NOVEMBER 17, 2022 : We continued today to make our way towards Athens. The plan was to drive as far as Delphi and see the archeological site there and spend the night in a nearby village. We left Nafpaktos without any great expectations. We discovered that the road from Nafpaktos to Delphi (E65) was the most beautiful road we have been on in Greece. We have been on many nice roads, but this quickly became the favorite. As we drove farther, it kept getting nicer and nicer. Delphi was also much more interesting and amazing than we had imagined. Our village for the night, turned out to be on top of the mountain, also spectacular. One of the best days of the trip.
We drove the E65 road southwest as it followed the coastline of the Gulf of Corinth. On one side was the sea, and across the sea in the distance were the high mountains of the Peloponnese. Along the coast were many coves and inlets, dotted with fishing villages and small tourist resorts. Small islands appeared not far from the shore. On our other side, were huge mountains, covered with olive trees. The sun was shining. Around each turn, the view would astound.
After we drove over an hour along the coast, we turned inland into the high mountains towards Delphi. Delphi sits on the edge of one of these high mountains, about ¾ up. The setting is gorgeous.
In ancient times, Delphi was thought to be the center of the world. Thousands would make pilgrimages to the site to confer with the Oracle of Delphi. They would come to the oracle and ask their questions. The oracle, usually a young woman thought to be under the influence of a mind-altering substance, would screech the answer. This was in turn, translated by the priests, who gave the answer to the pilgrim. The oracle was consulted not only on private matters but also on affairs of state, and its utterances often swayed public policy.
Delphi was inhabited for over 1000 years, and was a large, impressive city situated in an awesome location. Today it is on the list of Unesco’s World Heritage Sites and is one of the most visited spots in Greece.
A visit to Delphi has two parts – the large archeological site and the museum. We went first to the archeological site – us and several tour groups. After paying the entrance fee, you enter the site. A path leads you from one highlight to the next. The signage is both in Greek and English. In addition to the ruins, the scenery continues to astound.
You first past the Agora, the place where meetings and commerce occurred. The large square that was the Agora was surrounded by three stoas (stoa is a covered walkway for public use). Here we saw the remains of the northern stoa, the columns that held the roof clearly defining where the walkway once was.
The Agora sits on the Sacred Way. This is the path the pilgrims took to reach the temple of Apollo, where the Oracle sat. The path was lined with dozens of statues donated by the various city-states at the time. Today in the archeological site, you see the base of some of the statues, and some of the actual statues that were here can be seen in the Delphi Museum.
We then passed the navel, a large stone indicating the exact location that was thought to be the center of the world.
The pilgrims would often bring gifts to the oracle. These offerings were housed in the many treasury buildings, built by the different city-states. One of the treasuries, the treasury of the Athenians, was restored.
From the treasury, we continued uphill to the Temple of Apollo. Inside this temple is where the oracle sat. This location was chosen, according to tradition, due to a chasm beneath the site that emitted vapors, which were inhaled by the oracle to produce the mind-altering state that gave the answers to the questions asked.
From the temple, the path continued upward to the theater. The theater hosted singing and instrumental music contests and had a seating capacity of 5000.
These were the main site in the main section of Delphi that the tour groups visited. We however, continued onward and upward, an additional kilometer uphill to visit the Stadium. This is a large, outdoor arena, with tiered seating used to watch races. It is 178 meters long (almost the length of two football field). It sites at the highest point of the archeological site.
We made our way back downhill, enjoying the magnificent views.
The Delphi Museum is just a few minutes’ walk down the road. This is a beautiful modern building housing the archeological treasures that were found in Delphi. If today there are statues on the archeological site (for example the decorations on the treasury building) they are plastic reproductions made to withstand the weather. The originals, and much, much more, are housed in this museum.
In the museum are several recreations of the city. On one wall of the museums, sits a drawing of what Delphi might have looked like. There is also a scale model of the city. In addition, there is a interactive computer display showing all the sites. These gave us a very good perspective of what we had just seen.
After the museum, we returned to our car and drove to Arachova, a town at the top of the mountain about 15 minutes down the road, where we had an apartment for the night. Arachova is a charming town that is a popular winter resort, with ski slopes and other winter facilities nearby.
After checking-in, we went to explore the town, but it started to rain, and the wind was so fierce that it kept flipping our umbrellas and made walking difficult. We gave up on seeing the rest of the town, returned to our apartment and called it a day – a very special day.