The island of Delos – the place where light was born
In the heart of the Aegean Sea, in the archipelago of the Cyclades islands there is a small amazing piece of land, with a special nature and unique light that is unique to it. This is the island of Delos (Δήλος) – it is here that, according to legend, the goddess Leto (Λητώ) gave birth to two of the most important gods of the Greek pantheon. Apollo (Απόλλωνα) and his twin sister Artemis (Άρτεμης), god of daylight, harmony and balance and goddess of the moon and night light.
The island of Delos, Greece
An ancient trading port, Delos
History of Delos
Despite its small size, this rocky islet (no more than 5 km long and 1,300 m wide) was once the most sacred place in ancient Greece. Everything was in the history of Delos. And the sacred inviolability of the cult center and the world-famous commercial port and the fall into oblivion.
The earliest mention of the presence of people on the island dates back to 2500 B.C. The ellipsoidal dwellings of that era were found on top of the hill Kinfos, where it was convenient to observe and control the sea around and the valley below. Around the 15th century BC, the Mycenaeans, who by then ruled the Aegean Sea, comfortably settled on the island. In about the 9th century BC, the sanctuary of Apollo was erected, and its fame spread throughout the Greek world. During the Archaic and Classical periods, every Greek sought to honor this place and worship the gods.
Both Naxos and Paros tried to take Delos under their wing. But it was Athens that eventually won, justifying its presence with some myths. In 478 BC the Delhi Union of Greek cities was organized, whose goal was to repel possible threats from outside. The center of government and the treasury of the union were on Delos. However, all the members ended up being vassals of Athens, and the treasury was moved to the Acropolis of Athens, ostensibly for security purposes. In reality, to serve as an economic base for Pericles’ vainglorious plans.
In the winter of 426-425 the Athenians began an operation to cleanse Delos, under the pretext of respecting the gods. All the graves on the island were opened, and the remains of the burials were transferred to the neighboring island of Rinia, where they were buried in a common pit. At the same time, it was decided that no one else would be born, die, or buried on the sacred island. Therefore, all the women in labor and the seriously ill were also transferred to Rinia. Eventually, the Delhiites lost their homeland, and by 422 B.C., all inhabitants were permanently exiled from the island. After that, perhaps to somehow justify their actions, the Athenians began to build another magnificent temple of Pentelian marble in honor of Apollo, and instituted the Delia, celebrations in honor of the solar god, which took place every five years.
After Alexander the Great’s death, his heirs and commanders fought among themselves for nearly forty more years, including for the possession of the Aegean islands. Between 314 and 166 B.C. Delos was an independent city and religious center. And after the defeat of the Macedonians by the Romans at Pydna in 168 BC, it passed to the victors, who then transferred the island to Athens.
The Athenians after 166 BC proclaimed Delos a free port with the right of duty-free trade for incoming ships, all Mediterranean trade activity was concentrated here. The goal was the economic humiliation of the antagonist island of Rhodes. Wealthy merchants, bankers, and ship owners streamed in. And also builders, artists, craftsmen to build and decorate their luxurious homes.
So the little island became the greatest trading center of the world at that time. But its prosperity and friendly alliance with the Romans were the main reasons for its destruction. Delos was attacked and sacked twice: in 88 BC by the enemy of Rome, Mithridates VI, king of Pontus, and later in 69 BC – by the maritime pirates of Athenodorus.
After that the island sinks for a long time into oblivion.
Attractions in Delos
Today visitors are offered three routes through the main attractions of the archaeological complex. The shortest one takes an hour and a half, and the longest one requires at least five hours. But they all include a visit to the museum.
So, the trail begins at the pier, which is located between the ancient harbor and the commercial port, passes through the Agora Competalias, worshippers of the cult of Lares Compitales.
And leads to the sacred road with the Portico of Philip V, king of the Macedonians.
The Sacred Road with the Portico of Philip V
On the right of the Propyleia, the main gate of the sanctuary, there is the House of the Naxos.
The Ruins of the House of the Naxos
There are many theories about the purpose of this structure. Many believe that it was originally the temple of Apollo. Others call it a sacrificial vault or ceremonial hall.
At the front of the Naxos house stood a giant statue of Apollo donated by the people of Naxos in the 6th century BC. A marble base weighing 32 tons supported the nine-metre sculpture. The god of light was depicted as a young man walking with a bow and arrow in his hands. And his glistening long locks of bronze were visible from anywhere in the sanctuary and far out to sea.
