www.athens-greece-guide.com - Delos - The sacred island of ancient Greece

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Delos is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world and is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites. Delos is an island just 2 km from Mykonos in the Cyclades and once was an important religious centre for the ancient Greeks. The island was believed to be the birthplace of the gods Apollo and Artemis and second only to Delphi in religious importance. The whole island was like one big sacred sanctuary with temples and statues dedicated to many different Gods.

The island is now one huge archaeological site and is uninhabited other than a few caretakers/guides, although through the day there are plenty of tourists who arrive from the nearby islands of Mykonos and Naxos. Most people will recognise the famous stone lions on the island from postcards and photographs of Greece.

History of Delos

There were settlements on Delos from about 3,000 BC, a part of the Cycladic civilization of those islands. Delos was occupied by Ionian Greek around 1000 BC and they made the island there religious centre, it was so sacred that people were forbidden to give birth or die on the island! Women who went into labour or anyone who seemed to be dying were rushed off to the nearby island of Rinia. After the Persian wars, Delos became the main meeting ground of the Delian league, headed by Athens and was used as a treasury for the league. After a while the Athenians decided the treasury would be a lot safer on the Acropolis than Delos, which upset many of the other members of the league which in a small way helped to ignite the Peloponnesian war.

During Roman times Delos had a population of nearly 30,000 many of these were foreign, they added to Delos with their own shrines and temples dedicated to their Gods. In 99 BC Delos was sacked by Mithridates, the king of Pontus who was rebelling against the Romans, much of the island was destroyed and the majority of the people killed or sold into slavery. The Romans rebuilt some of the temples and buildings but over the centuries Delos fell into decline until it became uninhabited.

Archaeological site of Delos

Delos is full of things to see, far too many to cover on this page, so here are some of the most important sights of Delos.

Sacred way

The first things of any interest you see when you arrive at the port of Delos is the sacred harbour, Agora of the Competialists and the entrance of the sacred way. The sacred way runs north all the way to the temple of Apollo and was flanked by statues, shrines and monuments built by all different city states and kingdoms, all that can be seen of these now are the marble bases. The sacred way was the main route used by pilgrims during the Delian festival.

Agora of the Competialists

The Agora of the Competialists is sometimes known as the Agora of the Italians, as it was mainly used by Romans. The name Competialist is because many of the merchants who used the Agora worshiped the cult of Lares Competiales. The Agora was a large open space surrounded by shops, much of this can still be seen. In the centre of the Agora are two shrines dedicated to Hermes and Maia, the Agora is sometimes referred to as the Agora of Hermaists because of these shrines.

Sanctuary of Apollo

The sanctuary of Apollo is probably the number one attraction on Delos and was the most important thing on the island in antiquity. The sanctuary of Apollo is at the end of the Sacred way and originally three separate temples, although not much remains of them. The main temple was the Great temple of Apollo built in about 480 BC, the other two being the Temple of the Athenians and the Porinos Naos. The Delian leagues treasury was kept in the Porinos Naos until the Athenians moved it to Athens.

In the area of the Sanctuary of Apollo is the sacred lake which all the buildings seem to been built around, almost like a keystone. The oval shaped lake was believed to be where Leto gave birth to Apollo and Artemis, the lake is now dry, it was drained in 1926 to prevent diseases.

Terrace of Lions

The Terrace of Lions is the most recognisable monument on Delos, there were originally nine of these lion statues guarding the sacred way, the ones you see now are actually replicas. Five of the original Lions are in the museum at Delos and another is in Venice above the main gate to the Arsenal. These famous lions were made on the nearby island of Naxos and transported to Delos sometime during the 7th century BC.

Also in this area is the hall of the Poseidoniasts of Beirut name after the Phonecian merchants who used the area they worshiped the Phonecian God Baal who was associated with Poseidon, hence the name.

The Theatre of Delos

The theatre of Delos was built in 300 BC and could seat 5500 it replaced a much earlier wooden theatre. Near the theatre was the main residential area of Delos, some of these building have fantastic mosaic floors the best ones are The House of the Masks where it hasDionysus riding a panther and the House of Dolphins where the mosaic depicts all kinds of sea creatures.

The Museum of Delos

The Delos museum contains many finds from the island including the original Lions, there also lots of mosaics, statues and other artefacts from the site.

Delos - Information

Delos is on of the most important archaeological sites in the world, during ancient times it was second only to Delphi in relgious importance. Nowadays nobody lives on Delos, there are no hotels or homes, once the archaeological site closes everyone has to leave the island.

Location - Delos is a tiny island 5 km off the coast of Mykonos in the Cyclades.

Travelling to Delos: Delos doesn't have an airport, the only ways of getting to Delos is by Ferry from either Mykonos(this is the closest), Naxos and Paros. The ferry from Mykonos takes roughly 30 minutes.

Delos entrance Fee: The actual ticket to enter Delos is 6 euros but it will cost you another 12 euros for the ferry from Mykonos.

Opening hours of Delos: Delos is open from 08:30-15:00 from Tuesday to Sunday.

Tips: Take plenty of water with you as there will be a lot of walking involved, there is a bar/cafe on the island for refreshments.