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Destination Details

Delphi, Greece

 

The city of Delphi is the modern residential area and the evolutional transformation of the so famous ancient Delphi Oracle.
 
The official excavations of 1893, that led to the abandonment of the old village of Kastri (a settlement located exactly where the ruins are existing today) brought the ruins of the Oracle into light. The new City of Delphi was relocated to its present area, just a few hundred meters after the Archaeological Sites. At an altitude of 550m on the slopes of mt Parnassos, Delphi is an important cultural, nature discovering, recreation and athletic center which is providing a high level of tourist and hospitality services.
 
Its magic view is just a part of the so called “Delphico Topio” (“Delphic Landscape”) that is protected under law and is preserved by every possible way. A pure mild Mediterranean climate is also responsible for a real “positive energy” feeling that is spread around town and, believe it or not, it’s just not only the climate that fills the atmosphere with energy. Discover Dlephi, the “Navel of the World”.
 
Delphi sister cities are: Tonga (Japan) and Teotihuacan (Mexico)
 
Delphic oracle
At the foot of Mt Parnassus the imposing landscape between two huge rocks, called ‘the Phaedriades’, hosts the panhellenic sanctuary of Delphi and most famous oracle of ancient Greece. According to an age-old legend, the two eagles sent out by Zeus from the ends of the universe to locate the center of the world, met at Delphi. Ever since, Delphi has marked the navel of the earth and not only geographically. For many centuries this sanctuary defined a spiritual and religious center, a symbol of unity among the ancient Greeks. This is evident from the numerous works of art dedicated here by delegations of city-states as well as individuals. The beginnings of Delphi are deeply rooted in the historical and mythological past. Literary tradition refers to an early shrine here, dedicated to the goddess Gaia (Earth) and guarded by a fierce dragon, the Python, until Apollo -transfigured into a dolphin and escorted by Cretans- arrived at Kirrha, the port of Delphi. Subsequently Apollo killed the Python and established his own sanctuary. The myth concerning Apollo’s arrival and domination survived in festivals at Delphi, such as the Septeria, the Delphinia, the Thargelia, the Theophania and, of course, the well-known Pythian games, which included musical and athletic competition.
 
The oldest finds in the area of Delphi date in the Neolithic period (c. 4000 BC) and come from the Corycian Cave on Mt Parnassus, which sheltered the primary cult practices. In the area later occupied by the sanctuary of Apollo a Mycenaean settlement and cemetery seems to have existed. Traces of habitation are scarce and fragmentary down to the 8th ct BC, when the cult of Apollo prevailed and the growth of the prophetic sanctuary began. The first stone temples had been built by the end of the 7th ct BC, one for Apollo and another for Athena, who was also officially worshipped at Delphi as ‘Pronaia’ or ‘Pronoia’ and yet in her own temenos. As attested by literary sources and finds from excavations, Artemis, Poseidon, Dionysos, Hermes, Zeus Polieus, Hygeia and Eileithyia were, too, worshipped at Delphi.
 
