Acclaimed as the center of the Earth and Universe, Delphi has always been a place of historic and spiritual significance. The ‘navel of the world’ where the omniscient Oracle was to be advised blends harmoniously with the magnificent landscape and it surely is an absolute must destination for any history lover. Although the eternal flame is no longer burnt inside, a visit to the Temple of Apollo is obligatory. It is enough to consult the Opentravel.com and not Pythia to know that there are numerous sites in Delphi to explore including the Athenian Treasury, the Theater and the Stadium as well as the Tholos and many, many more.
Zeus sent forth two eagles from opposite ends of the earth in hopes of discovering the world’s center. The birds impaled each other with their beaks above Delphiand fell to the ground where the omphalos (navel stone) still marks the spot of their ill-fated rendezvous. The birds’ landing also marked the sight of the Oracle of Apollo, where troubled denizens of the ancient world flocked in the 2nd millennium BCE to seek Pythia’s profound, if cryptic, advice.
The ancient Greek gods expressed their wishes to humans through oracles. Politically, Delphi’s oracle was supreme – leaders throughout theMediterraneansought its infallible advice. Whenever a Greek city won a battle, its leader would erect a dedicatory offering to the oracles. As a result, the entrance to the sanctuary was cluttered with tributes from all overGreece. To the ancients, a temple was only complete with striking natural surroundings. Resting near the foot of Mt.Parnassos, the Oracle’s site is flanked by a towering cliff on one side and the ominous 600m-deep Pleistos ravine on the other. Legend claims that Apollo slew the monster Python, which had presided over Delphi. But the snake, an earth-spirit, continued to speak to postulants through an intermediary, an elderly woman known as the Pythia, who could be seen only by specially elected priests. Sitting directly over the omphalos, the Pythia inhaled the vapors wafting up from the chasm below, got high, and then chanted deliriously. Her prophecies to the waiting public. Often the Pythia would say things with double meanings : “You will win not lose” or “you will have a boy not girl.” Depending on which side of the “not” you paused on, you got a different answer to your urgent inquiry. The Delphic Oracle remained important among Greeks from the 7th century BCE until after the Christianization of theRoman Empire.The main body of structures, known as the Sanctuary of Apollo, lies 300m east of town on the road to Athens. Maps of a 1st-century BCE reconstruction of the site are available in the shops in town or at the kiosk across from the bus station.Now as then, theTempleofApollois the prime attraction. The building burned in 548 BCE and the 373 BCE reconstructions was shattered by an earthquake. What stands today are the remains of a second united effort at reconstruction. This is where oracular priests would announce the Pythia’s verdicts. The huge walls were once inscribed with famous maxims of Greek philosophers. The theater and the stadium are also worth a look. Scamper up the hills past tour groups to the stadium, sit and relax, then meander down the mountain at your leisure, pitying the tour groups huffing and puffing their way up. Be sure to visit Delphi’sArchaeologicalMuseum, located just before the Pythian Sanctuary along the path from town contains the frieze of the Siphnian Treasury and the Charioteer of Delphi.The unfenced ruins of theTempleofPronaia Athenaare roughly 200m past the main set of ruins heading away from town.
Levadia : For die-hard oracle fans who want a second opinion, the Oracle of Trophonios is on a cliff which overlooks Levadia (ancient Labadea). The site once attracted pilgrims on their way to Delphi. In the 14th century, Frankish Crusaders built a castle over the site of the oracle, now a 15-minute walk from town. It is the best preserved castle in the area.
Osios Loukas: Although it is toilsome to reach, Osios Loukas is worth the trouble. This pastoral and inspiring sport may instill in you pangs of longing for the monkhood. More than 1700m above sea-level, the stone monastery complex contains magnificent mosaics and affords tremendous views. Dress modestly (no short or bare shoulders, no pants for woman); makeshift covering are available at the gate.The main building in the Osios Loukas complex, the arresting Churchof St. Lukeis dedicated to a local hermit, known for his powers of healing and prophecy. According to locals, when Luke died in his cell in 953 CE, a myrrh tree sprouted from cold floor. The entrance to 10th-century church is adorned with Byzantine mosaics, most notably a faceless Doubting Thomas inserting his finger in Christ’s wound. The more beautiful mosaics, the Nativity, Presentation at the Temple, and Baptism, are tucked into the squinches that support the dome. Although not as famous as the ones in the upper church, the 11th-century frescoes that cover most of the crypt’s interior are every bit as gorgeous; a flashlight is needed for best viewing. Don’t miss the saintly frescoes removed from their original homes and now displayed in a building at the very back of the complex, off the courtyard behind the churches. The oldest part of the monastery is the 10th-centuryChurch ofSt. Mary adjoining the larger church.
Arachova : Stacked onto the slopes belowMt.Parnassos, thevillageofArachova, 10km east ofDelphi, revels in its own relaxed atmosphere in summer and caters to skiers in winter. This is a perfect place to collapse after you’ve spent the day fighting the crowds atDelphi. It’s a charming mountain town with narrow streets and little shops. Even though it is in the winter that Arachova lives the intensity of a bustling ski resort, a breezy summer afternoon amid the town’s trendy youth can be a delight. The area’s culinary distinctions are its amber honey and tasty saganaki (fried cheese). The main street oozes with souvlaki and souvenirs. The sweaters, woven rugs, and coonskin-type hats that you’ll find here befit the town’s pupolarity in winter.Apollo and the Muses now share their abode with ski buffs onMt.Parnassos. The mountain (2700m) is one of the most accessible. If you’re interested in hiking up in summer, take a taxi to theMt.ParnassosSkiCenter, 27km northwest of Arachova. From the ski center, it’s a steep 2km climb up to the summit, where vultures glower overhead. The ski season onMt.Parnassosruns roughly from November-May.
Itea: A quiet escape fromDelphi, this semi-industrial town offers only a rocky beach and the long waterfront boardwalk lined with cafes and tavernas. Enjoy the view in the afternoon when the construction has silenced and the sun glints on the water. The beach east of town is equipped with outdoor showers. A cleaner and more solitary beach isKiraBeach, 2km from town.
Galaxidi: Seventeen kilometers from Itea, Galaxidi, across the harbor, is home to better beaches. Local legend has it that the mermaid Galaxa rose from the sea and set the boundaries of the town. Some say that the name of this seafaring town is a coagulation of gala (milk) and xidhi (vinegar) and reflects the bittersweet experiences of a seaman’s wife. These days in Galaxidi, there’s no need for wives to wring their hands – they can find their husbands floating their boats at once of the town’s cafes.For wonderful swimming, head to the forest side of harbor. Small islands float offshore and flooded caves overhang scant beaches. Rouse yourself from the beach to visit the nautical Museumof Galaxidi. The Churchof St.Nicholas, near the museum, houses many fine mosaics. The 13th-century Monastery of Transfiguration, with sublime 1000-year-old wood carvings and a great view of town, is 500m from Galaxidi on the uphill road outside of town. Many travelers continue from Galaxidi to Nafpaktos, close to the mouth of the Gulf and to the ferry crossing for thePeloponneseat Antirion.