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10 Things to Do in Delphi
Home to the Oracle of Apollo

What to do in Delphi

Date
27 December 2019

The ancient navel of the world, home to the legendary Oracle of Apollo, the stage of one of the four Panhellenic Games of Ancient Greece, the Pythian Games… Delphi, is the most sacred site of Ancient Greece and anyone that visits Greece should include it in their to-do list. Characterized by UNESCO as a “unique artistic achievement” and “magical”, Delphi and the surrounding area have many things to offer. Here are the top 10 things to do in Delphi and the surrounding area.

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The Temple of Apollo at Delphi - Credit: Skyring [CC BY-SA 4.0]

The Temple of Apollo was built on the south-western slope of Mount Parnassus, overlooking the valley of Phocis. Since antiquity, the Delphi area is visited by thousands of travelers from all over the world. Back then, to receive guidance from Apollo for a burning question, while today, to witness the testimony to civilization of Ancient Greece that Delphi bears. The Delphi Oracle was the most famous Oracle in the ancient world. It was generally believed that the place where the Oracle of Apollo was built was the ‘Omphalos’, the navel of the world. According to Greek mythology, Zeus released two eagles, one from the east and one from the west, and Delphi was the place they met. People believed that Pythia was the medium through which god Apollo communicated, giving oracles to humans. Control over Delphi and the Pythian Games was greatly sought-after, leading to a total of four Sacred Wars between Greek city-states.

1. Pass through the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia

The first thing to do in Delphi is to pass through the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia, the first sanctuary a visitor would see at Delphi. Goddess Athena was the half-sister of Apollo and her sanctuary is located before that of her brother’s, protecting him. One of the buildings in the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia, Tholos, is one of the most photographed spots in Delphi and you will get your chance to see why when you visit!

The Tholos at the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia

2. Purify Yourself at Castalia Spring 

The Delphic sanctuary lies at the base of two steep rocky cliffs of Parnassus, the Phaedriades. Between them rises the Castalian Spring and its sacred waters. No one was allowed to seek the aid of the god before being washed and purified in its waters. The water still runs today from the mountain spring and you can ‘cleanse’ yourself with it before you enter the Sanctuary of Apollo, making a representation of the ancient ritual.

Castalia Spring in Delphi

3. Visit the Archaeological Site of Delphi

Following the ancient path, the “Sacred Way”, you will enter the site of Delphi, passing through the votive offerings of powerful city-states like Athens, Sparta and Thebes. Make sure to have a guided tour of Delphi, to learn about the importance and role of these offerings to Apollo and the political games behind them. After the votive offerings, you will see the small, elegant buildings, the Treasuries, which housed the dedications made from Greek city-states to Delphi and Apollo. The Siphnian Treasury, dated to the 6th century BC, stands out as the oldest religious structure in mainland Greece made entirely of marble. The pediment was supported by two caryatids, predating by a century the famous caryatids on the Acropolis. Next comes the Athenian Treasury, which was built after their victory at the Battle of Marathon against the Persian Empire, in 490 BC. Shortly after, you will arrive at the Doric Temple of Apollo, which dominates in the center of the sanctuary. In the adyton of the temple, Pythia, seated on the divine tripod, carried the words of the god. Just above the Temple, offering an excellent panoramic view of the unique landscape, there is the Theater of Delphi. This is where the musical and dramatic games of the Pythian Games were taking place. Leaving the theater, the path leads to the Delphi Stadium, the venue for the Pythian sporting events.

The theatre of Delphi

4. Explore the Archaeological Museum of Delphi

At the far side of the site lies the great Delphi Archaeological Museum, one of the most important museums in Greece and definitely one of the top things to do in Delphi. The artifcats of the Delphi Museum present the history of the famed Delphi sanctuary. Its rich collection includes mainly sculptures, statues and miniature works, dedications to the sanctuary, which reflect its religious, political and artistic activity throughout its historical course, from its founding in the 8th century B.C., until its decline in the late antiquity. Among its treasures, it hosts the colossal marble statue of the Sphinx of Naxos and the famous Charioteer of Delphi, one of the finest examples of ancient bronze sculptures!

The Charioteer of Delphi

5. The Museum of Delphic Festivals

Angelos Sikelianos was a great Greek poet who loved Delphi greatly, especially what it represented. His dream was to revive Delphi as the navel of the world and make his “Delphic Idea” a reality. Angelos believed that the moral values that Delphi represented and shaped the classic civilization, if re-examined, could serve as a fertile ground for intercultural communication among people. His first wife, the American Eva Palmer, shared his dream and assisted him in his efforts. Together, they managed to organize two Delphic Festivals (1927, 1930), attracting an international audience of intellectuals and artists. In Angelo's vision, there was also room for the "Delphic Union", where the ultimate goal was the unification of all peoples, but also the "Delphic University", which would connect all traditions of all cultures. Without any state intervention and funding, only the ancient performances with the financial assistance of his first wife, Eva, became a reality. Today, their house in Delphi houses the Museum of Delphic Festivals, which is dedicated to the couple's vision for the Delphic Idea. It exhibits photographic and printed material from the two Delphic Festivals, costumes from the ancient drama performances at the Delphi theater and the couple’s personal belongings - furniture, photographs, the famous broadloom of Eva, handwritten texts from the poet and more items.