"Tightly related to the Delphic sanctuary was the institution of the amphictyony, a confederation formed by 12 states of Thessaly and Mainland. It started out as a religious league, later charged with a political role. The Delphic amphictyony controlled the property and operation of the sanctuary, as it appointed the priests and other officials, chosen from among the local population. Under the protection and administration of the amphictyony in the 6th ct BC the sanctuary consolidated its autonomy (1st Sacred War), increased its influence, grew larger and re-organized the quadrennial Pythian games, next in significance only to the Olympic games. From the 6th to the 4th ct BC the Delphic oracle reached its peak. Apollo’s prophecies, regarded as the most reliable, were ‘spoken’ by Pythia and converted into verses by the priests. Cities, leaders and ordinary people hasted to seek divine advice. Their gratitude and religious sentiment were expressed via brilliant offerings, which gradually crammed the sanctuary. The beginnings of the oracle go far back in antiquity and its reputation crossed the frontiers of the world. The Delphic oracle is believed to have foreseen Deukalion’s inundation, the Argonauts’ expedition and the Trojan War. Highly important, however, was the guidance it offered during the period of colonization (the founding of Greek colonies). Precisely the prestige and power of Delphi triggered two more Sacred Wars, in the middle of the 5th and the 4th ct BC, respectively. In the 3rd ct BC a new political and military power, the Aetolians, came to the forefront. They underlined their active and dynamic presence by various ex-votoes in the sanctuary. Under the rule of the Romans (post 168 BC), Delphi was favoured by some emperors and ravaged by others, such as Sulla and Nero. Among the consequences of the philosophical rationalism movement in the 3rd ct BC was the decline of the oracle. Still, the prophetic procedure remained unchanged until the 2nd ct AD, epoque of the emperor Hadrian. At that time the traveller Pausanias visited Delphi and recorded numerous remains of buildings, inscriptions and sculpture. His minute description contributed significantly to our reconstitution of the site. Shortly before the end of the 4th ct the oracle ceased to operate by edict of the Byzantine emperor Thedosius A’. With the prevalence of Christianity, Delphi became an Episcopal seat but it was deserted in the early 7th ct AD, time of the Slavs’ invasion. Gradually the ancient sanctuary was covered by earth-fill. Later on, a whole village, named Kastri, was established on top of the buried ruins. Survey on the archaeological site of Delphi began in about 1860 by the Germans. In 1891 the French were granted permission by the Greek government to conduct systematic research and to commence the ‘Grand Excavation’, after the village Kastri had been relocated further to the west. Impressive finds were revealed, as well as approximately 3,000 inscriptions casting light to various aspects of ancient public life. Work at Delphi continues nowadays, including excavation, restoration, museum and exhibition projects undertaken by the Greek Archaeological Service in collaboration with the French School. The only monument of which the authentic material was adequately preserved for an almost complete reconstruction was the Athenian treasury. Its restoration in 1903-1906 was funded by the Municipality of Athens. The altar of the Chians was also reconstructed, as was part of the temple of Apollo and the tholos. In an effort to resurrect the Delphic ideal in the 1930’s, the poet Angelos Sikelianos together with his wife, Eva Palmer, organized performances of ancient drama in the ancient theatre of Delphi, hoping to create a new spiritual navel of the earth. The archaeological site of Delphi comprises two sanctuaries, one dedicated to Apollo and one to Athena, as well as other installations, mostly athletic. Travellers from Athens first encountered the temenos of Athena Pronaia. Within its premises was the tholos, the famous round edifice, as well as the remains of three temples in honour of the goddess: two temples built of poros on the same spot in the mid-7th BC and 500 BC respectively, and a third one, of limestone, which occupied the western part of the temenos after the earthquake of 373 BC. The temenos also includes inscribed altars dedicated to Zeus Polieus, Athena Ergane, Athena Zosteria, Hygeia and Eileithyia, as well as remains of a building possibly sheltering the cult of two local heroes, Phylakos and Autonoos. These two heroes, assuming the form of giants, had repelled the invasion of Persians at Delphi. Two treasuries of the Doric and the Aeolic order, with superstructures of Parian marble, stood beside the old temple of Athena. The Aeolic one, featuring characteristic column-capitals with palm-leaves, had been offered by the people of Massalia. The sanctuary of Pronaia also contained a trophy-memorial of the Persian repulsion, a hypaethral statue of emperor Hadrian and a building tentatively identified as priests’ house. Moving NW, a pilgrim would reach the Gymnasium, an installation for athletic training and also an educational institute including a palaestra and bathing facilities of the classical and the roman period. The pilgrim’s next stop would be Castalia, the sacred fountain of Delphi. Its water helped visitors quench their thirst and purify themselves prior to consulting the oracle. At all times, the most significant and attractive place of Delphi was the sanctuary of Apollo. It was enclosed by a peribolos (enceinte) with a main entrance at its SE corner. Visitors followed the sacred way, ‘spinal cord’ of the temenos, leading to the temple of Apollo with the famous adyton, where Pythia gave the oracular responses. Having the temple and the sacred way as focus point, the sanctuary gradually expanded and was contained by monumental analemmata. Its sloping ground was arranged in successive terraces, framed by stoas (of Attalos, the Athenians, the Aetolians) and accessible by gates through the enceinte. The sanctuary was practically full of numerous and diverse dedications by city-states, rulers or even individuals, to commemorate historical and socio-political events, or to express their religious sentiment, piety and awe. These works manifest the technical skills, the advanced artistic achievements of people of the time, from the oriental inland to the Mediterranean coastline. In addition, they denote each dedicator’s wealth. Ex-votoes range from bronze or silver tripods (one of the symbols of the oracle) to complex multi-figure statuary groups made of marble or bronze. Among architectural offerings, the treasuries, impressive and luxurious, sheltered portable dedications but –above all- highlighted the art of each dedicator’s homeland. The sacred way was flanked by such ex-votoes, densely spaced along its course. In the heart of the sanctuary, on a plateau contained by an enormous polygonal wall, lay the dominant, grandiose temple of Apollo. Further to the north was the theatre, where the drama and musical contests of the Pythian games took place. Even higher up the slope, beyond the peribolos, was the stadium, for athletic competition. Judging from excavation finds, ancient delphians must have lived on the perimeter of the sanctuary. Outside and around the peribolos we can see dispersed domestic remains, some of which date to the roman period".
 
Text by: Dr Elena C. Partida -archaeologist © 2007 Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism All Rights Reserved, Hellenic Culture Organization

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