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One-day coach trips from Athens are popular, but it’s strongly recommended that you stay overnight; to have time to visit all the sites. Also, the best time to appreciate the breathtaking beauty of the sanctuary and the scenery is at the end of the day (or early morning), when all the crowds have gone.
You can go by public bus or rental car, or alternatively take one of the very informative tours run by the major tour companies.
The origins of the Delphic oracle go back to prehistoric times, when the Mother Earth goddess, Gaia, was worshipped on this site. She and her daughters uttered prophecies from the Rock of the Sybil, which still stands within the sanctuary.
The Dorian invaders of the 12th century BC brought with them the new deities of the Olympian gods, who supplanted the earth goddess. Legend tells it that the god Apollo arrived in Delphi on a dolphin and slew the serpent Python, guardian of the sanctuary.
In order to expiate himself for the blood he had shed, he then went into exile and worked as a slave before returning to claim the holy place as his own. Thus Apollo was seen to set an example of moral purity and a modest life for himself and mankind. Dionysus, the god of revelry, was also worshipped here, for the ancients believed a balance between prudence and pleasure made the perfect human being.
Go visit the Museum and further along the main road, past the excavations of a gymnasium, you’ll reach the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia, also called Marmaria (the Marbles). This was the pilgrims’ first stop on their way to the Oracle.
Near the entrance are the ruins of one of the oldest temples to Athena, built about 650 BC; earlier remains of Mycenaean worship found here confirm its importance as a sacred place. The most commanding structure, however, is the Tholos, a marble rotunda which dates from 390 BC. Three of the 20 Doric columns which enriched an inner shrine have been reconstructed and topped with their entablature. Though similar buildings stood at Epidaurus and Olympia, the purpose of the Tholos is still unknown.
In this ancient site of Delphi, note the Sanctuary of Apollo, lying at the foot of two scarred crags called the Phaedriades (shinning rocks).
Due to the bauxite which they contain, they acquire a rose tinted glow at sunset. Emerging from the ravine between them is the Kastalian Spring, where everyone who came to consult the oracle could purify themselves with ritual bathing.
If you’re feeling repentant for any reason, you can still taste the waters here, and so cleanse your soul.
The Roman Agora, where pilgrims bought supplies, precedes the entrance to the Sacred Way. As you mount the steps, imagine the holy path in its glory, lined with monumental bronze and marble statues and treasuries of gold and silver, as the city-states vied to offer the oracle the best gifts. Sitting at the bend in the road, the Treasury of the Anthenians (507 BC) has been put together from its original, Parian marble remnants. Just past it you’ll see the Sybilline Rock.
The path climbs sharply to Apollo’s High Altar, where animals were sacrificed. Above it rise the commanding columns of the Temple Of Apollo, dating from 330 BC (the temple of the classical age was destroyed by an earthquake in 373 BC). In the innermost shrine an aged priestess, the Pythia, was seated on a tripod. Suppliants believed Apollo himself spoke through the Pythia.
Breathing intoxicating vapors from an underground chasm and chewing laurel leaves, she worked herself into a frenzy, babbling incoherent phrases which the priests "interpreted" in notably ambiguous hexameter verse. Further up the mountainside is the theatre, built in the 4th century BC and enlarged by the Romans to seat 5,000.
Higher still is the stadium, where the Pythian Games were staged every four years. It measures 178.35m (585ft), or one stade, in length.
You can still see grooves for the runners’ feet set in marble slabs at the starting block. Penalties for drunkenness are inscribed on the south wall.
The modern village of Delphi, Kastri, is situated just a few minutes’ walk from the ancient site. Perched above the Pleistos gorge, it offers stunning views across the valley, planted with four million olive trees, to the Bay of Itea, some 600m (2000ft) below. There are lots of hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops, though advance booking in high sea-son is a good idea.
Just outside Delphi is the lovely terraced mountain village of Arachova, which is famous for its colourful kilims or woven rugs, woven blankets and bags, and furs, as well as for red wine.
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