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.
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!”
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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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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