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Delphi

“The archeological site of Delphi is one of the most beautiful of Greece. It has the mystery, the majesty and the awe of the divine”, Théophile Homolle, Director of the French School –Athens-1892.

Delphi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, welcomes two million visitors a year and is the seat of the European Cultural Centre where outstanding performances of music, theater, dance take place each year. The Centre hosts also Congresses on an international scale.
Delphi is set amphitheatrically on mount Parnassus, literally hung on its flank surrounded by a landscape of a wild natural beauty of incomparable majesty. It is there, at the foot of two colossal rocks, the Phedriades, separated by a deep ravine, ancient Greeks had installed the Pan-Hellenic and most famous sanctuary of Delphi. It has been for centuries the religious and spiritual centre and the symbol of unity of the Hellenic world. Delphi’s history dates back to the prehistoric times and legends, its traces vanishing to the bottom of the millenaries.
The foundation of Delphi and its temples took place before the times of recorded history. According to one of the oldest myths, Zeus, in his wish to find out the centre of the earth, had released two eagles to fly from opposite ends of the earth and that they had met exactly in the sky above Delphi. The spot was determined by ancient Greeks to be the “omphalos”, (navel), the centre of the earth. Another myth relates that there was a sanctuary dedicated to a deity called Gaia (earth) whose guardian was a dragon named Python.

ΑπόλλωνApollo, wishing to take possession of the sanctuary, killed the Python and became the master of the place taking the name of Pythios Apollo.
The Pythian Games were the most famous games in ancient Greece after the Olympic Games. Although their origin is lost amidst various versions of the myth, the purpose was to commemorate Apollo’s victory over the dragon with celebrations involving music competitions with kithara playing and hymns accompanied by lyre and flute.

Athletic contests were also part of the Pythian Games with foot races, the most important being the station (200m) long, and later the diaulos (400m) and the dolichos (4,800m) from which our race was named after). The equestrian races were the most brilliant of all. The first findings brought into light date back to the Neolithic period (4000 years B.C.), and concern a Mycenaean habitat
Apollo, god of music, light and grace, started being worshipped around the 8th c. and in the 7th C.B.C. the first stone temples dedicated to Apollo and Athena began being erected.

Delphi’s oracle reached its culmination between the 6th and 4th centuries. The Pythian Games were restored and the oracle’s priestess the Pythia pronounced her prophesies which acquired a tremendous renown.
The Pythia seated on a tripod above the ravine between the two huge Phedriades rocks, chewing laurel leaves and inhaling vapours emanating from the depth of the ravine, fell into an ecstatic trance and uttered incomprehensive sounds standing for Apollo’s inspiration, which the priests transmitted in an unclear and enigmatic way.

Kings, sovereigns, city-states but simple people too, they all flocked to Delphi to listen to the oracle and try to disclose and elucidate its ambiguous meaning on which their well-being depended almost entirely.
At the height of the Greek civilization (5thcentury) the oracle was revered and its opinion was sought in some of the most significant conflicts of the age.
As a matter of fact, many a victory won by ancient Greeks was attributed to the oracle, such as the famous naval battle at Salamis island where the Athenian triremes headed by Themistocles won the battle over the Persian vessels after the oracle exhorted him to rely on the “wooden walls”, in other words his ships. This victory was of great significance for the issue of the war of ancient Greeks against the Persians. The far-reaching radiance of the oracle extended beyond Central Asia in the east and beyond Rome in the west, becoming the focal point of an inexhaustible worship from the whole of the then known world which lasted for centuries.

Apollo’s sanctuary was inundated with fabulous treasures of art and architecture masterpieces, of statues by outstanding sculptors, and of votive monuments erected by various Greek cities as a token of their belief in the god and of the wealth of their cities.

Almost all city-states gave their full attention to a strong antagonism among themselves as to which one would more richly decorate the revered precinct of the god. Plutarch and Xenophon, among other historians, cite the oracle’s activities in their works and so does Sophocles in his masterpiece “Oedipus King” (415 B.C.). Since the 4th century B.C. the sanctuary of Delphi had developed into a religious, spiritual, artistic and athletic centre, being at the same time a decisive regulator over the destinies of peoples in and outside ancient Greece.

The authority, impact and prestige enjoyed by the oracle over politics, art, literature, education, colonization, commerce, religion were overwhelming, drawing on the envy of other city-states for its wealth and predominance. Pausanias who visited Delphi in the 2nd c.A.D reported in a thoroughly detailed way all the epigraphs, sculptures, statues, architectural works that remained from what had been the illustrious sanctuary of Delphi many centuries ago. In 394 A.D. a decree by the byzantine emperor Theodosius put an end to Delphi’s paganism, thus marking the advent of Christianity.

EXCAVATIONS BY THE FRENCH ARCHEOLOGICAL SCHOOL OF ATHENS

“About 610-630 A.D. Delphi is abandoned and what had been the centre of the world comes out of every one’s memory for almost eight centuries. Actually, one should wait until the XVth century for Delphi to regain an identity, still remaining imperfect. In the course of what was called the “Great Excavation of Delphi”, 5.000 epigraphs were discovered revealing the various aspects of the public life of ancient Greeks. Sculpture masterpieces, an essential reference to the archaic plastic art, and architecture works, a “real laboratory for History’s great periods” were brought to light too.
The year 1896 was marked by the discovery of the famous statue of the Charioteer, a master-piece of the bronze art and “the most precious and the most extraordinary finding”, wrote Theophile Homolle in the same year.
The French School of Archeology has also intervened, from an early stage, in the works of anastylose (restoration) which have contributed to bestow on Delphi its current physiognomy. The most remarkable among them are, “The Treasury of the Athenians” (1903-1906), the “Tholos”, (1938), a part of the Apollo’s temple colonnade (1941), Apollo’s altar (1958), and many monuments of the lower part of the Sacred Way.“ Names have a force, “shades” have a prestige”, wrote the archeologist Georges Daux in order to explain the sanctuary’s power of attraction while it had lost all of its importance. This is the force and the prestige Delphi is still exerting on searchers and visitors alike.”

