Delphi and Galaxidi
The ancient Greeks believed Delphi to be
the center of the world, and so all of the city-states--Athens, Sparta, Thebes,
and others--built temples and shrines there.
It was also the location of an oracle of the god Apollo, a role fulfilled in each generation by a woman who went into a trance and spoke on the god's behalf.
It took us quite a while to pick up our rental car and then to get out of the traffic-clogged streets of Athens, but soon we were headed west into the hills.
Our first stop was at the Byzantine monastery of Hosios Loukas ("Holy Luke"), named after the tenth-century hermit who founded the place.
The monastery was built mostly in the tenth century, but heavily restored in the twentieth centuy, and still undergoing renovations.
Inside the church is a wealth of Byzantine
mosaics and frescoes of the Christian saints from different periods of history.
Here is a mosaic of the baptism of Christ, depicted in a rounded corner of the church so as to give a "3D" effect to the water--well, sort of.
There is also a mosaic of the first Byzantine emperor Constantine the Great (who founded Constantinople and moved the capital of the Roman Empire there from Rome), and his mother, Helen, dressed in spendid clothing and topped with crowns. Both are revered as saints in the Orthodox Christian church, Constantine for having been the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity, and his mother, Helena, for having located what was believed to be the cross of Jesus. Accordingly, their holding up of the multibranched Orthodox cross has a deeper meaning.
Hosios Loukas is still a functioning monastery, although we saw no monks during our visit. The church is surrounded by other buildings, residences and such.
From there we drove further west to Delphi. It is set in a spectacular setting in the mountains. It must have been incredibly difficult to get to in ancient times.
The ancient ruins are set along a steep slope, so from the bottom of the site you look up to the mountaintop--
--and from the top of the site you look down to the valley below.
Some of the ruins have been rebuilt, like the Treasury of the Athenians, below, but most remains in ruins.
At the center of the site are the ruins of the Temple of Apollo. He was the god who was principally honored here. According to legend, the god Apollo slew a great python snake-monster here in 750 B.C. and then dedicated the spot to himself, setting up the oracle who would speak in his name. The women who served in the role for the centuries that followed were called the Oracle of Delphi or the Pythia, and were said to go into trances and have hallucinations that would be interpreted by other priestesses as the divine utterances. It is possible that the oracles allowed themselves to be bit by venomous snakes and that was the cause of the hallucinations; it is also possible that some kind of noxious fumes came out of the ground and the oracle inhaled them to receive her visions. These things happened in this temple, shown below.
Since the site received thousands of visitors each year in ancient times from across the Mediterranean, the place needed accommodations and other facilities for tourists. So an amphitheater (below left) was built on the site as well as a stadium racetrack (below right). In fact, the Pythian Games were held here every four years, not unlike the Olympic Games held at Olympia, but two years apart.
The site also shows some of marvels of ancient engineering: below, a drain to channel the water from the hillside when it rained.
Toward the bottom of the site is the Tholos of Delphi, the remains of an elegant temple built in the fourth century B.C. in honor of Gaia, the earth goddess.
The museum at Dephi was fascinating, and
includes a model of what the ruins looked like in antiquity.
You can see the huge Temple of Apollo at the center of the site. and the amphitheater behind it.
One of the most famous pieces of art at the
museum is this bronze lifesized statue of a charioteer.
It is one of only a handful of bronze sculptures that have survived from classical Greece.
Other pieces of art from the temples of the site are on display: below, soldiers with armor and weapons, one being attacked by a lion.
We thought that the modern town of Delphi might be a bit touristy so we decided to stay overnight at a fishing village called Galaxidi not too far away.
It was a good decision: the place was very charming, dominated by its church.
The town was set around a harbor, and we walked that evening through the town and enjoyed the reflection of the lights.
The next day we returned and enjoyed the tranquility of the place.
It's hard to see, but the brown shape at the center of the photo is an octopus.
Wherever we went, the waters of Greece abounded with life.
We highly recommend the hotel where we stayed,
called the Ganimede Hotel.
It was a five-minute walk to the harbor, quiet, and with this great courtyard.