Previous trips can be accessed by clicking the following links:

Iceland, Finland, Estonia, Russia, Mongolia, China, Thailand, Cambodia and South Korea

Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Israel, Jordan and Denmark

Hawaii, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Nepal, India and England

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

10/13: The Oracle at Delphi

We got a taxi from the hostel at 6:30 to the bus station for the three hour bus ride to Delphi. The Oracle at Delphi is a famous, ancient location on the slopes of Mount Parnassus that Zeus believed was the center of the world. Religion, politics and the future of all the city states were effectively run after consulting the Oracle at Delphi. 
The Oracle was famous throughout the ancient world and people would visit ranging from Alexander the Great asking if he was going to gain world domination to average citizens asking if they were choosing the right spouse to marry. There was a hole in the ground that emitted noxious hallucinogenic vapors which female seers would inhale and then utter prophesies. 
The shop owners we talked to once we were off the bus, said business had been so slow and it was the end of the season so they would be closing their doors in a few days.
A constant stream of bike riders came hurtling through town at a fast clip on their way to the Museum. I talked to one of the riders later in the Delphi Museum and she said they were on a ten day long cruise and bike trip from Germany.

After walking through town for a while, we then walked to the Delphi Archeological Museum as visiting it was essential to understanding the site and sanctuary’s importance to the ancient Greek world. A view from Delphi toward the Aegean Sea in the distance.
On the way to the museum, we passed this massive sculpture created in 1994.

The Delphi Archeological Museum:
At the Museum, a model of what Delphi looked like in ancient times: the representation of Apollo’s Sanctuary:
Votive bronze figurines from the 8th century BC:
The fabulous statue of The Winged Victory, the God that Nike was named after, was a gift from the island of Naxos. It was all original except for its broken feet and wings. 
The upper torso of one of the Siphian Treasury caryatids: The caryatids acted as support columns and were always portrayed dressed up and never nude. According to the label, 'the rounded face and the almond-shaped eyes suggested a sculptor of insular origins who trained in the cultural centers of Asia Minor.' The holes in her forehead were for jewelry and showed what an aristocratic lady looked like.
Next to the austere Doric buildings dedicated to the sanctuary of Delphi by cities of mainland Greece, the Siphian Treasury represented the style and workmanship of the islands of eastern Greece. The architectural remains allowed for the restoration of the Treasury in detail.

Fragments of the south frieze of the Treasury of the Siphnians: 
It was also one of the few monuments that could be dated precisely since its construction related to a historic event described by Herodotus and forseen by Pythia in the oracle she gave to the Siphians. The Treasury was made entirely of marble in gratitude to the god, Apollo. The prancing horse fragments were indeed stunning.
This fragment depicted the arrival of Hercules at Delphi with Apollo in the background. He was attempting to remove the tablet.
A sculpture of Medusa:
The two identical over life-sized statues, known as the Twins of Argos, were the oldest monumental offerings at Delphi and one of the earliest examples of large-scale archaic sculpture. 
From the time of their discovery, they were identified as two mighty and pious brothers from Argos whom the residents wanted to honor by making and dedicating statues of them at Delphi. Others identified the two statues as the Disocuri whose cult was widespread in the Peloponnese. Whatever their identification, they were fantastic.
Marble figures from the east pediment of the Temple of Apollo:

I overhead a guide tell her group this was of a lion mauling a gentle beast. I would have thought that, by definition, beasts were not gentle however!
A fabulous multi-figure group set up northeast of the temple at Delphi. Instead of glorifying a city state, the group manifested the outstanding rank of individuals dedicated to Delphi.
Fairly well preserved was the statue of the aged man referred to as the philosopher or maybe the priest of Delphi. The tag said his look and the forward movement of his arm suggest he was addressing an audience.
The three graces of beauty, harmony and symphony:

One of the greatest surviving ancient bronzes on display held a commanding position in a spacious hall and was set off to advantage by special lighting: The Charioteer. Created in about 470 BC, it came from Syracuse, a Greek colony in Sicily. 
This was the only statue found with eyes that seemed to move with you, like the famous Mona Lisa smile. They were inlaid with a white substance resembling enamel; the pupils consisted of two concentric onyx rings of different colors; the eyelashes were bronze.
The human figure is believed to have stood on a  terrace well above the Temple of Apollo, near where it was found in 1896. It was part of a larger piece which included a four piece chariot. The statue commemorated a victory in the Pythian Games (more on that further down!) at the begining of the 5th century BC.
The hair clinging to the nape of his head was perfect in detail.
There were guards appointed in each room theoretically to make sure people didn’t pose within the museum walls. We had certainly never heard of a no-posing policy in any museum elsewhere before. That policy was arbitrarily enforced depending, it seemed, on whether the guard was on the phone or not! 
The Charioteer was the most impressive sculpture on display in the Museum.
Also of interest were two life-sized ivory heads with gold headdresses, probably from statues of Apollo and his sister Artemis. Both gods figured prominently in a frieze depicting the gods’ battle with the giants. 
In front of the museum was this sarcophagus, found between 1828 and 1831, that was part of a family funerary monument. It was dated to the second half of the second century AD. A female figure, probably the deceased, was sculpted on the lid.
Delphi was excavated in the late 19th century by French archeologists and it received UNESCO designation in 1987. After a
square of late Roman porticoes, we passed through the main gate to Ancient Delphi and continued on to the Sacred Way, the approach to the Altar of Apollo.

