Delphi: My trip to the centre of the world

It was a late summer’s afternoon at the Delphi Archaeological Site in Greece. The skies were turning grey and the rain clouds rolling in. There was a wonderful silence as the tourist crowd finally started to thin out and we could take in the incredible views from Apollo’s temple over the mountains and valley.

Delphi Archaeological Site (Credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)

Delphi Archaeological Site. (Credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)

Suddenly there was a bright flash of lightning and a loud roar of thunder. We shrieked with fright and a tourist quipped: “The gods must be angry. Someone touched something!”

Do not touch sign at Delphi Archaeological Site (Credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)

In ancient times, Delphi in Greece was considered the centre of the known world – the place where heaven and earth met.

According to Greek mythology, Zeus (the Greek god of the sky and ruler of the Olympian gods) wanted to locate the centre of “Grandmother Earth”, also known as Gaia. He commanded two eagles to fly simultaneously and at equal speed from the two ends of the world – one from the east and one from the west. He declared that the place where their paths crossed would be the centre of the Earth – the omphalos or navel of Gaia.

Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, as depicted on an ancient Greek vase (Louvre Museum, Paris).
Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, as depicted on an ancient Greek vase (Louvre Museum, Paris).

The eagles took to the skies and flew until their paths crossed above the beautiful fertile valley of Phocis on the south-western slope of Mount Parnassus in Greece. Zeus threw a stone from this point to see where it would land. It landed in Delphi, which from that moment would become known as the centre of the ancient world – the stone representing the earth’s navel (omphalos).

Today there is still a stone to be seen at the Delphi Archaeological Site which marks Earth’s belly button (it can easily be missed, as it is rather unassuming). Inside the Delphi Archaeological Museum, there is a beautifully decorated 4th century BC replica of the omphalos stone that used to stand in this spot.

The 4th century BC replica of the omphalos in Delphi’s museum (left) and a photo of the stone that marks the spot of the omphalos (or centre of the earth) at the Delphi Archaeological Site. Photos by Yucatan
The 4th century BC replica of the omphalos in Delphi’s museum (left) and a photo of the stone that marks the spot of the omphalos (or centre of the earth) at the Delphi Archaeological Site. Photos by Yucatan

It was believed that the omphalos stone allowed direct communication with the gods and in time the Delphi site was adopted by the ancient Greeks as the sacred dwelling of Apollo, the god of the sun, light, music, truth and prophecy. People travelled from all over the ancient world to worship Apollo and seek his prophecy on matters ranging from state affairs to their personal lives.

Apollo, Greek god of the sun, light, music, truth and prophecy. (Delphi Archaeological Museum.) Photo by Fingalo.
Apollo, Greek god of the sun, light, music, truth and prophecy. (Delphi Archaeological Museum.) Photo by Fingalo.

Apollo’s prophecies were “channelled” by a priestess called Pythia, also known as the Oracle of Delphi. It is said that she inhaled mystic vapours that escaped from narrow openings in the earth at the site where Apollo’s temple was built. Experts today say these fissures are the result of ancient earthquakes triggered by two fault lines that intersect deep beneath the ancient site, and the gas that she inhaled may have been naturally occurring ethylene, which would cause euphoria and visions.

The priestess was one of the most powerful people in the ancient Greek world -no important decision was made without consulting her first.

The famous Delphi Archaeological Site in Greece. (Credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
The remains of the Apollo temple at Delphi Archaeological Site.
 Reconstruction and plan of the Apollo temple, 4th century BC at the Delphi Archaeological Site. The Temple of Apollo occupied the most important and prominent position in the Delphic Sasnctuary.(Photo credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
Reconstruction and plan of the Apollo temple, 4th century BC. The Temple of Apollo occupied the most important and prominent position in the Delphic Sanctuary.
Reconstruction and plan of the Apollo temple, 4th century BC at the Delphi Archaeological Museum. The Temple of Apollo occupied the most important and prominent position in the Delphic Sasnctuary.(Photo credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
Model of what the Delphi sacred site originally looked like. (Delphi Archaeological Museum).

Delphi, and the many theories and myths surrounding it, had always fascinated me and I knew that a visit would be a must for me on any trip to Greece. I read up all I could about the history and mythology before my visit. What I was not prepared for, though, was the absolutely stunning natural beauty that I would see. Wow! I was deeply grateful that I had made a last-minute decision to convert my day trip to an overnight stay in Delphi. It was the best decision ever.

My Delphi selfie at the Delphi Archaeological Site. (Credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
My Delphi selfie.
The Delphi Amphiteatre built further up the hill from the Temple of Apollo. At the Delphi Archaeological Site. (Credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
The Delphi Amphiteatre built further up the hill from the Temple of Apollo.
Don’t miss the temple and tholos of Athena Pronaia which is located a short walk down from the Delphi sacred site. (Credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
Don’t miss the temple and tholos of Athena Pronaia which is located a short walk down from the Delphi sacred site.

