The Sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi took shape from the 8th to the 7th century BC, centred on a temple guarding the centre of the world, the Omphalos (Navel), the chasm of the Oracle. Here Pythia, the priestess, perched above the void and spoke the words of the god; a priest interpreted the often-ambiguous pronouncements to the waiting supplicants. From the 6th to the 4th century BC, Delphi was the spiritual centre of the ancient world and an international political centre, for warriors and kings joined the worshippers. Great wealth and power were amassed – in addition to ritual cleansing and sacrifice, those seeking advice paid tribute. Individuals and cities erected dedications to Apollo – statues and small buildings (treasuries) and the Sanctuary grew. Under Roman rule, the power of the Oracle declined, and in the Christian 4th century it was declared defunct.
Delphi spreads over a natural amphitheatre of rocks and cliffs in the foothills of Mount Parnassus. The Sanctuary – the Sacred Precinct – is part of a larger complex that includes a gymnasium, stadium and sanctuary to Athena. The entrance is through the Roman agora; the Sacred Way, a paved path, zigzags up the terraces and slopes. The lower section is flanked by plinths and niches, which once held more than 3,000 votive statues, and the remains of the treasuries. Above these, the Spring of Gaia and the Rock of the Sibyl pre-date the building of the temple. The Athenian Stoa acts as a gateway to the Temple, which now consists of foundations and a re-erected line of Doric columns. The Sacred Way ends at the 5,000-seat rock-cut theatre, which still has remarkable acoustics.
WHEN TO GO:
April to June, September and October
TIME IT TAKES:
The Museum – with a superb collection of the sculpture, friezes and artefacts from the site.
The stadium where the Pythian Games took place every 4 years still has a starting line of marble slabs with grooves for the runners’ toes.
The Tholus, or Rotunda, a very beautiful construction In the Sanctuary of Athena, the postcard Image of Delphi.
The views – beyond the grey crags, green valleys studded with olives roll down to the sea, sparkling in the Gulf of Itea.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The extensive site Is steep, rocky and uneven.
Carry provisions; there are plenty of excellent picnic spots and It’s a long walk down to catering facilities.