Delos is an island and archaeological site which was held sacred by the ancient Greeks as the birthplace of the deity Apollo. It is unclear as to whether his twin sister Artemis was also believed to have been born there. There were temples built in honour of Artemis at Delos, but the legend seems focused on Apollo.
Evidence shows that Delos was inhabited as early as the third millennium BC and, from around the tenth century BC, when it was taken by the Ionian Greeks, it developed into a religious centre as well as a thriving port. A site of pilgrimage for many civilisations, Delos was later ruled by the Athenians, under which the native Delians suffered greatly, being exiled on several occasions.
Delos was considered such a sacred site that it was forbidden to die or to give birth there. Athenian leader Peisistratus is said to have even rid the island of all of its existing graves in the sixth century BC. Later, severely ill people and pregnant women would be removed from the island and taken to nearby Rheneia.
Over the centuries, activity at Delos centred around shrines and temples to Apollo in an area known as the Sanctuary of Apollo. Few of the once many temples in the Sanctuary of Apollo remain intact today, but what there is has been beautifully preserved and reconstructed. Mosaics and statues are dotted around Delos as are the facades of former temples, such as that of Isis.
Some of its most famous statues are those of the Terrace of the Lions. The originals of these are now held at the Delos Archaeological Museum, but the on-site replicas do give an idea of how it once looked. There is also an ancient theatre.
Unfortunately there are few if any English explanatory panels, so it’s a good idea to get a guide to go with you unless you speak French or Greek. Delos has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1990.
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