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To the sanctuary of Delphi

Home -> Europe -> Greece -> Travelogue Greece -> 19 May 2014

Monday 19 May, to the sanctuary of Delphi

We are very cultural this holiday because after all the temples that we saw yesterday we are again going to a famous place today, namely the shrine of Delphi. Is there anything left for future trips?
First we drive along the coast of the Corinthian Gulf to the village of Itea where we enter the mountains, because Delphi is build in a bowl on the southern slope of Mount Parnassus, with 2457 meters one of the highest mountains in Greece. That it is a popular place for tourists can be seen from the large number of coaches parked along the road.
The Athens temple in Delphi The Athens temple in DelphiIn the civilized world at that time (of course only those who spoke Greek, all others were called barbarians) Delphi was seen as the center of the world. It was also one of the most famous oracle sites in classical antiquity.
In any case, I think it is an impressive place when we walk towards the walled sanctuary over the steep Holy Road.
The Athens temple in Delphi The Athens temple in DelphiThe sanctuary of Athens Pronaia is a bit outside the oracle sanctuary but attracts attention with the 3 pillars of the Delphi tholos. A tholos is a circular building with a domed roof and sometimes surrounded by columns. The columns that still stand today have obviously not remained intact for centuries, but have been restored. Before the first excavations took place (late 19th century) a village was built over Delfi and later it was buried under mudflows.
The entrance to Delphi Treasury of the Athenians, DelphiWe walk in front of the Roman agora (at that time they already sold souvenirs, probably) zigzagging up to the entrance of the complex and the road to it is quite steep. It is quite warm so we are already sweating.
Along this Holy Road are the so-called treasuries or treasure houses. Small, temple-like buildings where the city states kept their donations to Delphi, trying to defeat each other with magnificient buildings. But such treasuries were also tempting for looters. Here you can see the Athenian treasury on the right.
Ionic column, Delphi Amphitheater in DelphiOn the site there is also an amphitheater where plays were performed, especially during the Pythian games, just like the Olympic Games, a four-yearly event that all Greek city states could participate in. These were in honor of Apollo but the emphasis was mainly on musical performances and only later were athletic competitions added. The prize for the winners was a laurel wreath.
On the left an example of an Ionic pillar with two curls on the sides although there is not always a lot of ornamentation. Anyway, these are details that I hear or read, but usually have been forgotten fairly quickly afterwards.
The temple of Apollo in Delphi The temple of Apollo in DelphiThe Temple of Apollo is central to Delphi, but also Dionysos (who would live on Mount Parnassos) was the patron of the place. In the winter months the oracle was closed and Dionysos was ruler because Apollo then remained in warmer places. In the remaining 9 months, the oracle was only open to visitors for one day a month. Given the popularity of the oracle that even attracted foreign princes, it will have been busy then. A priestess, the Pythia, was the medium of God's cryptic counsels.
Painting of the Apollo temple in Delphi What a stony messFrom above you have a magnificent view over the remnants of the temple that has been rebuilt many times, according to the Greek geographer Pausanius even 5 times. The last destructors were Christian fanatics who wanted to level the pagan buildings with the ground. Fortunately, this has not been entirely successful and a painter makes grateful use of the powerful landscape to capture the scene. People are capable of a lot, both in a positive and a negative sense.
Mosaic at DelphiThroughout the centuries, the oracle knew many ups and downs, but usually it had a lot of power and influence. The predictions and advice from Apollo must have been appreciated. The last flourishing period was in Roman times when a number of emperors had a great interest in the Greek mysteries. But here, too, the Christian emperor Theodosius I had the last word, just like in Olympia. In 390 AD the oracle was finally closed at his command to exterminate pagan practices.
On the side of the excavation is the archaeological museum of Delfi in which the most important finds of the site are exhibited as the Charioteer of Delfi. The museum is quite large and beautifully set up with 6,000 objects.
Sphinx of the Naxians, 560 BC War relief, museum of DelphiThe sphinx of Naxos (pictured left) is an image of more than 2 meters and is formed by the head of a woman, the breast and wings of a bird of prey and the abdomen of a lion. It originally stood on a column of 10 meters high next to the temple of Apollo near the spot where Apollo would have defeated the dragon Python.
At the treasuries of the various city-states, mythical stories were portrayed, and the frieze of the Siphnians was partly preserved. Here the battle between the gods and the giants is shown with lions pulling the chariots.
Kleobis and Biton, museum of Delphi The enigmatic Dancers' column, museum of DelphiIn a next room (the Kouros or room of youth) the statues of Kleobis and Biton from Argos are displayed, 2 strong young men who won prizes at the Nemean games. After an amazing showoff to deliver their mother in time at a party in honor of the goddess Hera, their proud mother prayed to Hera to give her sons the best that a man could achieve. The boys fell asleep in the sanctuary and consequently died. The people of Argos made these images and gave them to Delphi because they had been such excellent young men.
In the Daochos room one will find the Acanthus or Dancer's Column, 3 young women wearing a bronze tripod with a kettle on their heads. The priestess of Apollo would have sat on a tripod like that when she made her predictions.
Reconstruction of DelphiThere are many more impressive things to see in the museum, but I personally think that the miniature model of the site is also very nice, then you get a much better idea of what it once looked like. Wandering around between the ruins of a temple or city is fun but often there is so little left that I can not imagine how it originally looked like. And with such a complex like Delphi which continued to exist for several centuries, it is even harder to imagine what it looked like during different periods.
View at Galaxidi Port of NafpaktosDelphi is a special place, beautifully situated and still somewhat mysterious. When we drive back we have a view of the Corinthian Gulf and the Peloponnese in the distance. We discuss what we want to do in the coming days and also that we don't really like the place wwhere we are now. Back at the hotel we can cancel our reservation (which was for a whole week) and arrange another apartment for tomorrow on the northeast side of the Peloponnese so we can spend a few days quiet on the beach. We have seen so many things but not enough beaches, we conclude, while there are so many nice ones in this country.
Along the port of Nafpaktos Clouds over the Corinthian gulfAt night we are going to the city center near the port and I get the tastiest burger of my life. It was just some fast food store and I do not remember what was exactly on it, but I remember it as the best-tasting burger ever. If we are ever in the neighborhood again...
In the distance we see more and more clouds looming and I even have to wear a jacket against the cool wind. I hope the weather gets better again because I really would like to spend some quiet time on a sunny beach.


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