Delphi

sanctuary of athena



Delphi owed its international prominence to the famous oracle of the god Apollo, who foretold the future through his priestess, known as the Pythia. She responded to the questions of visitors while in a trance; her inarticulate cries were interpreted and written down by an official interpreter, in earlier times in hexameter verse, then later in prose. These oracular responses were notoriously ambiguous, and their interpretation was often only 'deduced' after the event to which they referred. This, however, did not deter visitors from journeying to Delphi from all over the Mediterranean. During the course of the 8th and 7th centuries BC, the sanctuary grew in prestige as it received splendid dedications from legendary kings such as Gyges and Midas. Its political role expanded in the 7th century BC, when it became the seat of the Amphictyony, and individual cities began to build along the Sacred-Way leading up to the temple - treasuries in which the cities' dedications to Apollo were guarded, and monuments commemorating the cities' successes.

delphi Inter-city rivalry also played out in the Pythian games at which athletes and musicians from all over the Greek world competed. This festival, which originally took place every eight years, was expanded after the first Sacred War and held every four years on a scale that rivaled the Olympic games. Thus Delphi could rightfully sustain its mythical claim of being the navel (omphalos) of the Greek world.
Modern visitors can still follow in the steps of ancient worshippers such as the Roman emperor Hadrian, or of ancient tourists such as the Roman writer Pausanias. Visitors to Delphi would first encounter the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia in the East, which contained two temples, two treasuries, and the unusual round tholos building. They would then pass a recreational facility on the left that included a gymnasium, palaistra, running track and swimming pool. On the right they would encounter the Castalian spring in a cleft of the sheer rocks (known as the Phaidriades or "shining ones") that tower over it. Here ancient visitors would ritually cleanse themselves.


stadium
They would then proceed to the sanctuary of Apollo, where they would climb the zig-zag Sacred Way lined by treasuries and monuments until reaching the temple of Apollo where the Pythia sat on Apollo's tripod to deliver her oracular responses. Further up the hillside lay the theater and stadium that hosted the Pythian festival, though the chariot races took place in the hippodrome located in the valley of Cirrha below.
Much of the splendor of Delphi survives, despite repeated raids and plundering by Roman emperors, generals and entrepreneurs. The French have conducted archaeological excavations at the site since the 1880's.