The House of Angelos Sikialianos, now a Museum

6. Explore Arachova and its Folklore Museum

Αrachova is one of the most popular winter destinations in Greece and just 10 minutes away from Delphi. The main street of Arachova is filled with shops selling local products and woven, taverns and cafes. The alleys of Arachova are stone-built and very picturesque, forming the ‘heart’ of the village. The scent of smoke and fireplace from the chimneys is all around and you can smell the delicacies that are being prepared in the taverns. Arachova, however "cosmopolitan" it may be nowadays, still retains its authenticity and true character of a Greek mountain village. The village has a rich tradition in the art of weaving and in the center of it, just behind the famous Clock, you will find the Arachova Folklore Museum. The museum aims to preserve and study the local traditional culture, and the historical and cultural heritage of the area. It has an exact replica of an ancient loom, like the one Penelope used in Homer’s Odyssey to weave Laerte's burial shroud in an effort to delay her suitors; carpets from the last century, dozens of Greek and foreign magazines for our ancient and modern culture, as well as a large collection of historical and photographic archives from the daily and historical course of Arachova and the wider area during the 19th and the 20th century.

Arachova village

7. Hosios Loukas Monastery

An option to combine with your day trip to Delphi is the Hosios Loukas Monastery, which you can visit before or after your visit to Delphi. Proclaimed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, the monastery is a fine example of medieval Byzantine architecture and decoration, and one of the three surviving monasteries of that period in Greece. Built on the western slopes of Mount Helicon, where Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection, the complex of the monastery contains two magnificent Byzantine churches decorated with beautiful frescoes and mosaics. The older church, a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture, is dedicated to Virgin Mary, while the newer church is dedicated to its founder, St Luke of Steiris (Hosios Loukas). Don’t forget to also visit the crypt below the Katholicon! 

Hosios Loukas Monastery

8. Visit the Archaeological Museum of Amfissa

Just 20 minutes from Delphi, you will find the town of Amfissa, which took its name from the homonymous mistress of god Apollo. The Archaeological Museum of Amfissa offers you the complete picture and historical evolution of the region in ancient times. It is housed in the historic building where the First National Assembly of Greece was held in 1821 - at the year of the Greek War of Independence. It was created to host and exhibit findings from Amfissa and other sites of Phocis region that date back to the Bronze Age. The museum perfectly presents the daily life of Ancient Greeks: the role of men; the social position, the daily activities, the appearance and the adornment of women; the styling of the time, the nourishment of children and many more details of their society. It definitely deserves a visit if you are interested to learn about the everyday life of the ancients.

A square in Amfissa

9. Discover the 'Haunted Harmena'

Located on the outskirts of Amfissa and just a few minutes away from its Archaeological Museum, the neighborhood of Harmena is a must if you wish to discover how life looked like in Greek villages a century ago. The village has a long tradition in tanning and you can still find today Mr. Kostas and his son, Panagiotis, the last active tanners in the area! The village is famous for the ‘Ghost of Harmena’ and its festival that takes place every year during the Greek carnival. During the festival, the village’s streets and alleys are flooded with strange and supernatural creatures; elves, fairies and other mythical and folklore creatures are seen everywhere, as the past is brought back to life in an evocative atmosphere! It all started with the story of Constantis and Lenio. It may have not received the worldwide popularity of William Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’, but the tragedy of the young couple whose love faded before it could blossom is now celebrated by the inhabitants of Amfissa! After strolling around its picturesque alleys, relax at the only café-tavern of the old village, located at the main square, and ask Mr. Ilias (the owner) to tell you the story of the couple that led to the legend of Harmena, while enjoying his home-cooked delicacies!  

Harmena

10. Corycian Cave

If you are a fan of hiking, then hiking to the Corycian Cave should be on your list for things to do in Delphi. Located at the southwestern side of Parnassus amidst a beautiful forest of fir trees and magnificent views, the cave was a place of worship of the goat-like god Pan and the Nymphs that accompanied him. According to Greek mythology, the cave took its name from the Nymph Corycia, one of Apollo’s partners. The trail that leads to the Corycian Cave starts from Delphi, next to the house of Angelos Sikelianos (the Museum of Delphic Festivals). It is approximately a 3.5-hour distance and it is part of the European path E4. Of course, if you are at Delphi only for a day trip, then you can always get there by car. After reaching the cave, you can admire the natural sculptures formed by the stalactites and stalagmites. The cave was part of the pilgrimage for those seeking an answer from the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi. Today, there are still ceremonies and offerings taking place in the cave occasionaly, continuing the tradition thousands of years later. Locals know the cave also by the name ‘Sarandavli’ (meaning “forty flutes” in Greek), because of the amazing acoustics of its first large chamber. There is also a legend, according to which, a tunnel started from the cave and ended in the sanctuary of Apollo in Delphi. It is certainly worth a visit!

 

Delphi has much to offer and experiencing them all in a day trip from Athens is challenging. You can join our private tour to Delphi where we have included the most important experiences of the list above. Alternatively, you can decide what’s best for you and we will create a tailor-made trip based on your interests. Whatever you chose to do, your trip to Delphi is going to be magical!

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