Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Greece: Delphi and the Oracle

Columns at one corner and parts of the foundation are all that remain of the
Temple of Apollo at Delphi, once the most important place in the
classical world.  In the story of Oedipus, it was here that it was
predicted that he would kill his father and marry his mother.
                                   If you're at all familiar with the history of classical Greece or the story of Oedipus, you should be aware of the        importance of the Oracle at Delphi. The Pythia (the high priestess at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi) was the most powerful woman in the ancient world. Although the Pythia or Oracle was well known and revered for centuries beginning in the Eighth Century B.C.E., little is understood about how her prophecies were delivered or how the high priestess was selected. A popular theory is that the Pythia delivered prophesies while under the influence of intoxicating vapors (probably sulfuric gases) coming from the ground, and her ramblings were then interpreted by the temple's male priests, but some sources say the prophecies were delivered coherently and even in poetic verse. 

At any rate, communities all over the Greek world paid tribute to the Oracle with elaborate gifts, often establishing treasuries at Delphi to hold the gold and precious objects presented to the temple. Today, what's left are a few columns and the foundation of the temple itself, a couple of the treasury structures, and many of the offerings presented in tribute to the Oracle. A small but excellent museum near the site has preserved many sculptures and architectural details.

The town of Delphi itself is a pleasant place to stay during a visit to the temple site, though I suspect many people visit the temple as a day trip out of Athens. There are good restaurants and bars with distant views of the Gulf of Iteas and the Gulf of Corinth. We were there two nights, arriving from Athens by taxi. Afraid the next day might be rainy, we made a point of visiting the temple and the museum on the afternoon we arrived. Both are an easy walk from the center of town, where we stayed at Pitho Rooms, a B and B above a gift shop. Our full day in Delphi turned out to be sunny, and we took a bus (changing buses in Itea) to Galaxidi, a fishing town with an inviting waterfront strip of open-air seafood restaurants.
It seems disrespectful to allow weeds to surround the Omphalos of Delphi, believed to have been hurled
by Zeus from the heavens to discover the center of the world. It's also called the navel of the world. 

The Athenian treasury at Delphi once housed votive
offerings sent by the city of Athens and wealthy citizens.

The ruins of the Temple of Athena are on the slope below the Temple of Apollo. 

The Temple of Apollo seems to soar above the valley below.

In about 560 B.C.E., the island of Naxos presented
this spinx, carved from one piece of marble,
to the Oracle. It is the body of lion with the
head of a woman and the wings of a bird.
Mounted atop a column near the Temple of Apollo,
it was 12.5 meters high, about 41 feet. 

These two life-size identical statues from the
sixth century B.C.E. are considered the oldest
monumental votive offerings at Delphi. They
are thought to represent either the pious brothers
Cleobis and Biton of Argos, or the Dioscuri,
whose cult was popular at the time. The
story of the brothers from Argos is poignant. When
oxen were unavailable, they pulled a cart carrying
their mother to a temple. In gratitude, she
prayed to Hera to grant her sons "whatever
is best for a man to receive." They died
in their sleep that night.

The town of Delphi consists mainly of two streets, which meet at each end of town.
The west-bound street is on the right and is much higher than the east-bound
street on the left, which is where our inn was. When we took a bus to Galaxidi, we bought
tickets in the bar next to the bus station, at right. 

Steep side streets connect the town's
two main arteries. That's a tavern
on the left, and a corner of the Gulf
of Iteas in the upper right.

This appeared to be a private residence, home
to someone who loves potted plants.

The harbor in Itea, where we wandered around while waiting for a bus to take us to Galaxidi.
Waterfront restaurants in Galaxidi on the Gulf of Iteas. Just the other side
of the parked cars is the harbor. We had a fried fish feast for Sunday lunch here.

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