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A trip to ancient Delos

By Spiros Tzelepis

A cultural and educational visit to this famous ancient religious center

We arrived at Delos on a nice autumn Sunday morning. This is the ideal period for a visit to this place since during the summer, this tiny island in the Aegean Sea is crowded with thousands of tourists from all over the world who come here to visit.

The archaeological site of Delos is perhaps unique. It is located on a small, narrow, barren island devoid of any vegetation, but resplendent in the sunlight on account of its rock formation that rises above the azure sea. The highest elevation on the island is Kynthos, beneath which spreads the sanctuary dedicated to Apollo and his sister Artemis (the two famous ancient Greek Gods) with the Hellenistic city around it.

Delos used to be a religious center of the ancient Greeks just like Delphi and ancient Olympia. The history of the island goes back to 2000 BC and is connected to the worship of Apollo and Artemis. According to Greek mythology, Titaness Leto -the mother of Apollo and Artemis- asked for shelter on the island and there she gave birth to the two Gods.

Ruins of the ancient theatre

Around the 7th century, the island became a political and religious center and the fact that it never participated in wars gave it a lot of freedom even during war periods. It was around 426 BC when Athenians, who had the island under their guardianship, prohibited births and deaths on the island. All the inhabitants moved to a nearby island but after a year they were given permission to return. The Athenians dominated Delos until 315 BC; after this year Delos became independent and flourished. During the years that followed the island experienced periods of glory but also periods of decline until the 2nd century AD when it was devastated. From then, and until 1873 when the archaeologists started excavations on it, it used to be a marble quarry.

Aspects of the Terrace of Lions

The ruins the visitor sees everywhere on the island are of great archaeological value: the temple of Apollo and Artemis, the stadium and the various treasures. What is most impressive is the Terrace of the Lions opposite the sacred lake and the sacred palm tree where, according to the myth, Titaness Leto brought Apollo into the world. The museum of Delos has one of the most important collections of ancient Greek sculpture and a unique collection of objects related to private life during the Hellenistic period.

Although it was in the middle of autumn, the sun was burning and the sea breeze was really refreshing. Not only was it a good break from daily routine but it also proved a great experience with great educational value. Perhaps this is one of the best ways to spend your free time combining knowledge and education with relaxation but I have to confess that the end was not quite as good since the sea trip back to Athens was tiring due to bad weather. Other visitors with more time in their hands prefer to spend some days at the nearby Myconos which is very cosmopolitan and a very popular resort for tourists from all over the globe.

All info is from my general history knowledge

Photos by S.Tzelepis

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Reconstruction: July-August-September 2002

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