DELOS ISLAND GUIDE
The small island of Delos is an isolated, uninhabited but very interesting island, located just 2 miles towards the southern west side of the well known Mykonos. Delos island is considered to be nirvana for most archaeologists. Extensive Greco-Roman ruins have been found to be occupying most of the island’s 1.5 sq mile area (four sq km), and are said to have made the island of Delos to be the equal to the famous and well known Delphi and Olympia, its difference being only in the small size of the island and the location, which is very close to the famous island of Mykonos in the Cyclades. The 2011 Greek census reported a population of just 24 inhabitants on the island. The island of Delos is administratively a part of the municipality of Mykonos island.
There are no accommodation options on the island of Delos as the archaeological sites of Delos and Rhenia are under the protection of the Greek Ministry of Culture and Archaeology; this means, both the mooring of private boats there and overnight stays without any official permission are both strictly forbidden.
|Visitor – tourist Information about Delos island|
|Address:||Delos Island, Cyclades, Greece|
|Coordinates:||37.399687° N, 25.267053° E (view on Google Maps)|
|Phone:||+30 22890 22259|
|Public transport:||Short boat ride from Mykonos Town|
|Opening hours:||Tue -Sun: 8:30 am-3 pm|
|Cost:||Guided tours from Mykonos town: €35
Boat from harbor about €12 plus entry fee €6
|Facilities:||Tourist Pavilion with toilets, restaurant, shop|
It was on the island of Delos that Leto (from Greek mythology), who was pregnant with Zeus and threatened by the jealous Hera, gave birth to the twins Apollon and Artemis. (The Goddess, Artemis was actually born on the adjacent island of Rhenia, exactly nine days after the birth of Apollon — surely a most difficult delivery for Leto!) At that time, the island of Delos was just a floating rock that was rewarded when four diamond pillars stretched up and anchored it in the heart and the middle of the Cyclades islands.
The excavations that are still in progress on the island of Delos are among the most extensive in the whole Mediterranean; ongoing work is still taking place under the supervision and directions of the French School in Athens and many of the artifacts that have been found are on display at the Archaeological Museum of Delos and the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
The island of Delos had a position as a holy sanctuary for almost a millennium before Greek mythology made it the birthplace of the twins, Apollon and Artemis. From the Sacred Harbor of the island, the horizon shows us the two conical mounds that have actually identified landscapes that were sacred to a Greek Goddess in other sites: one, retaining its pre-Greek name Mount Kynthos, is crowned with the sanctuary of Dionysus.
Having been established as a culture center, the island of Delos had an importance that its natural resources could never have offered. In this vein Leto, while searching for a birthing place for Apollo, addressed the island:
Delos, if you would be willing to be the abode of my son Phoebus Apollo and make him a rich temple –; for no other will touch you, as you will find: and I think you will never be rich in oxen and sheep, nor bear vintage nor yet produce plants abundantly. But if you have the temple of far-shooting Apollo, all men will bring you hecatombs and gather here, and incessant savour of rich sacrifice will always arise, and you will feed those who dwell in you from the hand of strangers; for truly your own soil is not rich.
—Homeric Hymn to Delian Apollo
Upon arriving on Delos island, you should immediately orient yourself in order to avoid getting lost in the labyrinth of ruins. Most of these ruins occupy the two arms of a right angle which immediately faces you. Further ahead (southern arm) is the theater and also, the main domestic buildings. Towards the left, on the western shore, is the holy sanctuary to which many pilgrims from throughout the Mediterranean came to bear votive offerings and sacrifice animals.
For more than 1,000 years, this sanctuary was the political and religious center of the whole Aegean and the host of the Delian Festival which is held every four years. This festival up until the fourth century B.C. was the greatest and most popular festival in Greece. The Romans then turned it into a grand trade area and made the island of Delos a free port. The island also became the main slave market of Greece where over 10,000 slaves were said to be sold each day.
At the beginning of the Christian era, the power and glory that the island of Delos was waning and very soon afterwards, the island fell into disuse. Within the duration of the ensuing two millennia the Mute Stones were silent; then later, at the time of the arrival of French archaeologists in the years close to 1870, the stones began to speak.
Unfortunately, now it is Delos’ snakes rather than its stones which are deaf—be sure to stamp your feet loudly when walking through little-trafficked areas, for these small snakes can nip your ankles.
You can follow the pilgrim route to a ruined monumental gateway which leads into the Sanctuary of Apollo. Within are two temples dedicated to Apollo—and there is also a temple dedicated to Artemis—and parts of a colossal marble statue of Apollo which was destroyed when a massive bronze palm tree fell on it. Close by is the Sanctuary of Dionysos with several phalli standing on pedestals with Dionysic friezes. Upstanding is a marble phallic bird symbolizing the body’s immortality.
Continue to the stunning Lion Terrace where five anorexic, archaic lions squat, apparently ready to pounce. Below this is the Sacred Lake and the palm tree which marks the spot of Apollo’s birth.
Most visitors delight in that part of Delos which was occupied by artisans rather than gods. Their houses, close to the port, are a regular warren separated by narrow lanes lined by drains from 2,000 years ago and with niches for oil-lamps which illuminated the streets. The main road leads to the theater which seated 5,500. It is unimpressive but superb views can be enjoyed from the uppermost of its 43 rows. Close to the theater are grander houses surrounded by columns and exquisite mosaics, to which they owe their eponymous names, on the floor.
From here a gentle stroll leads to the summit of Mount Kynthos (368 ft/110 meters), from which the views of the ruins and the Cyclades are memorable. Descend by first passing the grotto of Hercules and then stopping at the Sanctuaries to the Foreign Gods.
Remember, Delos was a free port and in classical times practically the entire Levant traded— and probably banked—here under the tutelage of shrines erected to their divinities. All were welcome—as evidenced by the ruined synagogue, erected by the Phoenicians, in the northwest corner of the island.
And so to the waiting small boat for the return to Mykonos. Forget the rough waves ahead and dwell on Kazantzakis: “Happy is the man who, before dying, has the good fortune to sail the Aegean Sea. Nowhere else can one pass so easily and serenely from reality to dream.”
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