I could’ve easily stayed in the area for a week. The mountains and views towards the ocean are incredible, and I marvelled at the thought of the ancient Greeks travelling from afar to visit this sacred site. There are also other beautiful small villages nearby (such as the mountain village of Arachova and quiet seaside town of Galaxidi with beautiful beaches) that beg to be explored and will definitely be on my itinerary when I visit the Delphi area again in the future.

Gorgeous views towards the ocean from the Delphi Archaeological Site. (Credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
Gorgeous views towards the ocean.

There is a fascinating archaeological museum in Delphi that houses many of the treasures  that came from all corners of the ancient Greek world as votive offerings to Apollo. (These gifts used to be stored in specially built treasuries near Apollo’s temple). I highly recommend visiting the museum first before walking over to the archaeological site which lies a few hundred metres further. A visit to the museum will really make ancient Delphi come to life, and you will have a much better understanding of the ruins and all the wonderful history they witnessed.

The sphinx of Naxos was a colossal statue sent around 560 BC as an offering to the temple of Apollo in Delphi, by Naxos - one of the richest Cycladic islands at the time. Photo taken at the Delphi Archaeological Museum. (Credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
The sphinx of Naxos was a colossal statue sent around 560 BC as an offering to the temple of Apollo in Delphi, by Naxos – one of the richest Cycladic islands at the time.
The famous Charioteer statue. I can't believe I saw it with my own eyes. I remember us learning about it in Art History class at school. The statue was made at Delphi in 478 or 474 BC and is considered one of the finest examples of ancient bronze statues. Photo taken at the Delphi Archaeological Site. (Credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
The famous Charioteer statue. I can’t believe I saw it with my own eyes. I remember learning about it in Art History class at school. The statue was made at Delphi in 478 or 474 BC and is considered one of the finest examples of ancient bronze statues.

Getting there: You can reach Delphi within three hours from Athens with the KTEL public bus. There are several buses that depart throughout the day from the Liossion Terminal B (at 260 Liossion Street) in Athens. I struggled to find the terminal as it’s hidden in a side street, so save yourself some time by taking the metro to either Aghios Nikolaos or Attiki station and then hopping on a taxi for the short ride to the bus station. The KTEL bus is very comfortable and air-conditioned, and buying your ticket (which includes a reserved seat) is easy at the station. The bus trip is wonderfully scenic and the three-hour journey will fly by quickly.

(All photos by Birgit@Groove Is In The Heart, unless indicated otherwise.)

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10 thoughts on “Delphi: My trip to the centre of the world

  • May 16, 2016 at 12:32 pm
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    Ah, that feeling when standing in front of something one had read/seen in text books. I felt that way in Paris when I visited the Louvre. Amazing feeling. Great post!

    Reply
    • May 16, 2016 at 4:58 pm
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      Thanks, Gina. Ah, yes…it was a dream come true! Still can’t believe I was there.

      Reply
  • April 14, 2016 at 9:19 am
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    Dear Birgit, thank you so much for this article!
    So well written, that one gets the feeling of being there with you. There must be another expression, but I shall just say it out loud…it’s ‘mouthwatering’ and I dream of visiting Greece and all its historical sites.

    Lots of love,

    bt.

    Reply
    • April 14, 2016 at 11:50 am
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      Thanks, Beate. It really was ‘mouthwatering’ and I would’ve loved to walk around Delphi with you. On my visit to Delphi there were a handful of art students translating what they saw into beautiful drawings, so remember to pack your sketch book should you ever travel to Greece – there is so much inspiration!

      Reply
  • April 13, 2016 at 8:49 am
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    The Delphi selfie is a gem! Can’t wait for your next blog post!

    Reply
    • April 13, 2016 at 5:44 pm
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      What a lovely surprise to hear from you, Rapefo 🙂 Thanks for the visit!

      Reply
  • April 10, 2016 at 6:32 pm
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    Hi Birgit, and thanks for following my blog! Delphi is just fantastic isn’t it? I agree with what you said about the natural beauty around the place, it just doesn’t get better than that!

    Reply
    • April 10, 2016 at 8:53 pm
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      Hi Elina! Wow! I see that you also visited Greece very recently…and that your homepage pic happens to be a pic of you at Delphi 😀 Happy to hear you also appreciated the history and incredible beauty! Thanks for stopping by my blog.

      Reply
  • April 10, 2016 at 12:23 pm
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    “Delphi selfie” – love it, and I love the whole tour, of course. Thank you for sharing a place I am unlikely to see fist hand

    Reply
    • April 10, 2016 at 4:37 pm
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      Ha ha, thanks! “Delphi selfie” was simply too good to resist 😉 Glad you enjoyed the virtual Delphi trip via my blog. Unfortunately, we can’t travel everywhere – I wish – and that’s exactly why I love to listen to other people’s travel stories.

      Reply

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