Delphi has survived the ravages of earthquakes and time, although it is hard for us today to imagine why this remote place was the centre of the ancient world. However, it was the home of the sun god Apollo and visited by the rich, famous and nobility of the day.
Delphi is most famous for the oracle, which attracted the visitors to the site. All of them wanted to have advice from Apollo given to them by his priestess.
The priestess in attendance at the oracle did not see visitors every day. She gave her prophecies once a month, for nine months a year, but only if the omens were favourable. There must have been queues of people waiting to hear what their futures held.
Apollo’s priestess spoke while perched on a tripod hanging over a hole in the ground. In recent years archaeologists and geologists discovered that she sat over a fissure through which fairly noxious vapours escaped. The priestess was undoubtedly affected by these, as they were methane, ethane and ethylene. It must gave been a hallucinatory experience.
It is said that this place was discovered by goats and a goatherd, who noticed that his goats were behaving very oddly. He went to investigate and started to prophesy. He wasn’t unique, anyone who went near the fissure did the same.
The priestess gave her prophecies in riddles,so this meant that interpretations wee necessary and sometimes these were woefully wrong. One famous example is when King Croesus (remember the saying as rich as Croesus?) of Lydia visited Delphi and asked the oracle to say whether or not he should attack the Persians. The answer was “Cross the border and a great empire will fall.” Croesus took this to mean that he would be victorious and the Persian empire would be vanquished. What actually happened was that he lost the battle. As a remonstrance to the priestess, and so also to the god Apollo, he sent his chains to Delphi.
In response he was told “”You should have asked which empire would fall.” There was no apology. The priestess and the god Apollo were above reproach.
Delphi was extremely rich as rulers such as Croesus sent their riches to the site of the oracle in the hope that this could favourably influence their fortune. As illustrated in the story of Croesus, however, these gifts did not always work.
These days you come across Delphi suddenly. It nestles between the two ‘Shining’ Rocks on Mount Parnassus. You can’t see it as you approach the ancient site from the road, but suddenly – there it is. There’s a certain ‘Wow’ factor involved.
When you have negotiated the rocks and boulders that strew the site, visit the museum. You’ll need at least three hours to see everything.
If you have time visit Arachova, a good place to stop for lunch, and don’t leave without seeing the nearby 11th century monastery of Osio Loukas. There are some marvellous frescos and icons, the work of Michael Damaskinos, the renowned Cretan icon painter of the 16th century.
Everyone should visit Delphi at least once in a lifetime. It’s an incredible place, even now.