Delphi is one of the most visited sights on the Greek mainland. According to legend Zeus sent out two eagles to find the centre of the earth, and the eagles met over Delphi.
From the 8th century BC to 393 AD, Delphi was known as the most important oracle in the world. Kings and commom people alike would give a tribute in return for the wisdom of the god Apollo, transmitted through the oracle at his Delphi temple.
The actual prophecy was made by a priestess known as the Pythia, who was seated inside the temple and inhaled vapours that came out of the rock. This put her in a trance, believed to make her able to receive messages from Apollo himself. The travellers weren’t allowed to see the Pythia, but a priest would ask her the question and also interpret the answer she gave. The result was of course that the answer would be based on knowledge of politics of the day, what the traveller would expect to hear, plus a little guesswork. In addition, the answer was often worded ambiguously wording. The best-known prophecy was given to King Croesus of Lydia, who asked what would happen if he went to war against Persia. The answer he received was that a great empire would be destroyed. The king took this as a good sign, but as it turned out, it was his own empire that ended.
The Sacred Way
When you enter the area known as The Sanctury of Apollo, or The Sacred Precinct, you’ll walk up the Sacred Way to reach the Temple of Apollo, just like the ancient travellers did. On the sides were 3000 statues and a series of treasuries, that held the riches donated by various city-states. On the north side of the Sacred Way, you can see a reconstruction of one of these treasuries.
Temple of Apollo
The temple was originally erected in the 6th century BC, but the remains currently there are from the 4th century BC. The French archeologists that found the temple in 1892, also made some reconstruction on the temple. As a result, you can get an impression of the scale of the temple.
Above the Temple of Apollo lies the a large theatre, that could hold 5000 people, and almost rivals the great theatre in Epidaurus. Delphi held a festival every 8 years, in honour of Apollo’s killing of the great snake Python. The festival included poetry and music, performed at this theatre.
From 582 BC the musical festival was called the Pythian games, held every four years, and athletic competitions were added. Many of the athletic competitions were held in this stadium, that is almost 200 meters long, and able to hold 7000 spectators. The current seating is from Roman times.
Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia
Southeast of the Sanctuary of Apollo, lies the so-called marble quarry (Marmaria Precinct), where the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia is. It contains the remains of two temples dedicated to Athena, built around 5 centuries BC. Between the two temples is a circular tholos. It is not known what it was used for, but the three columns that were re-erected in 1938, has certainly made it the most easily reconizable building in the sanctuary.
This is where the athletes would bathe and exercise. The Castalian spring further up supplied only cold water to the baths, until the Romans added hot water in the 2nd century AD. East of the baths is the training area, surrounded by remains of exercise and changing rooms. Poets and philosophers would also use this area to lecture. In addition there’s also a covered track, which made it possible to have athletic events even if the weather was too bad for the stadium.
The nearby Delphi Museum has a collection of sculptures and artifacts that is only surpassed by the ones found at the Athens Acropolis. The museum has a total of 13 rooms, with the a statue known as The Charioteer, a life-sized bronze statue. Another notable piece is a Roman copy of a navel stone, Omphalos, the stone that marked the centre of the earth. There’s also a model of the temple of Apollo.
How to get there
Delphi is three hours away from Athens by bus or car, and there are several departures each day. The nearby modern village of Delphi has accommodation if you wish to stay the night.
Because of the large amount of tour buses that come to Delphi, it is advisable to go early, if you can.