Delphi is one of the most famous sanctuaries of the ancient Greece. Only Olympia, Ephesus, Corinth, Delos, Epidaurus, Egina and Megara gathered to their deity patrons as many Greeks as Delphi did. Delphi was second to Olympia and the Pythian Games rated also second on the list. But, the famous Pythia Oracle, was the most famous in the whole Antiquity.
Delphi was the abode of the Sanctuary of Apollo, the God of Light, Sun, Fecundity, Harmony, Arts, Music, Poetry, and Order. The legend says that in that very place the God Apollo killed the dragon-like monster Phyton – a myth that recreated the death of the sickness under the rays of the Sun (Apollo and his arrows).
The archeological researches found that the place has been inhabited from the Neolithic onwards. During the Early and Middle (Helladic) Bronze Age, at Delphi there was a sanctuary dedicated to Ge, the goddess of Earth and fertility. Later, in the Geometric period (8th Century BC), Apollo replaced Ge. Apollo was a foreign God who, probably, came from Tracie, same place from where Dionysus and the Orphic mysteries originated.
Apollo was also the God of Prophecy. Through his Oracles he communicated “the infallible will of Zeus” to men, helping them to solve their problems. There are many legends about heroes, kings or common people who, receiving from the Oracle (Pythia, the seer) an ill omen divination, tried to escape, without success, from their fate. Despite this fact, from remote reaches of then-known world (Oikumene) thousands of people and official envoys came yearly to Delphi to hear the God’s divination on major matters of state, or ordinary answers to their personal problems.
In time, the men’s faith and the frequently ambiguous answers of the priests led to the oracle becoming the most important in Greece and even the whole Mediterranean world. By the 6th Century BC the site increased in extent, major festivals were established and its reputation continued to grow. In 5th century it reached its peak. The Pythian Games, which consisted in music and poetry contests only (on the large beautiful theatre), started to include athletic and equestrian events – and the large stadium was constructed. Now, that is the best preserved stadium in the whole Greek world. As dedications and votive inscriptions show, many athletes and artists from the Northern shores of Pontus Euxienos to Sicily came to Pythia to compete. The pan-hellenic games in Olympia, Delphi, Corinth, Nemeea and other places helped in time the Greeks, organized as independent city-states, to develop an unitary culture, language and civilization.
Delpy was organized as two separate incites. One of them is the sanctuary of Athena (Athena Pronaia) – because her temple was located “before” (pronaia = before, in front of) the sanctuary of Apollo, situated close to the banks of the river, in Pleistos Valley. It consists in several temples, altars and Treasures (buildings where the donations from different patrons and cities were kept), all dedicated the most loved deity in Ancient Greece, Athena. The reconstructed columns of the Tholos (a circular temple) are the effigy of the present day posters of the “Oracle of Delphi”. There is also a Gymnasium with palaestra and thermes – developed during the Roman period -, and the Kastalian spring – the place where the pilgrims cleansed before going to the sanctuary.
The second was the Apollo sanctuary, located under the impressive Nauplia Cliff, part of the Parnasus Mountain. The sanctuary consisted of the great temple of Apollo, many Treasures and Votives, Altars, two Stoas (markets), a Bouleutherion (Senate) and the great Theatre. The Sacred Way went up between the buildings and statues, around the Temple, at the base of the Cliff and, after passing the Theatre, went through the pine forest to the Stadium. Close to the Temple there is the “Sibyl Rock” – underneath it lays the cave where, the legend says, Pythia made the divinations, drunken from the fume and the mellifluous water that escaped from the earth. As the place has no volcanic activities, the researchers presume that the sibyl drunk a certain kind of soporific liquor, maybe opium.
The whole place is only a ruins field (except for Theatre and Stadium), but the treasures are gathered in the Museum, close to the entrance to the sanctuary. The visitors can see here many treasures of the Greek (and Roman) culture: the Auriga (the Charioteer), the chryselephantine statues of Apollo and Artemis, many ivory, marble, bronze, silver statues and friezes including many Kouroi from 6th century, philosophers from Hellenistic and even the statue of Antinous (2nd Century AD).
The Sanctuary served for long period of time as lieder of the Greek world. The Temple of Apollo was so wealthy, that served as banker and treasurer for the different kings, city-states and even Roman emperors. The Oracle was consulted in many occasions, during the wars and in peaceful enterprises, by heroes, generals, kings and emperors. The importance of the sanctuary diminished after the Christianity took over as the state religion in the Roman Empire. The last Emperor to consult the Sibyl was Julian the Apostate (361-363). The treasures were taken, the temple and altars destroyed… As Pythia said: “the courts are lost. Phoebus (Sun) has no longer a hut, nor has prophesy a laurel, not even a gurgling spring – and the mellifluous water is silent.”
A village (Kastri) was built later on the ruins. Only at the end of the 19th Century the (French) archeologists started to excavate the old temenoi (sacred precincts).