After visiting the Athens, the capital of Greece, I traveled about two hours north. I went to a place that is considered the second most popular, archaeological destination in Greece after the Athenian Acropolis – to Delphi. Here was the famous Oracle, who in the past could predict the future and also offer advice on people’s problems. I booked a tour to make my life easier. The last thing I wanted to do in 40’C heat was to deal with Greek trains. Another bonus was that I had a guide who took me back in time and told stories about Greek mythology. It was definitely great for me, as I love mythology!
Our coach took us directly to the centre of the Universe. Yes, that is how the ancient Greeks saw Delphi. The site is rounded by the beautiful Parnassos Mountains, where eagles, hawks and falcons fly high, where cypress trees grow tall, and where silence is the only music. The site is known as the Sanctuary of Apollo. We entered it along the Sacred Way, which at one time led here from Athens.
The route winds its way among ruined remains of numerous monuments and treasury buildings. Here, pilgrims from all over the ancient world would leave their offerings and prayers, or which were erected afterwards as a “thank you” to the oracle. Although the place is ruble now, it is still wrapped in a layer of mystery.
Greek mythology speaks of many prophets and sanctuaries, however, no sanctuary ever surpassed Delphi in fame, reputation, wealth and power, and not only in Greece but through all the then-known world. Here, in Delphi, Apollo, the god of music, himself spoke through Pythia who was an older women, who to enter the service of the Olympian god had to leave her family and former life behind. To be a chosen one the woman didn’t have to be rich, from a good family or beautiful. She had to have a good reputation and a tiny bit of luck and that’s all. Pythia didn’t have to be born with special divination skills. In order to get into state of trance, she inhaled vapors. She was under delirium most of the time.
With her help important decisions such as wars, marriages or far voyages were made. Pythia never answered questions directly. Her answer could be always interpreted by the visitor as it pleased him. The best example is her answer given to the king of Lydia – Croesus, who asked her if he would defeat the Persians. The Oracle replied that if Croesus will cross the River Halys, a great power will be destroyed. Croesus interpreted the oracle in his favor taking her words as a sign of his imminent victory; he crossed the river with a great army and was defeated. The Oracle had been right. A great power was destroyed. The Greek power. Also the King of Spartans – Leonidas visited her before facing the Persian army in the Battle of Thermopyles.
It was super hot that day and I made the climb very slowly, stopping for frequent breaks. The heat was in the air making it hazy. The landscape disappeared behind something that looked like mist. It was far too hot. But even this could not kill the magic of this place. Delphi’s location is amazing. I gazed upon Parnassos Mountains and felt as if I were standing at the bottom of the mythical Mount Olympus – the home of the Gods!
The Sacred Way runs up towards the Temple of Apollo, where the Oracle’s mouthpiece delivered the Oracle’s predictions and pronouncements. Before reaching the temple itself we passed other landmarks. First on our way was the restored North Stoa of the Roman Agora. Near of it there was a Three-Headed Serpent Column of Delphi. The Serpent Column is a bronze pillar, built-in the ancient city of Delphi, to commemorate those who had fought against the Persian Empire in the Battle of Plataea. The bronze column was once an imposing sight. Dark, spiraling snakes comprised the body of the column, which stood 8 meters high. It was topped with three menacing snake heads with open jaws. The column has suffered damage over the centuries. Some parts have been long-lost, and the snakes’ heads were broken off. Later the column was taken to Constantinople to the Hippodrome. Few years ago it could be still found in Istanbul. Now it is back to Delphi.
Another monument along the Sacred way is the sacred Omphalos of Delphi which, according to the myth, was thrown by Zeus once he established the center of the world, exactly in this place. A few steps away is to be found the Rock of the Sibyl. The stone reminds visitors that Apollo was not the first to provide oracles at Delphi. According to a legend, this rock marks the place where Delphi’s first prophetess Sibyl pronounced her oracles, perhaps on behalf of the earth goddess, Gea.
There were a lot of ionic columns fragments located along the Sacred Way. On landmark stood out among them. It was the Treasury of the Athenians, one of the most famous offerings and, after restoration the hallmark of the sanctuary of Delphi. It commemorated either the establishment of Democracy in the city of Athens, or the Athenian victory against the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. Most likely the latter.
Then we got to the main attraction of the site. The Temple of Apollo was built about 700 years before Christ. It occupied the most important and prominent position in the Delphi Sanctuary. The six columns that can be seen standing today were in fact repositioned to give an impression of the Temple’s look and scale, as the temple turned into a ruin long time ago. The Temple of Apollo is in fact the third temple built at this place. According to the myth, the foundations of the first temple were laid here by Apollo himself.
Just few steps from here is the best preserved monument at the archeological site of Delphi. The Theater! It conforms to the general design of a Greek Theater. The theatre was closely connected with Dionysus, the god of ecstasy, the arts and wine, who reigned in Delphi over the winter months when the oracle was silent.
Beyond the theatre there are the impressive remains of an athletic stadium. I was too tired to climb there. It was too hot to live, not saying anything about climbing! Instead I went to look for something to drink as I got thirsty. There are no people selling soda in the archeological area so I had to find water from Gea, the Earth Mother. Fortunately, there is a sacred, fresh water spring of pure mountain water near the Sacred Way. There was already a line to it but I had all the time to wait. The water was so cold and refreshing. I’m not surprised that people have been drinking this water for over 3,000 years now!
Although the Oracle doesn’t speak anymore, Delphi still is a place worth seeing. You won’t get advice, nor prophecy, but a huge dose of history and mystery. Greek myths are a bit like tales, and who wouldn’t want to find himself in one of such an amazing tale? In Delphi, you can.