Fragments of the statue of Apollo in the ruins of the Temple of Artemis
Today, fragments of the Colossus can be seen among the ruins of the Temple of Artemis. Part of the left leg is preserved in the British Museum, and the Delos Museum has the statue’s left arm.
Further north the path leads past three temples of Apollo: the Temple of the Delians, the Temple of the Athenians, and the oldest, the Limestone Temple. The latter was built during the reign of the Athenian tyrant Pisistratus (540-528 π3A7↩).
The ruins of the Delian temple, which was never completed
At the northern exit of the sanctuary and the Dodecateon, a temple from the 3rd century B.C., where statues of the 12 gods were found and are now on display in the museum.
Next is the Letoon, dedicated to the mother of the twin gods. And to the right of the road and the sacred lake where Leto was delivered from her childbirth. Nearby, like eternal guards, the menacing lions are frozen in an endless roar of terror.
The Terrace of the Lions, Delos
The legendary Terrace of the Lions was donated by the inhabitants of Naxos at the end of the 7th century B.C. to demonstrate the power of their island-state. The original number of statues is not known, but presumably between 9 and 19. In October 1999, the sculptures were moved to the Delos Museum and exact replicas were installed in their place.
Just beyond the terrace can be seen the ruins of the House of the Poseidonians, the religious and commercial center of merchants and ship owners from Beirut who venerated Poseidon.
A little to the north, the road winds around the market by the lake. This was the main trading place for wine from southern Italy and Sicily, wheat and flour.
The ruins of the Lake House are a typical 2nd century B.C. dwelling. Its rooms were arranged around an open area surrounded by columns. Under the central part of the courtyard was a large cistern where rainwater from the roofs flowed. On the lower floor were the living room, dining room, restrooms, kitchen, pantry and rooms for the maintenance of slaves. And upstairs were the private rooms of the owners and the women’s quarters.
Flanking the lake house are the ruins of structures that once played an important role in the lives of the men of the ancient city. This is the complex where the Granite Palestra is located.
The palestra near the lake
Men of all ages spent a lot of time here, boys and young men studied and trained, the elders simply kept fit, and the elders watched and gave advice.
Along the path leading to Kynth Hill, visitors will encounter the remains of the sanctuaries of the Syrian and Egyptian gods, led by the temple of Isis, and the ruins of the sanctuaries of Hera, Zeus and Athena.
The ruins of the temple of Isis
And going down, you will see the oldest part of the ancient city, the Theater Quarter, where there were luxurious buildings with unique mosaic floors. The House of the Dolphin, the House of the Mask and the House of the Trident are examples of the wealthy homes of merchants, bankers and shipowners.
Courtyard of the House of the Dolphin, Delos. Photo http://www.iefimerida.gr/
The portico of the House of Masks, Delos. Photo http://www.iefimerida.gr/
The inner courtyard. Photo Photo http://www.iefimerida.gr/
An unusual mosaic depiction of a god on horseback on a leopard was found in the House of Dionysus.
Dionysus on a leopard, mosaic, Delos
Delos is a unique archaeological site also because many private houses are well preserved here. If the ruins of temples, stadiums, palaces are found all over Greece, the well-preserved houses of the ancient period is practically absent. Mosaic floors, foundations and wall bases of private dwellings have been found, for example, in Pella, Eritrea and Ancient Olynthos. But the houses, preserved “in height,” there are only on Delos. Here you can clearly see the structure of the house, to understand the way of life of its inhabitants.
After the House of Cleopatra, where the headless statues were found, the road leads to where the tour began – the Agora of the Complementarians.
But to see absolutely all the objects of the archaeological park, to feel the atmosphere of their great past, even a few days will not be enough. And be sure to pay attention to the unique lighting of the island, which, according to scientific measurements, is one of the sunniest places on earth. After all, light was born here!
About Delos told Galiya Fayzullina, photo of the author.
How the museum of Delos works
All archaeological sites are open to visitors in the summer season (April-August) daily from 8.00 to 20.00, in September – from 8.00 to 19.00. The Archaeological Museum also works every day, on Monday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., on other days from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. . The general admission ticket for visiting the museum and all the archaeological sites on the island costs 12€, the reduced price 6€, admission for children under 6 years old is free.
Delos island on the map
How to get to Delos
You can get to the island from Mykonos. In high season you can get to the island from Tinos and Naxos. But more convenient still with Mykonos, there is only half an hour way. However, you can get to the island only in good weather, on days when there is a strong wind or storm, there are no flights.
So, the ships leave daily from the small estuary in front of the church of St. Nicholas on the waterfront in Chora, Mykonos. You can buy tickets right there, 15 minutes before the ship leaves, or order online at Delostours.gr.
