Two hours drive north of Athens nestling on the rugged lower slopes of Mount Parnassus lies the magical and mysterious Sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi. According to tradition Delphi was the geographical centre of the Ancient Greek world. Legend has it that the god Apollo established himself at Delphi having killed the python (the snake that guarded the Oracle of Ge).
The Oracle of Delphi was a prophetess, a powerful female spirit who could predict and advise on future events. Many soldiers, politicians and important people in ancient Greece came to Delphi to consult the ‘oracle’. Seated in a cave, this creature, a powerful and spiritual being, could, according to legend, foresee the future. Recent research suggests the ‘oracle’ may have been inhaling potent fumes from the mineral rich streams and vents that exist in this geo-thermally active area!
The Greeks honoured and feared their gods. Please the gods and your soldiers would be victorious in battle. Anger the gods and you would suffer humiliation and defeat. This desire to please the gods and in particular Apollo and Athena led to the creation of a pair of magnificent temples at Delphi. These temples were soon joined by gifts of every sort from all corners of the Greek Empire.
The people of Athens erected a magnificent Treasury Building, the people of Naxos sent a fabulous sphinx. Whilst the citizens of Rhodes sent a bronze statue of a charioteer. Gifts poured into Delphi from every Greek island and city. The sanctuary at Delphi dedicated to the god Apollo was the most important spiritual site in all of the Greek territories. It became a vast and sprawling treasure trove of fabulous temples, sculptures and works of art. It was also a cultural centre, with a magnificent theatre and a stadium that hosted the Pythian Games, a fore-runner to the Olympic Games, every four years.
With the revival of interest in ‘all things classical’ in the early 20th century, the theatre at Delphi was the chosen location for the first performance of a classical Greek theatre production, one of the first in modern times. The views from the theatre down the mountainside are completely spectacular. In fact, standing on the hillside, absorbing the natural amphitheatre created by the surrounding mountains, it is easy to visualise a stage filled with actors and the chorus lining up on one side. Even the audience of toga wearing patricians almost comes into view.
- Greek culture and history stretches back over three thousand year. We start in Athens where Socrates, then Plato and later Aristotle strolled around the gymnasium, thinking and philosophising. Their deliberations created the philosophical framework that has influenced and shaped are thinking to this day.
- Just north of Athens is the Plain of Attica, which takes you across mainland Greece to the mountains and to Delphi, the spiritual centre of the Ancient Greek world. Here is the Sanctuary of Apollo, a place where Greeks came to honour the gods and to give gifts to those gods.
- As you explore this lush, green hillside dotted with monuments you feel like a privileged visitor in an ancient open-air museum.
- From Delphi I headed north-east towards Volos, a charming fishing port and ferry terminal. You can hop on a ferry here to Skiathos. After a taverna supper and a good night’s sleep head north towards the snow-capped Mount Olympus – the mythical home of the gods.
- Viewed from a crusader’s castle on the coast the mountain is often shrouded in cloud you can understand why the Ancient Greeks venerated this great peak. Then continue along the cost to Thessalonika (Saloniki) Greece’s second city. A university town, a town of magnificent buildings, squares and Byzantine churches.
- Thessalonika has a cafe culture, loads of cafes, bars and cute little bohemian shops. This is a great place to spend a day or two.
- You can also read about my friend The Athenian Muse for more on Greek characters