Delphi was known as the navel of Greece the spiritual cult centre of the Greek-speaking world since the dawn of time.
Omphalos the Greek word meaning Navel marked Delphi as the centre of the Greek world. In the ancient world desecrators of the sacred site would be thrown off the high rocky peaks of Yampeia and Nafplia to their deaths.
Today visitors to Delphi follow in the footsteps of countless millions who have made the pilgrimage seeking spiritual rebirth and guidance. Delphi lies in the Fokida district in central Greece.
Located in a breath-taking setting with the rich green fertile valleys of the Plistos River below that stretches out towards the Gulf of Corinth visible away in the distance.
Trees cover the mountainside that stretches high into the sky above the sacred road into the clouds. Originally the sacred site was dedicated to Gaia the mother earth goddess this ties in with association with the first priests appointed by Apollo himself being Minoans.
Early Cretan metal dedications have been excavated on the temple site with worship on the site dating back to circa 1600 B.C.
Female deities were long established on Crete and had a male consort, for example – the mistress and Master of Animals deities.
Beliefs that crossed from Crete with the Minoan settlers who settled the site of Delphi.
Legend tells how Apollo slew the dragon Pytho and gained control of the site from the ancient mother deity Gaia. Oracles were issued from Delphi to the followers who travelled from all corners of the world to seek an audience with the Pythia the mouthpiece of Apollo. Through his conduit, the Pythia the God of truth and light promoted morality and respect for human life.
Plutarch was a priest of Delphi and as such he would have interpreted the words of the Pythia who would issue her words up in a frenzied state. Originally oracles were issued on the seventh day of the seventh month of the year the sacred day associated with Apollo but as the cult grew oracles would later be issued on the seventh day of each summer month. This sparked activity on the temple site with guides and souvenir sellers busy offering their goods and services to the gathered followers and elites who had made the long pilgrimage to Delphi to gain an audience with the Pythia.
When the oracle day approached the Inns of Delphi would be crowded with followers of the deity. Only the sacred seventh of the month saw the Pythia offer up her prophecies. Originally the Pythia was a young maiden circa fifteen years old when the Oracles first commenced under Apollo. In later years the Pythia would be a mature woman of circa fifty scientific tests have confirmed that young girls and women aged fifty make gifted mediums.
Initially, the young Priestesses oracles gave a simple yes or no response in answer to the enquirer’s questions. In Later history, the Pythia would sink into a trance and issue her prophetic words her trance-like state induced by chewing sacred laurel leaves and the fumes that ascended from the sacred inner temples adyton floor which her tripod stood upon over the fault lines that cut through the temple of Apollo.
They were the conduits for the deity he spoke through the Pythia and delivered the words of the sacred oracles issued via his priestess. Plutarch was a priest at Delphi he lived circa 45 A.D. – 120 A.D spending most of his life in Chaeronea a town in Boeotia central Greece.
He revived the fortunes of the oracle site of Delphi during the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian the citizens of Delphi dedicated a bust in his honour for his services to the sacred site. His work on prophecy the divine and religious theology along with philosophical speculation formed a major part of his greatest work as a thinker and writer who inspired others who followed him among them Francis Bacon and Montaigne.
Plutarch penned a work on the ”E” of Delphi the letter E was inscribed on the temple of Apollo at Delphi and also the Pythia and other beings who provided the conduit and links between the deities and mortal beings. On the East pediment of the temple, artwork once displayed the epiphany of Apollo he is depicted alongside his twin Artemis and mother Leto on board the chariot of the gods.
A four-horse chariot sculpted from the finest Parian marble the sculpture is displayed in the 2nd hall of the temple of Apollo in the museum of Delphi. One of the finest artefacts excavated on the site is the bronze statue of the Charioteer by the sculptor Sotades of Thespia circa 470 B.C. Mystery still surrounds the true identity of the charioteer some claim it was the tyrant Gelon of Syracuse who won the Pythian games in 476 B.C. This is a masterpiece of ancient, sculpted art it stands proudly on display in the museum of Delphi within the hall of the Charioteer. Dedicated by Polyzalus the king of Yela on Sicily to celebrate his victory in the chariot racing in the Pythian games in 478 B.C.
