Greek world as the site of the “omphalos” stone, the centre of the earth and the universe. In the inner “hestia” (hearth) of the Temple of Apollo, an eternal flame burned. The ancient site is situated on a plateau on the slope of Mt. Parnassus. There are several good hotels nearby, as well as many other facilities, offering activities such as trekking, climbing, etc.

History of Delphi

The Myth

According to Mythology, Zeus, king of Gods, released two eagles, who flew in opposite directions, eastwards and westwards; they met above Delphi. Impaling one another with their beaks, they crashed to the ground and Zeus threw the Sacred Stone, marking the centre of the earth – the navel of the world. According to legend, the serpent Pythos (son of goddess Gaia) was the guardian of the Castalian Spring in Delphi, before he was killed by infant Apollo. Apollo abandoned Delphi in order to purify himself and later returned to Delphi, taking possession of the Oracle.

The History

Archaeologists have found evidence that the site of Delphi was inhabited as far back as the Neolithic era, and that by the end of the Mycenaean period (1600-1100 B.C.) it had become an important religious and political centre. While the function of the Oracle during prehistory is obscured due to lack of records, the importance of Delphi during historical times is well documented by a plethora of writers and rich archaeological finds.

Regarded as the centre of the world and the birthplace of Apollo, Delphi attracted pilgrims from across the ancient world. Generals, kings, and individuals of all ranks came to the Oracle to ask Apollo’s advice on war, politics, love and family. After the pilgrim made a sacrifice, Pythia, the oracle, uttered cryptic pronouncements which were then translated by a priest. Plutarch served as a priest in Delphi, and he has documented many details about the inner working of the sanctuary. Pythia entered the inner chamber “Adyton”, sat on a tripod and inhaled the light hydrocarbon gasses that emanated from a chasm on the porous earth. After falling into a trance, she muttered words incomprehensible to mere mortals. The priest of the sanctuary then interpreted her oracles in a common language and delivered them to those who had requested them. The reputation of Delphi crossed cultural boundaries, and throughout history, it held amicable neutrality with its oracles. At the same time, the oracles of Pythia were notoriously ambiguous, and could be interpreted several different ways. Throughout ancient times, entire communities placed their fate in the words of Pythia, and endless emissaries and worshipers flocked to the sanctuary with gifts and offerings in hopes for a favourable reading.

As a place of pilgrimage, Delphi evolved to host a conglomerate of cultural activities, ranging from poetry reading and theatrical plays, to athletic events similar to the Olympics, called the Pythian Games. Those games were one of four Panhellenic games held in ancient Greece, and they attracted competitors from all over the Greek world. The 6th century B.C. was marked by the political rise of Delphi and the reorganization of the Pythian Games, leading to a golden age that lasted until the arrival of Romans in 191 B.C. Numerous treasuries were built in the Sanctuary of Apollo to house votive offerings.

In the 4th century B.C., a theatre accommodating 5,000 people was constructed nearby. The sanctuary remained an important place of worship during the Hellenistic and Roman eras, and it suffered several invasions and looting until it gradually lost its influence as Christianity rose.

Top Things to Do in Delphi

1. The archaeological site of Delphi:

The Temple of Apollo: The surviving ruins of the Temple of Apollo, dating to the 4th century B.C., are of a peripteral Doric building. It used to be a hexastyle temple of 6 by 15 columns. The temple was destroyed in 373 B.C. by an earthquake. Today only a few of its columns remain, but its imposing foundations are a visible reminder of the Temple’s splendour in ancient times.

Treasuries: Close to the Temple of Apollo lies a large number of votive statues, and numerous treasuries. These were built by various states to commemorate victories and to thank the oracle for her advice. The most impressive is the Athenian Treasury, which was built to commemorate the Athenians’ victory at the Battle of Marathon. It is a small building in Doric order, with two columns in antis, and rich relief decoration. It was built at the end of the 6th century and today, after its restoration in 1903-1906, is the best preserved building onsite. Another impressive treasury was dedicated by the city of Sifnos, whose citizens had amassed great wealth from their silver and gold mines thanks to god Apollo.

The Altar of the Chians: In front of the Temple of Apollo, this large altar of the sanctuary was paid for and erected by the people of Chios, in the 5th century B.C. The monument was made entirely of black marble, except the base and cornice which were of white marble, resulting in an impressive colour contrast. The altar was restored in 1920.

