Journey through Ancient Greece


the sanctuary of Apollo

Delphi was the most famous of the cult sites in Greece and the shrine of the Oracle.
Set on the slopes of Mount Parnassus and with panoramic views over the 'Sea of Olives' towards the Gulf of Corinth, several hundred metres below, the site at Delphi is spectacular and awe inspiring.

Even now when we have to share it with dozens of coaches and hundreds of tourists the sense of magic is almost tangible. It is easy to see why for the ancient Greeks this was one of the most sacred places and the site of the navel of the earth. (At sun rise look out for eagles soaring above the site.)

The Oracle at Delphi was probably the most prestigious in the ancient world and was consulted by Greek city states, foreign states and private people on matters ranging from wars and conspiracies to marriage. Advice was often ambiguous but imparted a sense of security in a seemingly chaotic world.

The sanctuary was the centre of a web of political intrigue - the priests made it their business to know what was going on! Those coming to consult (the Theopropoi ) sacrificed a goat, examined the entrails for omens, and with their questions on lead tablets, queued to enter the temple. The Pythia, a priestess who was a peasant woman of over 50 (and of impeccable conduct!), drank from the Castilian Spring to purify herself and chewed laurel leaves. Then sitting on a tripod over the chasm inside the temple she inhaled apparently hallucinogenic fumes, and gave mumbled answers interpreted, in hexameter verse, by a priest (prophete). The answers were often ambiguous and on occasion led to unexpected results; when Croesus was told he would destroy a great state he never imagined it would be his own!

Bronze statue of the charioteer

The main (upper) site: The Sanctuary of Apollo

The Sacred Way leads past a Roman Agora, or market place before coming to the treasuries . The Treasury of the Athenians (c500 BC) has been partly rebuilt, (although they were dismantling it again last year!).

The Temple of Apollo, built on the site of several previous temples, including one said to be made of the wax and wings of bees!, was inaugurated in 330 BC.
In the naos were statues of Apollo, Zeus and the Morai (Fates), an altar to Poseidon, and the iron throne on which Pindar sat and sang hymns to Apollo. This was also where the Pythia sat at her tripod uttering her incoherent words.
Past the temple, is the site of the charioteer, a magnificent bronze of a young man, which was buried in the earthquake of 373 BC and was thus preserved from later metal thieves. (Now in the museum)

Entrance to the temple of Apollo

The theatre built of white Parnassus stone in the 4th century BC could accommodate 5,000 people . The stage was lower than usual so as not to obscure the magnificent view.
A further 165 feet climb takes you to the stadium built by the Greeks in the 5th century BC; an inscription on the southern retaining wall forbids visitors to carry wine out of the stadium! It was altered by Herodes Atticus in the 2nd century AD with the addition of stone benches holding some 7,000 spectators.

The Castalian spring:
Between the upper and lower sites is the Castalian spring set into the cliff. Castalia was a nymph who fled there to escape Apollo's amorous advances. The archaic fountain house, built in about 600 BC consisted of a cistern and a stone paved court. The celebrated spring still flows from a cleft in the rock. It was here that early visitors to Delphi purified themselves, usually by washing their hair, though murderers had to take the full plunge. Byron jumped in believing the legend that it helped poetic inspiration!
Marmaria or Lower Site : The sanctuary of Athena Pronaia ( Athena in front of the temple i.e. of Apollo)
Although little remains standing of the sanctuary buildings this is a most atmospheric site. As you approach it you can see down below the road the remaining three columns (much reproduced on post cards) of the Tholos. This is a circular structure, one of only three now existing (one is at Epidauros) and the purpose of which is not known. Built in the 4th century of white Pentelic marble it had a naos enclosed by a collonade of 20 Doric columns with 10 inner Corinthian columns.
Next to the Tholos was the Temple to Athena built in the 4th century BC. There is archaeological evidence that a deity was worshipped here in Mycenaean times who later developed into the goddess Athena.
There are also the ruins of the Temple of Athena Pronaia, built in the 5th century in Doric style on the site of a 7th century Archaic temple.

The tholos

For somewhere nice to eat in Delphi look at

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Mainly Peloponnese Itinerary