Delphi

Trip Start Dec 27, 2012
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Trip End Mar 26, 2013


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Flag of Greece  , Attica,
Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Today we had a full day tour to Delphi and so we had an early start and were down at breakfast not long after 7am. We were told our pick up was at 8am but as we were finishing our brekkie they came in looking for us so I had to scoff my croissant and head out to the mini bus. This bus just took us to a central location where we met the big tour bus and our crew for the day. There were about 30 of us and 18 were doing the day tour with us and the others were staying overnight somewhere and seeing Meteora the next day.

On the bus the guide gave us information on what we were driving past as we went plus on what we were going to see. Honestly for me I got the most out of the information he gave when we got there as a lot of it didn't really make sense without the visual information. Also while I know a little but about the Gods my knowledge of Ancient Greece as a whole and of more recent wars is very sketchy, plus the guide had perfect English but a strong accent that was worsened by the bus PA system so I struggled with some of the information. I'll give you the information I actually got out of it though! Firstly on the way out of town we had views of the Acropolis, the Temple of Zeus, the Hadrian's arch and many of the stadiums from the 2004 Olympic Games. We drove past the city of Phebes and here was where my history struggled a bit but at some point Greece won a battle on a flat plan near to this city against the Persian army. Apparently it was one of the last battles against the Persians and when the Greeks won they built a big monument with three snakes wrapped around each other that had the names of all the Greek cities that took part in the battle on it. It was at Delphi until it was stolen in the time of Emperor Constantine who took it to Istanbul where it still stands today. We also drove past a monument related to a more recent battle, it was dedicated to partisan soldiers in the Greek war of independence (early 1800s?).

About half way through the journey we had a 20 minute break at a coffee shop and then we continued onwards. As well as having a beautiful coastline (16000km, thanks to the islands), Greece is very mountainous and as we got close to Delphi the scenery was awesome! Olive trees all over the hill sides and we passed the town of Arahova, which is perched on this beautiful cliff. The Greeks ski near here in the middle of winter and there is snow in the very top of the mountain about 6 months of the year.

Where we were actually headed was the ancient city of Delphi (and its associated museum). This site is on the slopes of Mount Parnassus and olive trees go from below the site all the way down to the sea. What the site actually is, is two sanctuaries or places of worship for Greek gods. The sanctuary of Athena is on one side of today's road and the sanctuary of her brother Apollo is on the other. There is lots of Greek mythology tied into the sights and like I said I missed some of what the guy said but Apollo killed a giant python here (in his sanctuary) and so it became a sight where the Greeks came to contact Apollo and ask questions and favours. So obviously the year a god killed a mythical snake is unknown but it was many years BC that pilgrims travelled here to seek advice from Apollo and to build monuments and things here to thank him for any favours that he was apparently responsible for. A priestess would be the one to receive trance like cryptic messages from Apollo and then the priests would translate the information to the people. So I guess for us it would be like people travelling miles and miles to line up for days to see a fortune teller. The name Delphi is derived from the Greek for dolphin as this is the animal form that Apollo appeared to the first priests as. It was also believed that Delphi was the centre (or the navel) of the world. As legend has it that Zeus released two eagles at the ends of the earth and they met here in the middle. In Apollos sanctuary the first thing we will see is the old market place where people could buy tributes to give to Apollo. Then there was a walled in area with 9 gates and the main one of these led to the path that winds up to the main temple which is known as the Holy Way. It was basically a street and it would have been crazy impressive 3000 years ago as there were monument and treasuries (temples containing treasures) lining the path and many were 4 or 5m high and were beautiful carved statues and things. Most of this we will see as rubble at the sight though. They have restored and rebuilt one of the treasuries which is one dedicated to Apollo from the Athenians. We will then see the temple that was built to Apollo himself. Apparently over the years many temples were built on this site and the first ones were made of weird stuff like feathers and laurel branches. Of the later temples of stone, one was burnt and one was partially crushed by rocks. We will see the rock crushed one at the site and bits of both the stone ones in the museum. In Apollos sanctuary there is also an old theatre that could seat 5000 people and a stadium where the Delphi games were held in ancient times. We do not actually go into Athena's sanctuary but it apparently contains a temple, a wrestling area and a pool for the athletes at the games. The other thing we won't really get to see 'in action' is the shining rocks. They are basically mountains up behind Apollo's sanctuary and due to the iron and aluminium content they apparently shine really red at sunset.

