On our third day in Greece, we took a day trip to Delphi. Home of the famous oracle, Delphi’s history began in the dawn of time and myths of ancient Greece.
According to mythology, Zeus sent out two eagles from the ends of the universe to find the ‘navel’ of the world. It was Delphi where the two met.
For many centuries, Delphi was the cultural and religious center of the Hellenic world.
Delphi was not a city, but a sanctuary centered on the worship of Apollo. It was also at Delphi where legends say Apollo defeated a large python.
Prophecies by the oracle were bestowed on both rulers and ordinary individuals. And, appreciative city-states and pilgrims built treasuries and monuments to express their gratitude. Many epic festivals and athletic events also took place in a grand stadium and theater at Delphi.
Today, visitors flock from all over the world to walk the Sacred Way at Delphi. Come explore the site and artifacts with me. Then, we’ll head back to Athens for another day of exploration.
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Delphi is set in a spectacular landscape on the slope of Mount Parnassos. Pictured above is Delphi’s 5,000-seat theater; among the best preserved in Greece.
There, song contests honored Apollo, who is often associated with music.
The Great Excavation
Over time, a series of earthquakes and landslides buried much of the ancient sanctuary. Somewhere, in the valley below, is the hippodrome where chariot races took place. With time, technology and funding, the Greeks hope to rediscover and reconstruct it.
With the advent of Christianity, Delphi was abandoned and a village grew over the ruins.
That village was removed when archaeological research began in 1860. Along with spectacular remnants, the excavation uncovered 3,000 inscriptions that illuminated ancient Greek life.
Exploring the Sanctuary
Visiting Delphi was a dream come true for me! However, I will spare you a million photographs and just cover the major highlights.
Tourist Tip: Wear rubber-soled shoes, as walkways can be slippery. It’s a steep climb to the theater and stadium.
After passing the Roman Forum, the Sacred Way is lined with ruins of grand statues and monuments. Elements of these architectural and artistic artifacts are on display in the museum.
Of all the monuments, only the Treasury of the Athenians had enough original material to allow for its reconstruction. In ancient times, there were many others holding offerings to Apollo. Each showcased the art of various city-states.
Later, in the museum, we viewed original remnants from the treasuries,monuments and temple.
Monuments Reach to the Sky
Next along the Sacred Way, is the bronze column (a modern replica) representing the defeated python. See the coils?
On the adjacent pedestal, a 35-foot tall pillar held the famous Sphinx of Naxos. Now housed in the museum, the statue dates back to about 550 BC. I thought it looked Egyptian. What do you think?
This illustration shows how the Sacred Way and temple may have appeared in ancient times. Circled in red is the location of the sphinx pillar.
Delphi was an imposing depository of fine architecture and art. Today, the archaeological site is one of the most important in Greece, and second only to the Acropolis.
Tourist Tip: For a better appreciation of Delphi, you might want to read a little of its history and mythology before you go.
Temple of Apollo
As I climbed the weaving path, the view of the Temple of Apollo was stunning. Near it’s entrance, once stood a 50-foot statue of Apollo.
Apollo’s temple was the centerpiece of Delphi. In ancient times, it was ringed with gleaming white columns. All were coated with powdered marble stucco.
Inside the temple, the oracle worshiped Apollo and made prophecies in his name. It would have been cloudy from incense burning. A natural spring also created volcanic fumes breathed in by the oracle. According to our guide, those fumes probably contributed to the oracle’s ‘mystic visions’ LOL!
From this point, it’s another 15-minute climb to Delphi’s stadium. Stone seating there accommodated nearly 7,000 spectators for athletic competitions.
Tourist Tip: If short on energy or time, skip the stadium. Due to safety concerns (rock falls), you can’t go inside the stadium. However, the view from that level is spectacular.
Many important artifacts from Delphi are displayed in the archaeological museum. A visit there helps to bring the sanctuary to life.
One of most celebrated artifacts is the Bronze Charioteer. He was originally part of sculpture that included a chariot, horses and servant boy.
