The archaeological site of Delphi, situated in central Greece, at the foot of the Mount Parnassus, is the place where the ancient Greeks assumed that the “omphalos” stone artifact found there marked the center of the earth. According to Greek mythology, Zeus sent out two eagles from the ends of the universe to meet at its center and the omphalos of Delphi denote that point. That may be a reasonable explanation why the most famous oracle and Pan-Hellenic sanctuary in the ancient world was that of Delphi. Since the 6th century BC, Delphi had been considered as the religious and cultural centre, a symbol of unity for the classical Greek world. Today, the archeological site of Delphi is included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites and attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists each year.
The most important building in the sanctuary of Apollo in Delphi is the temple of Phoebus Apollo, a peripteral Doric building, built in 330 BC where the statues and other offerings to the god were kept. The temple housed the archives of the winners of the Pythian games, held each every 4 years, just like the Olympics. The existing temple is the third one to be built and was erected on the remains of a Doric peristyle temple built in 510 BC and was named as “Temple of Alkmaeonidae” as the major contributors to the completion of the temple was the Alkmaeonid family of Athens. The second temple was destroyed by earthquake in 373 BC. This temple replaced the original stone structure which was destroyed by fire in 548 BC. Three major inscriptions with famous phrases that are still in use in modern Greece were found in the temple such as “know thyself”, “nothing in excess” and “make a pledge and mischief is nigh”. The third one is that once somebody thinks that has achieved the former two, then catastrophe is not very far away.
The visitor can walk on the Sacred way, the same route which led in the ancient times from the entrance of the temenos to the temple of Apollo. Those wishing to consult the oracle followed the Sacred Way on the ninth day of each month, sacrificed an animal on the altar situated at the top and were waiting at the queue to ask Pythia for important matters. Pythia, was the priestess at the temple of Apollo, chosen among the local women of the region of Delphi. She sat on a tripod just above an opening in the earth that emitted a gas high in ethylene, that inspired her and helped her communicate with Apollo to deliver the oracle while being in ecstasy. Then the oracle was interpreted by prophetai, the priests of Apollo. The cataclysm of Deukalion, the Argonaut’s expedition and the Trojan War and other major events such as the battle of Salamis and colonization of the greek city-states in the Mediterranean and western Europe.
According to the myth, god Apollo killed the chthonic serpent Python or Pythia, as the latter had tried to rape Leto, while she was pregnant. Python was the child of Gaia, the primal Greek goddess of the Earth, and after the death of Python the oracle was inspired from Apollo, taking Gaia’s place.
Numerous votive monuments dedicated to the god and his oracle were built on the sides of the Sacred way or scattered within the sanctuary by Greek city-states to commemorate victories or wealthy men to thank the god for his oracle. The most impressive of those Treasuries is the Athenian Treasury which was built to commemorate the victory of the Athenians against the Persians in the Battle of Marathon (490 BC). There is also an inscription to prove this at the southern part of the platform were the treasury stands. The Athenians have also been given the oracle from Pythia to build wooden walls to save the city from the second invasion of Persians, which was interpreted by the Athenian leader Themistocles as an advice to build naval ships and fight Persians in sea. In the end, Greeks, although heavily outnumbered by the Persians, won an epic victory at the battle of Salamis. Another elegant buildings include the treasures of Siphnians, Sikyonians, Megarians, Arkades, the stoa of Athenians and many others.
The sanctuary was also the center of the Amphictyonic League, an ancient association of Greek tribes, before the rise of the Greek city states. Pythian Games were held in Delphi, every four years, one year prior to the Olympic Games held at Olympia, usually at the end of August. They included only musical contests at first, but they had been extended to gymnastic competitions, horse riding and other festivities. The musical contests and the theatric plays were taking place at the Theater of Delphi which could seat 5000 spectators. It is accessible to the visitors, who can have a great view of the whole sanctuary, the temple of Apollo and the magnificent landscape of the Pleistos valley. The athletic events of the Pythian Games took place at the Stadium of Delphi, one of the best preserved monuments of its kind without any sort of recent extensive restoration.
There was an another sanctuary, that dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena Pronaia, apart from the sanctuary of Apollo. The most spectacular building of the whole archaeological site, the tholos of Athena Pronaia, lies here. It is a circural building consisted of 20 Doric columns in the exterior and 10 Corinthian style columns in the interior. It was partially restored in 1938 and is considered as a masterpiece of the classical architecture.
The archaeological museum of Delphi exhibits the history of the sanctuaries of Delphi via the numerous findings exclusively from the archaeological site covering the long time span from prehistoric times to the period of Late Antiquity as the Christian Roman Emperor Theodosius I (which was then seated in Constantinople instead of Rome) banned both the Pyhtian Games and the use of the sanctuary. The statue of the charioteer of Delphi, known in Greek as Heniokhos (the rein holder), a bronze masterpiece, is exhibited in the museum. Other important exhibits include the two monumental Archaic statues of kouroi Kleobis and Biton, the Omphalos, the frieze of the Siphnian Treasury, the Naxian sphinx, the Attic white-ground kylix that has the best depiction of god Apollo ever found, the chryselephantine statues of Greek gods Apollo and Artemis, the metopes of the Treasuries of the Sikyonians and of the Athenians, the pediments of the temple of Apollo and other sacred votive deposits.
Mount Parnassus or Parnassos is one of the tallest greek mountains and is named after Parnassos, the son of the nymph Kleodora. As the greek flood myth says, the ark of Deucalion touched solid ground at the mountain together with his wife Pyrrha. When the flood was over, they both thanked Zeus who has given them the gift to repopulate the earth. Mount Parnassus is also associated with Apollo and Muses. Apollo transformed the nymph Castalia to a fountain in Delphi. Its sacred waters would then be used to clean the temples of Delphi and would inspire poetry to every one who drank her waters or listened to the waters’ sound.
The biggest ski center in Greece lies in Parnassos mountain consisted of two major peaks (Kellaria, Fterolakka) with 14 lifts that can carry more than 5000 skiers/hour and more than 25 ski runs and 12 ski routes. There is also a smaller ski centre, that of Gerontovrachos with two drag lifts. The town of Arachova has become a major ski resort with exclusive tourist facilities including chalets, boutique hotels, exclusive resorts, traditional greek houses attracting many celebrities and thousands of tourists. There are plenty of restaurants, taverns, cafes and shops selling traditional greek products or high end clothing and accessories and offering the latest sports equipment for sale or rental. That’s why Arachova, this small picturesque town, is often called “Winter Mykonos”. Arachova is only 2 hours away from Athens and just 8kms away from Delphi. It is also ideal for a cool summer mountain vacation away from the crowded beaches.