Anyway enough ancient history! Our tour guide gave us all the above info in bits and pieces over the course of the 4 hour drive and like I said I had no idea what all the sanctuary, treasury stuff was until I got there so I'll stop with the details! in more recent times then, this site was buried underground for many thousands of years and was actually under a little town and so when archeologists wanted to dig it out in 1892 they moved the town to where the modern city of Delphi is today. Because it was underground many buildings etc were amazingly well preserved. And that's why we can see it today.

When we arrived our guide re-explained a lot of the bus information as we walked through the sight and then after showing us some of the areas we had free time to explore the rest before meeting him again at the museum. We saw what was the old market place first and while the original building/ruin was really old it 400BCish) when the Christians came here later they used it as a church so there are crucifixes on the old marble that were added many years later. We then entered the main part of the sanctuary and followed the old path of the Holy Way. The guide did tell us specifically where certain treasuries or monuments stood, who donated them and what they were for but I honestly forget all the specifics. For example one fishing Greek city built a monument of a bull as it apparently led them to a really good fishing catch. The main thing that interested me was just seeing the rubble or the foundations of a building and then later in the museum we saw a diagram of what it looked like plus pieces of what had been dug up. A lot of the statues and things were actually still standing in their original spots which is pretty crazy! We stopped at the reconstructed Athenian treasury and at one spot which was basically just the base of a massive column. Apparently this is where the snake Apollo killed was buried and the column was once 15m high and had a sphinx (woman/lion/bird) on top to keep the snake trapped. One other really cool thing was that on one of the main walls outside the temple you could see all this perfect Ancient Greek writing. Apparently when slaves were freed this would be documented on the wall. So I could touch stuff that was carved into the stone over 2500 years ago! We then got to the actual temple. Originally it had 6 columns either end and 15 down each side but only a few are standing today.

This was where the guide left us so the steep walk up the hill to the theatre and the stadium we did on our own. From the top we also had a pretty good view down over the rest of the sanctuary so we took lots of photos. I really liked the stadium I can just imagine people doing the javelin and wrestling and stuff there so long ago! Plus most of the seats were still intact and it just generally looked cool. We then wandered back down past everything he had shown us so that we could get photos as on the tour bit there were always people in the way.

From here we headed to the museum and everything in here was from the site we had just visited and it was primarily in age order (so oldest to newest). Like I said it was really awesome seeing the preserved bits of what we had just seen outside. There were many tripod cauldron things which I guess are like today's premiership cup, they were a celebratory victory thing presented to the gods. We saw also the remains of one of the treasuries where they had found heaps of fragments and one whole room was dedicated to this. They had the beautiful lady statues that stood at the front of the treasury and the around the wall they had the frieze which is like the trim around the top of the building. This was a series of panels that depicted various stories about the Gods including the one that led to Helen leaving the Greeks to be with Paris of Troy leading to the Trojan war. There was also the sphinx from the top of that column I mentioned and then there were pieces from the pediment (the top triangular pieces that go below a two sided roof) from both the temples of Apollo. One thing I really loved was a drinking vase. This was a bowl type thing from 400BC in absolutely perfect condition. It's crazy that someone use to drink out of this and we have it today!!

The final star attraction of the museum was a bronze statue (everything else was in marble) that they believe is a charioteer that originally had four horses attached to it. Apparently it's one of the oldest pieces of Bronze sculpture work we have and it really is a beautiful statue. It still has its eyes and everything!

After this we boarded the bus and it took us down the hill a bit to the modern city of Delphi. The scenery on this drive was even nicer than what we had seen earlier today as we had a better view of the ocean. As it is coming into Spring some of the tress had blossomed so it was all very pretty. Lunch was included in the deal so it was a set menu but it was all pretty good. We had the classic Greek salad and then Greek yoghurt and fruit for dessert.

Then it was time for the long drive home.. Via a carpet selling place in Arahova. It was a fairly obvious selling commission for the tour company type thing and I didn't really want a carpet so I wasn't in there long. I had a bit of a doze on the way home but I didn't sleep properly and then I decided to watch a movie to kill a bit of time.

When we got back we thought we may as well go and have our free welcome drink at our rooftop restaurant and while we were there enjoying our free coke we had a look at the menu. Most things were pretty expensive and we were thinking we would give it a miss when the waiter came and told us that for €19 you could have entree, main and dessert from a set menu so we decided to stay and do that. I ended up with another Greek salad for entree but it was delicious and we also got free bread with olive paste to start with as well as the other courses so it was a good meal. We then basically got organised for bed and played on the Internet until sleep time.
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