Originally located at the entrance to Delphi’s theater, the life-sized display would have been an impressive sight in ancient times.
Tourist Tip: Tour the sanctuary site first for context. If it’s raining, or Delphi is crowded with tourists, you could go the museum first. Either way, don’t miss it!
As we drove to and from Delphi, our guide provided narrative on the surrounding area, culture and current events.
On our way back, we visiting the tenth-century Hosios Loukas Monastery, an important monument of Byzantine architecture and art. Several monks are still in residence.
We were fortunate to have the monastery nearly to ourselves. But like Delphi, It can get mobbed with busloads of tourists.
Earthquakes are responsible for major damage to buildings, frescoes and mosaics. And sadly, two priceless El Greco icons were recently stolen out of the church.
I found the monastery a beautiful, serene place.
Athens Day Trip
Delphi was high on my list of places to see in Greece. Problem is, it’s a three-hour drive north of Athens — each way. I would have preferred an overnight stay.
Travel Tip: If you visit Delphi, go on an organized tour that includes the museum and a guide. There is no audio-tour and the outdoor signage is limited. Try to find a small group excursion, rather than a large bus tour.
More to See in Athens
It was really nice having another day to explore and enjoy Athens at a leisurely pace. In all, we spent four nights there. That allowed us to adjust to the time difference and jet lag, go to Delphi, and see the main sights. We also didn’t have to worry about arriving in time to make our cruise departure.
For our final full day, we headed out to see two more ancient sites on the slopes of the Acropolis.
Our first stop was the ruins of Hadrian’s Library. It’s located next door to a large, beautiful mosque.
Travel Tip: Use the multi-site archaeological pass. See Visit Amazing Ancient Athens for more information.
Adjacent to the library is the Roman Agora. Both areas are convenient to the metro station in Monastiraki, another area you’ll want to explore.
Considered the world’s first meteorological station, the octagonal marble tower included a combination of sundials, amazing water clock, and wind vane.
Tourist Tip: If you don’t want to buy a ticket or are short on time, it’s possible to walk on paths overlooking the fenced areas.
After wandering through the Monastiraki flea market, we took the metro to the National Archaeological Museum.
That’s where the economical and societal impacts of Greece’s financial woes were evident. A large university was shuttered closed. Most distributing, was a bus of heavily-armed police stationed in front of the museum. However, I don’t want to deter you from visiting the museum — just be careful traveling to and from the area. Among the world’s finest, the sculptures and artifacts are stunning.
Tourist Tip: Take a cab to the museum. Backpacks must be checked. Photos are allowed, but without a flash. A guide is not necessary, but ask for a floor plan.
There are a number of incredible bronze pieces.
Discovered amid a shipwreck, was this imposing statue of either Poseidon or Zeus. Originally, he would have been holding a spear or trident.
One of countless marble pieces, this statue depicts Aphrodite about to smack Pan with her sandal. Eros (aka Cupid) hovers above.
The museum was a great way to finish our sightseeing in Athens. Now it was time to party!
On the way back, we stopped on the charming steps in Anafiotika for a snack.
Later in the evenings, the area is jam-packed.
In Plato’s Seat?
For our last night in Athens, we dined adjacent to a lovely, pedestrian square in the Plaka. I wore a casual dress bought last year for See Spectacular Spain in September.
Afterwards, we strolled the pedestrian archaeological walkway surrounding the Acropolis. Our destination was the Odian for an evening concert.
In Visit Amazing Ancient Athens, I showed you the Odian amphitheater sitting on the slopes.
Open only during performances, cushions are placed on the marble seats for comfort. Still, with no support, three hours was a little hard on my back.
Wonderful acoustics, dramatic lighting, and sitting under the stairs on the ancient slope was a phenomenal experience! Pinch me Plato — am I in your seat?
Tourist Tip: If interested in attending a performance, check online at least several weeks (months?) before you go.Tickets sell out fast.
Continue along on our Greek adventure aboard a Small Ship Greek Island Cruise.
Time to finish packing away Halloween and decorating for Thanksgiving!
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