Looking for something to do after visiting Athens ? Go visit ancient Delphi : one of the most important archeological sites in all of Greece! You are not prepared for the majesty of this site.
Delphi is a small city located in the mountains of Parnassus, but it is especially an archeological site that is situated just two hours up North from Athens, in the middle of nature. It was considered as the center of the world during antiquity. The site includes several monuments and is now a UNESCO world heritage site. You can visit ancient Delphi in a day trip from Athens very easily, or you can choose to sleep there if you wish to take your time. It is one of the most ancient historical sites in the world.
The ruins you can observe today were built on a previous structure that included a settlement and a cemetery that go back to 1600 BC. Other artefacts that date back to the Neolithic were found near the site. The site you can visit today is dated back to 800 BC. According to mythology, Zeus and his eagles determined Delphi to be the navel of the earth. It was one of the most sacred places in the ancient world and was a sanctuary for the son of Selene and Zeus, the god of light and music Apollo. It was dedicated to Apollo as he allegedly fought the Python that was guarding the site ; one of Gaia’s sons. In this site also lived the Oracle. She was also called the Pythia and her existence isn’t really proven but she would have been one of the most powerful persons in the world at that time. The Oracle had a part in every important event in Greece, as Delphi was a major cultural and religious center in Greece at the time. After inhaling ethylene coming from underground through a chiasm ; the Pythia gave highly important prophecies. . She would murmur incomprehensible things and had to be translated by the priest. She was consulted for private and political matters. Ethylene is a gas that induces a form of ecstasy and trance.
This sanctuary held the Amphictyonic League which is an ancient religious community of twelve different greek tribes. The league was powerful and controlled the district of Delphi at that time. The community of the nearby village Krisa acted against the sanctuary which led to the First Sacred War. According to legends, it lasted for about ten years and it ended with the destruction of Krisa. As Delphi was the winner, it became the new home to the Pythian games in 582 BC. Three other sacred wars followed this one.
The site was first destroyed by the emperor Theodosius in 394 BC. Later, with the arrival of Christianity, the Pythia had to be silenced as her influence was too important, and the site was destroyed again for good measure. For centuries the site was abandoned. In 1860, German archaeologists began to research the site, and thirty years later it was researched more intensely by a team of researchers coming from the French school of Athens that performed huge excavation and enabled people to visit ancient Delphi in today’s state.
What to do in Delphi
To visit ancient Delphi site you have to get though a route which is called the Sacred Way, for about two hundred meters. The site is beautiful as it is surrounded with calcic mountains, offering a spectacular and awing view; where ruins and nature converse together harmoniously. Here is a chronological list of the different monuments you will encounter during your visit to ancient Delphi :
Sanctuary of Athena
By coming from Athens you will first see this site. The main site is only a few hundred meters further uphill. On the sanctuary you will find the monument of Tholos ; which use still remains unknown today. It is built on a circular structure that is quite admired event though it has been mostly destroyed. The entrance is free for this part of the site.
The Temple of Apollo
It used to be lined with statues, but all that remains of the temple of Apollo today are the foundations and bases of the statues. It was built in a Doric style in 400BC, and was the place where the Oracle performed her rituals. The platform is supported by a wall that is cut with curious polygonal shapes.
There are two different treasuries present at the site : the Siphnians and the Athenians. These monuments look like small temples and they are both dedicated to Apollo. There were built in the sixth century before christ. In the monument votive offerings and trophie from battles from different cities including Athens were kept. You will only find a reproduction of the treasuries on the site, with rare inscriptions on the walls that are hymns dedicated to Apollo.
When you visit ancient Delphi you will probably wonder what is this small sculpture that looks like half an egg cut horizontally. It is supposedly the exact position of the center of the earth as Omphalos means “navel”.
The Grand theater
The theater is situated on the top of the site. It can hold up to five thousand spectators and hosted mostly musical contests but also some Pythian games. It was built in 400 BC with white stone from mount Parnassus.
At this point of your visit of ancient Delphi you will probably be a bit tired. There is one last monument you should definitely visit though : the Stadium. It hosted the Pythian games which where sport events comparable to the Olympic games. It is actually almost as big as the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens. According to wooden pegs that were found and were supposedly used to separate athletes, there would have been eighteen participants in each race.
Museum of Delphi
This museum showcases and protects statues that were recovered from the site. There is also the original treasury of the Athenians built with marble from Paros. It is decorated with a frieze. It displays a large collection of artefacts and should not be missed while you visit ancient Delphi as they are complimentary. It also contains artifacts from other sites such as the Island of Naxos.
How to get to Delphi
To go to Delphi from Athens is easy :
- By Bus
It takes about three hours to go from Athens to Delphi, with the national company bus KTEL directly from Syntagma square.
- By Car
From Athens, if you have your own car, take the freeway E75 to Lamia for a hundred kilometers, take the Kastro exit and then go to Levadia and Arachova. Finding parking space isn’t difficult in Ancient Delphi and it is usually free. If you want to be sure to find a spot, go before noon as there are a lot of tour buses that go there too.
Rates and opening hours
- Normal ticket : 12€
- Reduced ticket for minors : 6€
- During spring-summer (1st of April-30th September) : Mon- Sun: 8:00am-7:00pm
- During autumn-winter (1st October-31st March) : 8:00am-3:00pm
GOOD TO KNOW
You can either stay directly at the little town of Delphi where there is plenty of accommodations or at the beautiful mountain village of Arachova which is situated closer to the ruins and will make it easier to visit ancient Delphi.
The site is situated uphill so make sure you are wearing appropriate walking shoes and clothes, and during summer a hat and a bottle.
To make sure you have the best visit in Ancient Delphi, book a guided tour of the place, as it is quite big and having an actual person sharing the facts brings up the site to life. You can also book tour directly from Athens to Delphi on a day trip.
You can visit ancient Delphi by paragliding over the ruins ! Flights last for about twenty to thirty minutes and are organized by professional instructors.
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