Delphi is both an archaeological site and a modern town in Greece on the south-western spur of Mount Parnassus in the valley of Phocis.
In Greek mythology, Delphi was the site of the Delphic oracle, the most important oracle in the classical Greek world, and a major site for the worship of the god Apollo after he slew the Python, a deity who lived there and protected the navel of the Earth. Python (derived from the verb pythein, “to rot”) is claimed by some to be the original name of the site in recognition of the Python that Apollo defeated. (Further reading of the Pythian games and the oracle…)
Delphi (1) Coordinates: 38°29′N 22°30′E
The site of Delphi is located in lower central Greece, on multiple plateaux/terraces along the slope of Mount Parnassus, and includes the Sanctuary of Apollo, the site of the ancient Oracle. This semicircular spur is known as Phaedriades, and overlooks the Pleistos Valley. Southwest of Delphi, about 15 km (9.3 mi) away, is the harbor-city of Kirrha on the Corinthian Gulf.
Buildings and structures
Temple of Apollo
The ruins of the Temple of Delphi visible today date from the 4th century BC are of a peripteral Doric building. It was erected on the remains of an earlier temple, dated to the 6th century BC which itself was erected on the site of a 7th century BC construction attributed to the architects Trophonios and Agamedes.
From the entrance of the site, continuing up the slope almost to the temple itself, are a large number of votive statues, and numerous treasuries. These were built by the various Greek city states — those overseas as well as those on the mainland — to commemorate victories and to thank the oracle for her advice, which was thought to have contributed to those victories. They are called “treasuries” because they held the offerings made to Apollo; these were frequently a “tithe” or tenth of the spoils of a battle. The most impressive is the now-restored Athenian Treasury, built to commemorate the Athenians’ victory at the Battle of Marathon. According to Pausanias, the Athenians had previously been given the advice by the oracle to put their faith in their “wooden walls” — taking this advice to mean their navy, they won a famous battle at Marathon. Several of the treasuries can be identified, among them the Siphnian Treasury, dedicated by the city of Siphnos whose citizens gave a tithe of the yield from their gold mines until the mines came to an abrupt end when the sea flooded the workings.
Altar of the Chians
Located in front of the Temple of Apollo, the main altar of the sanctuary was paid for and built by the people of Chios. It is dated to the 5th century BC by the inscription on its cornice. Made entirely of black marble, except for the base and cornice, the altar would have made a striking impression. It was restored in 1920.
Stoa of the Athenians
The stoa leads off north-east from the main sanctuary. It was built in the Ionic order and consists of seven fluted columns, unusually carved from single pieces of stone (most columns were constructed from a series of discs joined together). The inscription on the stylobate indicates that it was built by the Athenians after their naval victory over the Persians in 478 BC, to house their war trophies. The rear wall of the stoa contains nearly a thousand inscriptions; supposedly any slave manumitted in Athens was obliged to record a short biography here, explaining why he had deserved his freedom.
Delphi is famous for its many preserved athletic statues. It is known that Olympia originally housed far more of these statues, but time brought ruin to many of them, leaving Delphi as the main site of athletic statues. Kleobis and Biton, two brothers renowned for their strength, are modeled in two of the earliest known athletic statues at Delphi. The statues commemorate their feat of pulling their mother’s cart several miles to the Sanctuary of Hera in the absence of oxen. The neighbors were most impressed and their mother asked Hera to grant them the greatest gift. When they entered Hera’s temple, they fell into a slumber and never woke, dying at the height of their admiration, the perfect gift. The Charioteer of Delphi is another ancient relic that has withstood the centuries. It is one of the best known statues from antiquity. The charioteer has lost many features, including his chariot and his left arm, but he stands as a tribute to athletic art of antiquity.
The gymnasium, which is half a mile away from the main sanctuary, was a series of buildings used by the youth of Delphi. The building consisted of two levels: a stoa on the upper level providing open space, and a palaestra, pool and baths on lower floor. These pools and baths were said to have magical powers, and imparted the ability to communicate to Apollo himself.
The hippodrome of Delphi was the location where the running events took place during the Pythian Games. No trace of it has been found, but the location of the stadium and some remnants of retaining walls lead to the conclusion that is was set on a plain apart from the main part of the city and well away from the Peribolos of Apollo.
The sacred spring of Delphi lies in the ravine of the Phaedriades. The preserved remains of two monumental fountains that received the water from the spring date to the Archaic period and the Roman, with the later cut into the rock.
The stadium is located further up the hill, beyond the via sacra and the theatre. It was originally built in the 5th century BC but was altered in later centuries. The last major remodeling took place in the 2nd century AD under the patronage of Herodus Atticus when the stone seating was built and (arched) entrance. It could seat 6500 spectators and the track was 177 metres long and 25.5 metres wide.
The ancient theatre at Delphi was built further up the hill from the Temple of Apollo giving spectators a view of the entire sanctuary and the valley below. It was originally built in the 4th century BC but was remodeled on several occasions since. Its 35 rows can seat 5,000 spectators.
The Tholos at the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia is a circular building that was constructed between 380 and 360 BC. It consisted of 20 Doric columns arranged with an exterior diameter of 14.76 meters, with 10 Corinthian columns in the interior.
The Tholos is located approximately a half a mile (800 m) from the main ruins at Delphi. Three of the Doric columns have been restored, making it the most popular site at Delphi for tourists to take photographs. Vitruvius (vii, introduction) notes Theodorus the Phocian as the architect of the Round Building which is at Delphi.
The Sibyl rock is a pulpit-like outcrop of rock between the Athenian Treasury and the stoa of the Athenians upon the sacred way which leads up to the temple of Apollo in the archaeological area of Delphi. It is claimed to be where the Sibyl sat to deliver her prophecies.