Okay, okay, sorry I talked so much about mountain towns in the last blog post and didn’t mention Delphi, but at this point in the journey we finally reached the historic Temple of Apollo!
This is the day trip I was most excited for before leaving, and I am happy to report that it met and exceeded all my expectations. The only way it could have been better is with a time machine.
To give you a (very, very, VERY) quick overview if you are already tired of reading, the Oracle of Delphi gave answers to travelers who came to consult Apollo (via the oracle) on questions of great importance. These predictions that the oracle gave could be used politically, and most often, were used in this way. After the country was taken over by the Christian Orthodox church, all pagan sites were shut down, including this one, and fell into disrepair and, eventually, was forgotten about. In order to begin the excavation on the site in 1892, they had to relocate an entire town that had built on top of it (!!).
The Treasury of Athens at the Oracle of Delphi
Here, at the historical site, we met another local guide, who walked us through the site and gave us more history on a few key monuments:
- The Wall surrounding the area: The wall is 2300 years old and served as a library for the site. Each stone in the wall has writing on it which are all inscriptions about events that had occurred that were previously not able to be proven or events that had never been found in written history before. Finding these stones in the excavation has helped the excavators put names to the people behind the building and the people who engaged in the goings on in and surrounding Delphi, the Temple of Apollo, and the prophecies the oracle gave out.
- Navel of the World: The Greeks believed that Delphi was the center of the world and the excavators found many different “navels” at the site, showing that many city-states had given gifts of these stones.
- Treasury of Athens: Shown above, the “treasuries” here were not actual treasuries (i.e. bank), but instead is just a bad translation. In Greek, the word means a place to store precious gifts, so this is where the Athenians put their precious gifts to Apollo for his wisdom. However, our guide pointed out that the “treasuries” found along the walkway up to the temple was not only (or maybe at all) as an offering to the gods, but also to show other city-states of their wealth, power, and influence. The current Treasury of Athens is 80% of the original stone, and the excavators put it back together, so what it looks like now is mostly what it looked like when they built it.
- Temple of Apollo: This is where all the good stuff took place. After making your way up the long walkway which displayed gifts from different city-states to Apollo as thanks, you reached the temple itself which was the largest building on the property. Inside of the building is where the oracle sat; she sat in a room which had openings in the floor where natural gasses from the fault line filled the room and had a hallucinogenic effect which caused the oracle (who was a normal human priestess, and not a mythical creature herself) to speak fantastically. In the adjoining room were the priests, who could listen to the question the visitor asked, as well as the answer the priestess gave. The priests are the ones who expanded upon the very vague prophecy that the priestess would give, which would make the visitor feel like they got a real answer rather than just a mouthful of nonsense. Our guide pointed out that the priests and priestesses both knew that the answers given were vague, there was a phrase written above the entrance of the temple: Know Thyself. This was written there because one would need to know himself well enough to know if he was influenced by his own opinion when taking into consideration the answer Apollo gave him after he asked his question. This way, the priests and priestesses could never be responsible for whatever the prophecy brought about; instead, the onus (if the path the person took was wrong) was on the person who received the prophecy and interpreted it incorrectly. Pretty sneaky, priestess…
- The Oracle, herself: Although the priestesses were the ones speaking for Apollo, there is nothing written about how or why these particular women were chosen for the job. The excavators are still clueless as to where these women were buried (as there are no remains on the site) and it does not seem like they were treated any differently than an average priestess.
After our brief tour, we had time to walk the site ourselves, which was amazing. Although we were not allowed to touch anything that made up the Temple of Apollo, we were able to get very close. This was an amazing experience, especially to see where the oracle would have sat and spouted prophesies to legendary Greeks throughout the ages. We also had the opportunity to walk higher up the hill to see the amphitheater which was built to present plays about the area and the stadium at the top of the hill where the Pythian Games were held (like the Olympics, but not held in Olympia).
Finally, it was time to head to the hotel. We had some time to “freshen up” before our dinner in the ski resort town of Arachova, which I will talk about in my next blog post (don’t worry – that one will be much, much shorter than today’s!).