Added by Andreas Brokalakis

A voyage to ancient history

In ancient Greece, Delphi was regarded as the centre of the world. The sanctuary of Delphi, was for many centuries the cultural and religious centre and symbol of unity for the Hellenic world. The history of Delphi begins in prehistory and in the myths of the ancient Greeks. Initially, the sacred site was dedicated to Mother Earth and according to greek mythology it was guarded by the serpent Python, who was killed by the god Apollo. Apollo's sanctuary was built here by Cretans who arrived at Kirrha, the port of Delphi, accompanied by the god in the form of a dolphin.

Although findings in the area prove that the site has been inhabited since the Neolithic period (4000 BC), the cult of Apollo was established and the development of the sanctuary and the oracle began in the 8th century BC. The stone temples of Apollo and Athena were built towards the end of the 7th century BC, while archaeological findings show that other gods were also associated with the sanctuary (including Artemis, Poseidon, Dionysus, Hermes, Zeus Polieus, Hygeia and Eileithyia).

Between the sixth and fourth centuries BC, the Delphic oracle, which was regarded as the most trustworthy, was at its peak. It was delivered by the Pythia, the priestess, and interpreted by the priests of Apollo. Cities, rulers and ordinary individuals alike consulted the oracle, expressing their gratitude with great gifts and spreading its fame around the world. The oracle was thought to have existed since the dawn of time. Indeed, it was believed to have successfully predicted events related to the cataclysm of Deukalion, the Argonaut's expedition and the Trojan War; more certain are the consultations over the founding of the Greek colonies. It was the oracle's fame and prestige that caused two Sacred Wars in the middle of the fifth and fourth centuries
BC. In the third century BC, the sanctuary was conquered by the Aetolians, who were driven out by the Romans in 191 BC. In Roman times, the sanctuary was favoured by some emperors and plundered by others, including Sulla in 86 BC.

The rise of the Rationalist movement in philosophy in the third century BC, damaged the oracle's authority, yet its rituals continued unchanged into the second century AD, when it was consulted by Hadrian. The Byzantine emperor Theodosius finally abolished the oracle in 394 BC and the raids of Slavs destroyed the precinct. With the advent of Christianity, Delphi became an episcopal see, but was abandoned in the sixth-seventh centuries AD.

Archaeological research in Delphi began in 1860 by Germans. In 1891, the Greek government granted the French School at Athens permission for long-term excavations on the site ("Great Excavation"). The Great Excavation uncovered spectacular remains, including about three thousand inscriptions of great importance enriching our knowledge of public life in ancient Greece. Today, the Greek Archaeological Service and the French School at Athens continue to research, excavate and conserve the two Delphic sanctuaries. Of all the monuments, only the Treasury of the Athenians had enough of its original building material preserved to allow for its almost complete reconstruction. The project was financed by the City of Athens and carried through by the French School in 1903-1906. The Chiot altar, the temple of Apollo and the Tholos were also partially restored.

Next to the archeological site lies the Museum of Delphi. The Archaeological Museum of Delphi is one of the most important in Greece and exhibits the history of the Delphic sanctuary. Its rich collections are comprised primarily of architectural sculpture, statues and minor objects donated to the sanctuary. These reflect its religious, political and artistic activities from its early years in the eight century BC to its decline in Late Antiquity.

You can reach the archeological site and museum by car or public transportation. The small town of Delphi is approximately 170km from Athens and requires a two-hour drive. The bus service to the archeological site is frequent and there are also many guided (or not) tours to visit the site and the surrounding area. The town of Delphi offers all amenities from cafes to restaurants and many accommodation options. As the site is located on the western side of Parnassos mountain, a lot of mountain activities can be performed in the nearby area, from hiking to skiing in the winter months (the ski center of Parnassos is in close proximity).

In the summer months, the archeological site and the museum are visited by thousands of people. So depending on the day, the site may be crowded. I would recommend to visit the archeological site early in the morning, because of the hot sun (remember to wear a hat and sun screen). You can then visit the museum which is air conditioned and therefore the midday sun wont tire you. Alternatively, if you arrive in midday, you can visit in reverse order. 

(source of historic information at the beginning of this text: Greek Ministry of Culture, https://www.culture.gov.gr/ )

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