It is said that by ancient times Zeus sent two eagles from the two ends of the Earth. The eagles, flying at equal speed, should meet at the centre of the world. Both eagles met at Delphi, so Zeus placed a stone (omphalos) in that place. Since that time, Delphi was a true pilgrimage site.
Nowadays, Delphi is one of the must-see sites in Greece and a unique archaeological complex. Its location is as stunning as its cultural richness. Do you want to join us in our journey to the centre of the Classical world?
How to reach Delphi
Delphi is located 185 km from Athens, what means around 2 hours and a half driving. There are many companies which organize day trips to Delphi, but if you are a group of 2 people or more, we strongly recommend renting a car and taking the trip on your own. Obviously, it would be great if Delphi was part of a road trip around Greece (for example, from or to Meteora). However, in our case, we reached Delphi by car from Athens and returned on the same day.
Note that opening hours are reduced in winter season (in early November the complex closed at 16h). The good thing is that ticket price is also reduced – we could visit the museum and the archaeological site for only 6 euros per person (instead of 12 euros in Summer). On the other side, we can imagine that during summer months there are plenty of visitors in the complex. But on the sunny November day that we spent in Delphi we could enjoy some moments of solitude in the stadium or the Temple of Athena Pronaia.
At least at winter the café in the museum area is not open, but in the modern city there are several restaurants and shops. It is also a good idea to stop in the mountain town of Arachova, placed on the southern slope of Mount Parnassos and 8 km from Delphi. In this village, mostly visited by skiers, you will find nice shops selling traditional carpets, woodwork and cheese, among others.
What to see in Delphi
1. Archaeological site
The ticket is valid to access the archaeological site (including the stadium – see below) and the museum. The Marmaria area can be visited for free. In the archaeological site, visitors will find the sacred way, which was the main road leading to the Temple of Apollo. Inside the temple, in the Altar of the Chians, the pilgrims (called theopropoi) sacrificed an animal and waited for their turn to consult the oracle.
Along the sacred way, there are some “treasuries” offered by the citizens who visited the temple to consult the oracle. The most important one might be the Treasury of the Athenians, which commemorated the battle of Marathon (490 BC) when the Athenian army repelled the Persians. Finally, visitors will find the ancient theatre, which offers great views to the mountains. First building dates from the fourth century BC, and was restorated later. 5,000 spectators could seat in the theatre.
From the ancient theatre, there is a signal pointing out the way towards the stadium. The path is steep but the reward at the top is worth it. The stadium is surprisingly well preserved. It was built into the natural slope on the fifth century BC. The Delphi stadium was home to the Pythian games – one of the four Panhellenic Games. They were held every 4 years in honour of Apollo, who killed Python (serpent) and set up the oracle at Delphi.
3. Archaeological museum
This museum contains one of the most important exhibitions in Greece. With sculptures and other objects, it explains the history of the Delphi sanctuary and the famous Oracle. As we said, the sancturay was a pilgrimage site, so many people from Greece and abroad visited Delphi and made their offerings (treasures).
One of the masterpieces preserved in the museum is the Charioteer of Delphi – one of the best examples of ancient bronze sculptures. It is also remarkable the Sphinx of Naxos. This wonderful marble statue stood on a 10 metres column and was an offering to the Temple of Apollo made by the island of Naxos.
4. Castalian spring
The Castalian spring was the sacred source of Delphi, where Pythia and the priests used to wash themselves. Moreover, anyone wishong to consult the oracle was obliged to wash there for purification purposes. Nowadays, the original fountain (built around 600 BC) is a rectangular structure which can be seen from the road. The later fountain (built on the first century BC) is placed 50 metres uphill.
5. Gymnasium and Marmaria
As we said, this area can be visited for free. However, we saw that access to the athletes’ gymnasium was closed at least when we visited it. Anyway, it can be spotted from the archaeological site.
On its turn, the Marmaria might be the most photogenic place in Delphi. It comprises the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia, which is formed by two temples. Between the later temple and the Treasury of Massalia (Marseile), the circular tholos is the most characteristic monument. Allegedly built in 380 BC, it was later restored in 1938. Three standing columns remind us of its enigmatical beauty.