The Stoa of the Athenians: The Stoa leads off northeast from the main sanctuary. It was built in the Ionic order and has seven fluted columns, each made from a single stone – most columns were constructed from a series of discs joined together. According to an inscription on the stylobate, the Stoa was erected by the Athenians, after 478 B.C., to house the trophies taken in their naval victories over the Persians.

The Theatre of the sanctuary: The ancient theatre at Delphi was originally built in the 4th century B.C. but the ruins today date to the Roman Imperial period. The theatre is located further up the hill from the Temple of Apollo and during ancient times, it was used mostly for theatrical performances during the great festivals of the sanctuary. The cavea had 35 rows of stone benches and could seat up to 5,000 spectators. The foundations of the skene are preserved on the paved orchestra.

The Stadium: It was constructed in the 5th century B.C. and was remodeled in the 2nd century A.D. at the expense of Herodes Atticus. Later, stone seats and an arched monumental entrance were added. In this Stadium, the Panhellenic Pythian Games were held every four years.

The Gymnasium: This was a complex of buildings used by the youth of Delphi for education and practise. It was constructed in two levels: on the upper level was an arcade and open space used for running practice. On the lower level was the palaestra, the pool and the thermal baths.

The Tholos: This is one of the most photographed monuments of Greece, and it has become the trademark image that represents Delphi in people’s minds. It is a circular building in Doric order, built in 380 B.C. and only three of its original twenty columns remain today. Its function remains unknown, but it must have been an important building, judging from the multicoloured stone, the fine workmanship and the high-standard relief decoration. The monument was partly reconstructed in 1938.

The Castalia Spring: The most ancient sacred site at Delphi, and perhaps the reason the site was chosen as the adobe of Apollo, is the sacred Castalian Spring that wells up in a ravine in the Phaedriades Mountains. It is connected to the chemical vapors that arose from the earth to inspire Pythia’s oracles. The preserved remains of two monumental fountains where water from the spring was collected, date to the archaic period and the Roman Era. The latter one is cut in the rock and has niches high in the cliff, which probably held the offerings to Nymph Castalia. In classical times, all pilgrims to Delphi stopped here to ritually bathe before entering the sacred precinct.

2. The Delphi Museum: The Museum of Delphi is one of the best Greece has to offer, as it shelters some very important works of art from ancient Greece. The first museum of Delphi was built in 1903 on the plans of French architect Tournaire and was later incorporated in a large edifice, constructed in 1938. The rearrangement of the exhibition was carried out gradually and was finally completed in 1980. The museum is actually an integral part of the sanctuary and exclusively contains finds from the site of Delphi, mostly offerings and architectural parts. The museum houses some very important sculptures from Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic Greece, including the Navel of the World (a Hellenistic or Roman copy of the Sacred Stone-photo on the right); the Sphinx of the Naxians (550 B.C.), the statue of Antinoos, the statue of Aghias, the group of Thyiads (three colossal female figures dancing around a flowered column from the Sanctuary of Dionysus), the Metopes from the Treasuries of Sicyon and Athens, the Karyatid and Zephyr from the Treasury of Sifnos, the Head of Dionysus, pottery, the two Kouros statues known as Kleovis and Biton, gold and ivory offerings from the Sanctuary and the famous Charioteer of Delphi (Iniohos). This is a well-preserved bronze statue from the Classical period.

3. Delphi Village: Delphi village is one of the most picturesque villages of Greece. It dates back to the prehistoric era and came into the limelight during the Classical period. There are many Greek legends associated with Delphi. In modern era, Delphi is governed by its own Municipality. It is a modern village, traversed by a single street lined with small hotels, cafes, restaurants and shops.

How to Reach Delphi

Coach: Delphi is connected to Athens (2 hours), Thessaloniki (4.5 hours) and Patra (2 hours) daily with KTEL coaches.

Train: Daily services from Athens and Thessaloniki stop at the train station of Amfissa; a local bus connects the station to Delphi.

Weather in Delphi

The climate of Delphi is, like in the rest of Greece, typically Mediterranean, generally mild with limited rainfalls. Winters can be colder here mainly because of its mountainous location. However, summers are cool with plenty of sunshine. The lowest temperature during winter is between December and February, with temperatures from 3,5ºC to 21ºC. The highest temperature occurs during summer, from 24ºC to 34ºC. Temperatures below 0ºC are rare.

Map of Delphi

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