Delphi still has a sense of deep spiritual resonance. There was something almost other worldly here. We could see the site of the Oracle from the outside only; we were greeted by the Omphalos, or center stone, as the Greeks believed that this was the center of the Earth. 
Believed by the ancient Greeks as being the navel of the world, it was a holy site even earlier, maybe as old as 10,000 BC, as a place to worship Gaia, the mother goddess. According to Plutarch, who was a priest of Apollo at Delphi, the oracle was discovered by chance when a shepherd noticed that his flock went into a frenzy when it came to a certain chasm in the rock. When he approached, he also came under a spell and began to utter prophecies as did his fellow villagers. Eventually a Pythia, an anointed woman over 50 who lived in seclusion, was the one who sat on a stool and interpreted the prophecy.
The location of the Oracle perched on a rocky cliff side overlooking the sea was magical, and it was easy to recognize why the ancients revered this place.
The Treasury of the Athenians was the best preserved monument of the Apollo Sanctuary and it was dedicated to Apollo by Athenian citizens. Made of marble from the island of Paros, it either commemorated the establishment of democracy in the city state of Athens in 510 BC or the Athenian victory against the Persians at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. We had just seen the Treasury's sculpted reliefs exhibited at the Museum.

The Temple of Apollo, who was the god of music, harmony and light, occupied the most prominent position in the Delphi sanctuary. The partially restored colonnade dated to the 4th century BC. It was the 3rd temple built at this same location. According to prevailing theory, the famous Oracle at Delphi operated inside the temple. The Temple of Apollo was the powerhouse that drew the factions of the city-states together and forged the power that the ancient Greeks wielded over the known world.
The Altar of Apollo, on which a goat was sacrificed, was a gift from the island of Theos.
The Temple of Apollo that people are now able to see, was from the 4th century BC; there were three previous temples. Although ancient sources spoke of a chasm within, there was no trace of that opening in the earth which emanated the trance-inducing vapors.

Above the temple was the well-preserved Theater which seated 5,000. It was built in the 4th century BC, restored in about 160 BC and was later restored again by the Romans. 

Performance of the ancient drama Prometheus Bound at the Delphi Festival in 1930:
We took in the marvelous views of the valley and of the ruins as we climbed higher and higher toward the Stadium.

Finally, after a long climb, we had reached the Stadium of Delphi, the highest point of the ancient town. Built and restored in various periods and cut partially from the living rock, it hosted athletic contests of the Pythian religious festival. The Pythian Games were second only to the Olympics. They were held on the fifth day of the six to eight day long festival. The Pythian winners were award a palm tree twig or laurel wreath.
Initially, in the 5th century BC, a racing track was formed by leveling the ground. Spectators sat on the ground.
The seats with backrests in the center (think the 50 yard line!) were for the judges. It was incredible to think that the ground hadn’t moved underneath and that it was still absolutely level all these millennia later. There must be solid rock below the ground.
Very few people had walked all the way up here so it was very peaceful among the trees. Walking all the way up Mount Parnassus to the ancient stadium on top was slightly tiring, but worth it. 
The view from every point as we climbed was breathtaking. From this point high above the town and the only road that ran through it, we could hear the hooting and hollering of the bike riders as they rode out of town. Since it was all downhill, it looked like an easy ride. Sure hope they had good brakes!
On our way down, we overheard a guide saying this was the Rock of the Seer, something we had missed on the way up. I wish I could have waited to hear what the Rock was all about!
On oracle day, the seventh of each month, the Pythia prepared herself by washing in the Kastelian Springs and undergoing a purification ritual involving barley smoke and laurel leaves.

We had bought a return ticket this morning and had chosen a departure time of 6:30, rather than 4 as we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to see both the museum and the site of Delphi itself since we hadn’t arrived in Delphi until 11. As it turned out, we were done seeing the sights well before 4 so we waited for the first bus, hoping that there would be two extra seats on it. However, all the seats had been pre-booked so we were out of luck and we had a long wait in front of us.
We had looked for a bathroom earlier while wandering through town and had found one in the lower floor of a hotel on the main street. Not only were there the convenient facilities but also a complete lounge area with a number of couches and, handier still, electrical outlets! So we ended up returning there and I worked on typing up notes for one of the posts for a couple of hours on the laptop. Steven had been lugging it around all day in his backpack so I could use it on the long drive up to Delphi on the bus. It had almost run out of juice by then so I was none too sad we hadn’t been able to get seats on the bus as it meant I could recharge the laptop and work on it too. That also meant I had time on the bus to write up posts into word documents to save for a later time.

It was certainly a long day by the time we got back to the hostel that night but making the trek to Delphi had been a highlight of our trip to Athens. In one of the most evocative locations in the world, Delphi was a place of wonder and peace.

Posted from Luxor, Egypt on October 25th, 2016.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We love to hear from you!!!!