Greece Day 10: The Oracle of Delphi at Mount Parnassus

“Apollo squinted in the bright sunlight and calmly tensed his muscles as he pulled his bow. He released his arrows one after the other until Python’s blood was spilled, and with his victory he gained the right to call the rolling slopes of Delphi his sanctuary.”

Such was the importance of Delphi that the ancient Greeks believed it to be the center of the universe.

Temple of Apollo, Delphi, Greece

Temple of Apollo

In the sanctuary dedicated to Apollo sits Pythia, the High Priestess whom wise words are sought after, by everyone from common folks to the dignitaries. The ancient people from Greece and beyond had strong faith in Pythia that no major decision was made without consulting Pythia first.

One of the famous oracle was that of Croesus, the King of Lydia (Lydia was a civilization located in present-day Turkey), who questioned the oracle if he should strike a war against the Persian Empire. A replied he got: “If Croesus goes to war, he will destroy a great empire.”

Pleased with the answer, he rallied against the Persian. But alas… the question Croesus didn’t ask was which empire would perish. As he watched his army defeated and an order was sent for Croesus to be burned alive, he realized that the “great empire” he had destroyed had been his own.

Sanctuary of Athena Pronai, Delphi, Greece

Sanctuary of Athena Pronai

Half a mile walk from the main archaeological site sits the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia. The shrine was originally built at the gateway to Delphi and dedicated to the goddess Athena because it was her duty to protect her half brother, Apollo.

The Athena Pronaia Sanctuary has arguably eclipsed the popularity of the main archaeological site. You know the one… the now-iconic circular structure (tholos) overlooking a beautiful valley carpeted with olive trees has graced most of Greece’s travel postcards.

Sanctuary of Athena Pronai, Delphi, Greece

Sanctuary of Athena Pronai

In their dedication to this sacred site, many Greek cities built elegant treasuries to house their offerings to the shrine. Although most of these have been reduced to ruins, the famed Athenian Treasury remained intact.

Athenian Treasury, Delphi, Greece

Athenian Treasury

The Athenian Treasury has an interesting background. It was erected after the 490BC victory of Athens over the Persians’ first invasion of Greece. The now ubiquitous term of “Marathon” turned out was the name of a Greek messenger, whom was so excited to announce the victory he ran the entire distance from battlefield to the city of Athens without stopping before exclaiming “νενικήκαμεν!” (“we have won!”) and shortly died afterwards.

Delphi, Greece

Delphi and the surrounding Parnassus mountain ranges

While most ruins bore me to tears, I find Delphi to be genuinely interesting. Captivating stories aside, the fact that the ancient site is surrounded with gorgeous mountain ranges and green valleys surely doesn’t hurt. It might very well be the most beautiful ruin I’ve ever visited to date, and make for excellent day trip from Athens if you have an extra day.

What fascinating stories can you recall from your favorite historical sites?

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