We wish to thank most warmly, Mr. Dominique Mulliez, Director of the French School of Athens, who has been kind enough to permit us to use some extracts from his article on “La Grande Fouille de Delphes”.

THE MOST IMPORTANT MONUMENTS OF THE SANCTUARY
THE TEMPLE OF APOLLO PYTHIOS

It is a Doric building accomplished circa 510 B.C. standing in the middle of the sanctuary. It is the most important building, ornated with six columns in the front part and fifteen on each side from Parian marble (from the island of Paros in the Cyclades), surmounted by decorated frontons with exquisite sculptural work. The interior of the temple was ornated with statues and a great number of votive offerings to the god. Inside it was the adyton, (where nobody had access), the very centre of the Delphic oracle and seat of Pythia. Various celebrations and the ritual oracle giving took place here.
On the walls were engraved maxims by the Seven Sages, “Know thyself” and ‘Nothing in excess”, which advocated a moral and wise consideration of life. The temple has been restored and parts of the temple are exhibited in the Archeological Museum of Delphi.

THE TREASURY OF THE ATHENIANS

It is the most significant example of the early stage of the anastylose by the French School as it was fairly well preserved. (1903-1906) It is a Doric building (5th B.C.) with two columns of Parian marble in the façade and fifteen on each side, dedicated to Apollo. Its pediments are finely adorned with sculptured scenes depicting Apollo meeting other heroes. It was the work of the Athenian sculptor Antinagoras and was offered to the god to commemorate the Athenians ‘victory at the naval battle of Salamis. It is considered to be a monument of rare architectural perfection.

THE THEATRE

It is one of the best preserved Greek theatres, built of white stone from Parnassus.
It was built in the NW side of the temple of Apollo in the 4th B.C. Its 35 rows of seats could seat 5.000 spectators. It was mainly used for musical and dramatic performances especially during the Pythian Games. One could enjoy a panoramic view of the entire sanctuary and the valley below reaching as far as the sea.

THE STADIUM

It was built in the 5th B.C, it is located NW of the theatre, further up the hill beyond the Via Sacra and was remodeled in the 2nd c.A.D. by Herodus Atticus. It is 177,55m long and 28,50m wide in the middle. It was used during the Pythian Games for athletic and equestrian contests and also for music competitions before the construction of the theatre. It could seat 7.000 spectators which were separated from the track with a wall as high as 1m30.

THE THOLOS

It is the circular building built from 380-360 B.C. It consists of 20 Doric columns and 10 Corinthian ones in the interior. 3 of the columns have been restored making it the most popular monument of the site standing out as Delphi’s most elegant architectural symbol.

THE MUSEUM

ΗνίοχοςThe Archeological Museum of Delphi is one of the most important of Greece. It is organized in a most modern way exhibiting rich collections of architectural features, statues, bronze objects, pottery, and a large number of offerings presented to the god by the faithful pilgrims. The treasures of the Museum are exhibited in 14 large rooms and specific outstanding findings such as the Charioteer (478 B.C.) are exhibited on their own.
The Charioteer was discovered by the French Archeological School in 1896. It is the most precious statue in the Delphi Museum. It represents a young winner in the chariot races during the Pythian Games and it is part of a complex that included four horses and a servant, few fragments of which have been found. Theophile Homolle considered the Charioteer as “the most precious and the most extraordinary finding, his historical importance being equal to his artistic one”. It is unquestionably the finest bronze masterpiece created in the 5th century B.C. The Charioteer is 1m.80 tall, his face and his body are impressive, his eyes are made fromonyx and magnetize the visitor’s look making him believe the Charioteer is following every movement in the room. He wears the long chiton, girt tighly above the waist to stop the wind blowing the garment away. He holds the reigns and the posture of his body is rather Archaic manifesting a noble simplicity. He seems having control over his feelings while he is still mounting his chariot under the applauses of the crowd after his victory at the Phythian Games.
Another fine masterpiece of the Classical art is the group of three dancing girls, wearing chitons showing through their young bodies. The marble winged Sphinx, a Naxians dedication (560 B.C),and a very large number of others displayed in the Museum.

THE TREASURIES

From the entrance of the site, the Via Sacra, continuing up the slope almost to the Apollo temple is lined up on both sides with votive statues and a great number of treasuries. They were built by the various Greek city-states and overseas as well to commemorate victories and thank the oracle for her advice. The richest and most beautiful, among others, were, The Athenian Treasury, the Chians Treasury (from the island of Chios in the Aegean sea), the Treasury of the Siphnians (from the island of Siphnos also in the Aegean) and a number of others.

THE GYMNASIUM

There were a series of buildings to be used by the youth to train mainly in wrestling butalso to take part in the Pythian Games. There were also pools and baths with magic powers in communication with Apollo It has been also used in the Hellenistic period for cultural events. The best-known poets, philosophers, musicians, teachers and many other prominent figures came here to address the audience and make their works known… There was also a torch-race starting at the Stadium and ending at the temple of Apollo.

THE CASTALIAN SPRING

This is the sacred spring lying in the ravine of the Phedriades rocks. In its water the Pythia was bathed before uttering her prophesies. Preserved remaining s of two monumental fountains that received water from the spring dated to the archaic period can still be seen.


 

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