The charioteer is 1.8 metres tall and drove a team of four horses his confident but modest pose and happy appearance and poise is captured in the moment by the artist in a unique sculpture.
Delphi was home to the Pythian games first held in 590 B.C. there must have been temples raised to the deity before this date on the sacred site. Mention is made of a temple built from Laurel trees being the first erected on the sacred site followed by a Legendary temple built from feathers and beeswax.
In 548 B.C. the first stone temple was destroyed by fire this was rebuilt circa 510 B.C. with the funding coming from Greek city states from around the ancient world. In circa 372 B.C. the temple was destroyed by a rockslide and again the Greek city states funded the rebuilding of the temple of Apollo in 330 B.C. Today the ruins visible are those of the third temple built on the site. Delphi was attacked by the Persians in 480 B.C. and later by the Gauls in 379 B.C. However, the site suffered little damage during both attacks.
Delphi remained under the protection of the Amphitryonic league and during the fourth sacred war Philip of Macedon defending DELPHI against their rivals.
A period of Peace prevails during the period of Macedonian rule. In 279 B.C. the Galatians attempt to sack the site but are driven off by the Aetolians who controlled the site up until the arrival of the Roman legions in 191 B.C. Delphi remained sacred to Apollo under Roman rule due to the deity’s transmission into Roman culture, from the Greek world with the deity retaining his Greek name. In 109 B.C. the site was attacked again this time by Thracians who were defeated and repulsed only to return in 91 B.C. this time, the Thracians sacked the site and destroyed the temple by fire.
Under the Roman Emperor Domitian in 81, A.D. restoration work began and was later completed by Hadrian in 105 A.D. Delphi prospered at this time with Plutarch a priest on the sacred temple site from 105 A.D. onwards. With the arrival of Christianity, the site fell into decline and was subject to attacks by fanatics of the new religion who defaced the temple site. In 1512 A.D. Michel Angelo painted an image of the Delphic oracle on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel. Interest was again sparked in later times circa 1672 A.D. when explorers armed only with a 1500-year-old guidebook penned by Pausanias set off to discover what had happened to the sacred site of Apollo. They investigated the village of Castri built over the ancient site and within a local church uncovered stone slabs with the letters D E L F O I engraved upon them.
Delphi was in that moment reanimated from the pages of history penned by Pausanias by explorers George Wheeler and Jack Spon. Lord Byron made the same journey to Delphi in 1812 A.D. he identified the position of the ancient stadium beneath the village of Castri. Today it remains the finest preserved stadium ever excavated from the ancient Greek world. Delphi had to wait until 1871 A.D. before excavations began on the site by Karl Otfried Muller and Ernst Curtius. They discovered the temple of Apollo but were seen by the locals as treasure hunters and ejected from the sacred site threatened with violence if they attempted to return. Finally, in 1892 A.D. Theophile Homelle from Paris a skilled negotiator and archaeologist brokered a ten-year deal to excavate the sacred site with full backing from the French government.
Since this time the French have controlled the sites rise from the earth and underworld back once more into the light the sacred site of Apollo and its museum are a must see for all who are interested in the ancient past beauty, nature and spirituality….
THE CHARIOTEER MUSEUM OF DELPHI
Meeting the many important visitors who made the pilgrimages to Delphi he was also able to explore the history and discuss the theology of the sacred site.
He wrote extensively on the Delphic oracle and biographies on over forty Greek and Roman elites and statesman.
Being granted an audience with the Pythia and receiving the oracle of Apollo was an expensive affair for clients and followers of the deity.
With an outer sacrificial altar used by enquirers to see if the signs for an audience were favourable once past this altar, an internal altar had to be sacrificed upon also to confirm an audience with the Pythia.
Herodotus stated that the Delphic oracles guidance during the Persian war gave them the victory over their rivals.
Delphi remained the spiritual centre of the Greek-speaking world from circa 900 B.C. and
up until the fourth century, A.D. under the Emperor Constans Delphi remained a sacred city.
Today the beauty and sheer atmosphere of the natural theatre that holds the site of Delphi is awe inspiring it was once the greatest museum in the world with artefacts dedicated from all corners of the ancient world and exhibited in the many temples that covered the sacred slopes of Delphi home of the Sun god of light, truth, music and justice.
TEMPLE OF APOLLO DELPHI
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