DELOS ISLAND GUIDE
Delos is a small isolated island, located just 2 miles to the south west of the well known Mykonos. Delos is classed to be nirvana for archaeologists. Extensive Greco-Roman ruins, occupying much of the island’s 1.5 sq miles (four sq km), make Delos is said to be the equal of the famous Delphi and Olympia, with the difference being in the small size of the island and its location which is just next to the famous island of Mykonos in the Cyclades. The 2001 Greek census reported a population of 14 inhabitants on the island. The island is administratively a part of the municipality of Mykonos.
There is no accommodation on the island of Delos as The archaeological sites of Delos and Rhenia are under the protection of the Greek Ministry of Culture and archaeology; thus, both the mooring of private boats there and staying overnight without official permission are strictly forbidden.
|Address:||Delos Island, Cyclades, Greece|
|Coordinates:||37.399687° N, 25.267053° E (view on Google Maps)|
|Phone:||+30 22890 22259|
|Public transport:||Short boat ride from Mykonos Town|
|Opening hours:||Tue-Sun: 8:30 am-3 pm|
|Cost:||Guided tours from Mykonos town: €35
Boat from harbor about €12 plus entry fee €6
|Facilities:||Tourist Pavilion with toilets, restaurant, shop|
It was on Delos that Leto (from Greek mythology), pregnant by Zeus and threatened by jealous Hera, gave birth to the twins Apollo and Artemis. (Artemis was actually born on the adjacent island of Rhenia, nine days after Apollo—surely a most difficult delivery!) Delos, at that times a floating rock, was rewarded when four diamond pillars stretched up and anchored it in the heart of the Cyclades.
The excavations in the island are among the most extensive in the Mediterranean; ongoing work takes place under the direction of the French School at Athens and many of the artifacts found are on display at the Archaeological Museum of Delos and the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
Delos had a position as a holy sanctuary for a millennium before Olympian Greek mythology made it the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. From its Sacred Harbor, the horizon shows the two conical mounds (image below) that have identified landscapes sacred to a goddess in other sites: one, retaining its pre-Greek name Mount Kynthos, is crowned with a sanctuary of Dionysus.
Established as a cult center, Delos had an importance that its natural resources could never have offered. In this vein Leto, searching for a birthing-place for Apollo, addressed the island:
Delos, if you would be willing to be the abode of my son Phoebus Apollo and make him a rich temple –; for no other will touch you, as you will find: and I think you will never be rich in oxen and sheep, nor bear vintage nor yet produce plants abundantly. But if you have the temple of far-shooting Apollo, all men will bring you hecatombs and gather here, and incessant savour of rich sacrifice will always arise, and you will feed those who dwell in you from the hand of strangers; for truly your own soil is not rich.
—Homeric Hymn to Delian Apollo
On arriving at Delos, you should immediately orient yourself to avoid getting lost among the ruins. Most of these occupy the two arms of a right angle which immediately faces you. Ahead (southern arm) are the theater and mainly domestic buildings. To the left, on the west shore, is the sanctuary to which pilgrims from throughout the Mediterranean came bearing votive offerings and sacrificial animals.
For nearly 1,000 years this sanctuary was the political and religious center of the Aegean and host to the Delian Festival held every four years. This, until the fourth century B.C., was the greatest festival in Greece. The Romans turned it into a grand trade fair and made Delos a free port. It also became the slave market of Greece where 10,000 slaves were said to be sold on any one day.
By the start of the Christian era, the power and glory that was Delos was waning and soon afterwards the island fell into disuse. During the ensuing two millennia the Mute Stones were silent; then, with the arrival of French archaeologists in the 1870s they began to speak.
Unfortunately, now it is Delos’ snakes rather than its stones which are deaf—be sure to stamp your feet loudly when walking through little-trafficked areas, for they can nip at the ankles.
Follow the pilgrim route to a ruined monumental gateway which leads into the Sanctuary of Apollo. Within are two temples dedicated to Apollo—and there is also a temple dedicated to Artemis—and parts of a colossal marble statue of Apollo which was destroyed when a massive bronze palm tree fell on it. Close by is the Sanctuary of Dionysos with several phalli standing on pedestals with Dionysic friezes. Upstanding is a marble phallic bird symbolizing the body’s immortality.
Continue to the stunning Lion Terrace where five anorexic, archaic lions squat, apparently ready to pounce. Below this is the Sacred Lake and the palm tree which marks the spot of Apollo’s birth.
Most visitors delight in that part of Delos which was occupied by artisans rather than gods. Their houses, close to the port, are a regular warren separated by narrow lanes lined by drains from 2,000 years ago and with niches for oil-lamps which illuminated the streets. The main road leads to the theatre which seated 5,500. It is unimpressive but superb views can be enjoyed from the uppermost of its 43 rows. Close to the theater are grander houses surrounded by columns and exquisite mosaics, to which they owe their eponymous names, on the floor.
From here a gentle stroll leads to the summit of Mount Kynthos (368 ft/110 meters), from which the views of the ruins and the Cyclades are memorable. Descend by first passing the grotto of Hercules and then stopping at the Sanctuaries to the Foreign Gods.
Remember, Delos was a free port and in classical times practically the entire Levant traded— and probably banked—here under the tutelage of shrines erected to their divinities. All were welcome—as evidenced by the ruined synagogue, erected by the Phoenicians, in the northwest corner of the island.
And so to the waiting small boat for the return to Mykonos. Forget the rough waves ahead and dwell on Kazantzakis: “Happy is the man who, before dying, has the good fortune to sail the Aegean Sea. Nowhere else can one pass so easily and serenely from reality to dream.”