Delphi: A Journey to the Center of the Earth
Delphi is a sanctuary that was considered to be the “omphalos” or in other worlds the “navel of the world” in ancient Greece. Just a few hours away from Athens, it makes the perfect destination for a day trip and here’s why.
The archaeological site of Delphi is located within an imposing natural landscape between two large rocks, the Fedriades. The landscape is calm and it is no coincidence that it has been for many centuries a religious and spiritual center as well as a symbol of unity of ancient Hellenism.
The History of Delphi
A little bit of historical background is needed, in order for someone to appreciate the importance and historical magnitude of the site. Delphi has been the subject of Greek mythology countless of times, to a point where we cannot even distinguish what is real and what is fictional. According to Greek mythology, Zeus left two eagles to fly, one to the East and one to the West, and they met in Delphi, making it the center of the world. Delphi was the most important oracle of the ancient Greek world, whose reputation exceeded the boundaries of Greece from ancient times, as evidenced by the findings of various excavations. It is believed that the oracle made decisive predictions about events that greatly shaped Greek history such as the Argonaut expedition and the Trojan War. The most prominent example is that of the Persian King Croesus. When he asked the Oracle if it was right to attack Greece, the answer he received was: "If you attack, you will destroy a great kingdom." Croesus attacked, believing that the great kingdom that was going to be destroyed would be Greece, but in the end, it was his own. The oracle had such a prominent place in the ancient world that no major decision was made without consulting it first.
The Archaeological Park of Delphi
These fragments of history prove the importance of the place and can be traced through a walk at the archaeological park of Delphi. The archaeological site is vast and extends across the hillside. It is scattered by works of art and monuments at almost every step of the way. The view at the top is breathtaking. What is astonishing is the fact that the place has not been altered through the centuries. This invaluable historical paradise is a UNESCO Heritage Site, something that adds to its importance. The walk in history begins from the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia, and then continues along the Sacred Way which was the route followed by the ancient pilgrims. Along the way the visitor can take a glance at numerous buildings and offerings of that era. Perhaps, the most important site in the area is the Temple of Apollo, the place where, according to tradition, the priest Pythia was standing, in a state of ecstasy giving oracles. There, you can find the Treasure of the Athenians which is a small building in the form of a temple. In this little temple, trophies of important victories were kept and were dedicated to the gods. Among the best-preserved landmarks of the archaeological site is the ancient Delphi stadium. Here, centuries ago, thousands of spectators watched sporting events. This is the place where the Pythian Games, the second most important athletic games in ancient Greece after the Olympics, took place every four years.
The Archaeological Museum of Delphi
The Archaeological Museum of Delphi is undoubtedly one of the most important museums of the country. As a matter of fact, 700,000 people visit it each year, making it the second most popular sight, just after the Acropolis. Here, the history of the famous sanctuary of Delphi and the renowned oracle is presented through a rich collection of sculptures, statues and more. Let’s point out the most captivating exhibits for the visitor.
In the first exhibit room of the museum, you will see the “Tripod of Delphi", which was used by the priests of the temple, where the priestess Pythia communicated with the god Apollo and gave oracles. In the largest and widest area of the museum, you will be able to admire stunning statues from the temple and the treasury. Here, the famous statues of the “twins of Argos” are on display. These statues were found in excellent condition, something that is quite rare during excavations. At the same room, the famous “omphalos”, a religious stone artifact, is exhibited. It indicated that the location was the center of the Earth. Finally, at the end of the visit, one can take a look at “the Charioteer”. One of the most famous statues of the museum, it stands alone in a room that has been designed to host it forever. The bronze statue was found in Delphi and originally was part of a larger work, depicting a chariot with four horses, of which only a few parts were recovered.
Discover Delphi in a Day Trip from Athens
The Villages of Delphi and Arachova
However, Delphi is not only about the archaeological site and the long history of the place. The picturesque village near the archaeological site is also unique and it is often the ideal stop for the visitor. Today, Delphi has a high level of hospitality and excellent tourist infrastructure with many hotels, rooms to let, as well as restaurants, taverns, bars where you can enjoy your food or drink combined with the magnificent views to the shores of the Peloponnese. Local cuisine is particularly rich and will satisfy even the most demanding tastes. During your stay in the village, do not forget to visit the European Cultural Center of Delphi, the old house of poet Aggelos Sikelianos who had a deep and profound connection to the place. He tried to put into practice the Delphic Idea, which is to create a new spiritual navel of the Earth where people of science and arts from all over the world would gather and work. At the center, you will find loads of artifacts and collections that showcase his efforts to revive Delphi as a significant cultural center.
A great alternative to the village of Delphi is also, Arachova, the so-called Myconos of the winter, where locals tend to spend their winter vacations, playing with the snow at the slopes of mount Parnassus while frequenting the various bars and restaurants of the cosmopolitan village.
Activities in the Area
If you are feeling adventurous and wish to get a taste of the scenery and the fauna and flora of the region, you should definitely join a hiking group and follow one of the most famous trekking paths. We recommend the route that the pilgrims used in ancient times, arriving from the sea and heading towards the sanctuary of Apollo. The path ends at the magnificent stone chapel of Saint George. Surrounded by ancient walls, you will feel like being in a paradise full of pine trees, dense vegetation and yellow wildflowers.
However, your visit to Delphi does not deserve to be completed without a short trip to the neighboring areas, each of which has to offer a unique experience to the visitor.
The Monastery of Saint Lucas and the Town of Galaxidi
At a very short distance one can find the monastery of Saint Lucas (also available as a point of interest in our private day tour to Delphi). It is an architectural jewelry of 11th century Byzantine art, which has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1990. The two large churches as well as all the buildings of the monastery complex, make visitors gasp from admiration and awe. But, the same constructions are also objects of study by the experts due to their unique and incomparable architectural designs. In every corner of the monastery, pieces of Greek history unfold in front of the eyes of the visitor. Take a walk around and try to imagine the monastery withstanding the passing of time for more than a thousand years and playing an important role in the shaping of events of the region.
While in Greece, one can never stay away from the sea. Thankfully, a breath away from the archaeological site of Delphi, the seaside small town of Galaxidi is located. This coastal town is both picturesque and atmospheric as it is surrounded by beautiful mountains, but at the same time is very historic. Everything in Galaxidi reflects its centuries-old history. It is also the center of the maritime heritage of Greece. You should definitely not miss paying a visit to the Maritime Museum of Galaxidi which hosts the largest selection of 19th century sailing boat paintings in Greece, nautical objects including clocks, timers, instruments, and sea charts. The visit can end at one of Galaxidi’s various taverns which serve the best seafood you have ever tasted.
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Text: Olga Georgousi