Delphi is an archaeological site in mainland Greece comprised of the well-preserved ruins of one of antiquity’s most important settlements. A site known as ‘the bellybutton of the ancient world’.
Archaeologists have found evidence that Delphi had been occupied by settled communities since the Mycenaean Period (c.1500-1100 BC), but it was Delphi’s later history which has left the biggest mark on the area.
Many of the sites at Delphi date back to the 5th century BC, although many have been reconstructed and some altered by the Romans. Many of the buildings also suffered from damage and destruction caused by fires and earthquakes. Nevertheless, walking through Delphi offers a fascinating insight into the lives of its former inhabitants.
Part of what made Delphi such an important city was its mythological and religious status. Ancient Greek mythology states that when the deity Zeus released two eagles to find the centre of the world, they met in Delphi. The name “Delphi” derives from the word “dolphin” as it was believed that this was where Apollo arrived on the back of a dolphin.
Today, Delphi reveals much of its past through incredible ruins, demonstrating a balance between religion, politics and leisure activities, particularly sports. Amongst these are the Temple of Apollo, believed to date back to the 4th century BC and once a central ceremonial site. This temple is believed to have been one of several that were built on the site, the previous ones having been destroyed by fires and earthquakes. This stood next to the Archive of the winners of the Pythian Games which were held at Delphi, burnt down in 373 BC, also known as the Chresmographeion. Other sporting sites, such as the Delphi gymnasium and the stadium are also visible and are very well preserved.
Possibly the best preserved site in Delphi is the 5th century Doric building of the Treasury of the Athenians, which is located along The Sacred Way, a central road of the religious area of the city. The Treasury of the Athenians held the trophies of sporting victories, although its exact purpose is still the subject of debate.
Perhaps Delphi’s most iconic site is the Tholos. Constructed in around 380 BC, this once circular building had six Doric columns, three of which stand today. The Tholos is actually located away from the rest of the main Delphi sites and, again, its exact purpose is unknown.
Delphi was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. To this day it remains one of the most popular tourist attractions in Greece, situated amid the picturesque landscape that is the Pleistos Valley. Visitors can see first hand the almost ‘multi-layered’ nature of the ancient settlement, as the path ‘zigzags’ up the side of Mount Parnassus, taking people past a variety of spectacular ruins. From the Temple of Apollo to the mountain top stadium.
The nearby Delphi Museum explores the history of the archaeological site and houses many finds from its excavation.
Getting to Delphi
Full day tours to Delphi from Athens are available. Buses going from the Greek capital to Delphi take roughly 3 hours each way.
The little town of Delphi, nearby the ruins, also offers accommodation for any who wish to stay the night near this idyllic ancient sanctuary.
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