Round-trip tickets cost 20 euros for adults, 10 euros for children 6-12 years old and free for children under 6 years old.
Tuesday – Sunday:
To Delos: 9:00 – 10:00 – 11:30 – 17:00 . Return to Mykonos: 12:15 – 13:30 – 15:00 – 20:00 .
Delos: 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. . Return to Mykonos: 13:30 – 20:00 .
Find lodging in Mykonos:
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The island of Delos
According to Greek mythology, Apollo was born on this tiny island in the Cyclades archipelago. Apollo’s sanctuary attracted pilgrims from all over Greece, and Delos was a thriving trading port. The island has preserved traces of the successive civilizations of the Aegean world from the 3rd millennium B.C. to the early Christian period. The archaeological sites of Delos, diverse and very closely concentrated, form the image of a large cosmopolitan Mediterranean port.
The island of Delos bears the traces of an ancient civilization of the third century B.C. In the paleochristian era, the island was the seat of the Diocese of the Cyclades, which administered the islands of Mykonos, Syros, Kithnos and Kea. From the 7th century BC to the time of the sacking of the island by the pirates of Athénodoros, Delos was one of the main Panhellenic sanctuaries. Celebrations on Delos, held every four years in May, included hymn and equestrian competitions, music and dance contests, theatrical performances and feasts. It was one of the most important events in the entire Greek world.
Delos is a very small island, stretching only 5 kilometers from north to south and about 1.3 kilometers from east to west. It was here that Apollo, son of Zeus and Leto, was born. Like Delphi, Delos was one of the main sanctuaries of Apollo, the titan god, in fact one of the main gods of the Greek pantheon.
On an island which was once the site of ancient human settlements (rare in the Neolithic period and more numerous in the Mycenaean period), everything was connected with the sanctuary of Apollo, the center of Ionian amphictyony. The primacy in the Amphictyony was contested alternately by the peoples of Naxos, Paros, and the Athenians, who prevailed in the reign of Pisitratus (c.540-528 BC). They carried out the first ritual cleansing of the sacred site. In 454 the treasures of the Delos Confederation, which replaced the Amphictyony, were transported to Athens. A second “purification” of the island was undertaken by the Athenians in 426, at which time a law was passed forbidding births or deaths on Delos. Pregnant women or the terminally ill were transported to Rinia Island. This decision, taken for religious reasons, was in fact politically motivated. In 422 B.C., in an attempt to consolidate Athens’ power over the island, most of the inhabitants of Delos were deported. Except for small stretches of time, their exile lasted until 314, when Delos regained its independence and re-established itself as the center of an island confederation controlled by the Lagis of Egypt and later by the Macedonians. Delos developed into a very important cosmopolitan port in the Mediterranean, with a peak of prosperity in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, when its population reached 25,000.
In 166 B.C. the inhabitants of Delos were again forced to leave the island, this time by order of the Roman Senate, which decided to stop the commercial activities in Rhodes by establishing a free port on Delos. This marked a turning point in history, marking the end of an era of religious and political priorities and the beginning of an economic boom preceding the development of diplomatic and trade relations, reflected in the directives of the late 3rd century BC to the wealthy patrons of the sanctuary. The great era of maritime trade did not end until 69 B.C., after the sacking of the island by the pirates of Athénodoros, which completed the succession of disasters on the island. Abandoned by the inhabitants in the 6th century and conquered successively by the Byzantines (727), Slavs (769), Saracens (821), Venetians, Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem and Ottoman Turks, Delos turned into a quarry. The columns of its temples burned in furnaces, and the walls of its houses lay in ruins.
Today, the landscape of the island is represented only by ruins, systematically cleared of earth since 1872. In an area of potential archaeological work of 95 hectares of land, 25 of them have been excavated . The main areas of excavation are in the north-east of the coastal zone (Sanctuary of Apollo, Agora of the Roman merchants, Agora of Delhi); in the area of the Sacred Lake (Agora Theophrastus, Agora of Italians, the famous Lions Road, House of the Beritic Seidoists); in the area of Mount Kinf (Sanctuaries of the foreign gods, temple of Hera) and in the area of the theater whose ruins are covered with lush vegetation.
The island of Delos remains one of the most important sites in the Aegean Sea, attracting the attention of archaeologists. Delos had a significant influence on the development of architecture and monumental arts in the Greco-Roman period. Its importance has become even more evident since the 15th century, as its famous archaeological sites have played an important role in the development of modern ideas about the art of ancient Greece.