Friday, August 05, 2011


[Kyle]We decide to make our first real day in Galaxidi a proper expedition. We were up super early in order to catch the first bus to Delphi, home of the Oracle. Delphi was considered to be the center of the world to the ancient Greeks. It was said that Zeus released two birds at the opposite ends of the world and they met in Delphi.

For us to get there, we needed to be on a 7:00 bus leaving from the town square. We only had large bills and Maryanne was worried they may not make change on the bus, so we popped into a local baker, who told us he’d be open in ten minutes. We looked at our watches. The bus was leaving in five minutes. The baker snickered at this. “Oh, no. The bus will not be here for twenty minutes, depending on traffic in the village.”

Traffic in the village? Oh, yes! We did see a car as we were turning in last night, but since then, the place has been deserted. This was apparently Greece’s version of Island Time.

At about 7:15, the square filled with about two dozen people more savvy than us. Five minutes later, we all boarded the 7:00 bus to Delphi.

At the next town, Itea, we were told we had to transfer to a different bus to Delphi. We disembarked. After waiting five minutes, Maryanne went into the bus station to check on the Delphi bus. It would be here in an hour. This seemed like the perfect excuse to have a coffee at a waterfront cafĂ© and gaze out at the barren landscape around Itea’s harbor. {Maryanne: yes, that is right, Itea has a harbour too - so why didn't we stay there? Because we read (what we now believe to be poor advice from our Pilot book) that Galaxidi is better place to stop to see Delphi). The harbour in Itea was practically empty (enough so all boats were moored along side with plenty of space to spare, and not stern to with complicated med-moorings), water and power at the docks and much more convinent for the public bus service to Delphi.}

At the appointed time, we went back across the street to the bus station. The next thing that came around the corner was the SAME exact bus we were just on. Perhaps it needed an oil change.

We were quickly out of Itea and climbing into the jagged mountains on a steep road that was alarming for its narrowness and windiness. At several places, oncoming traffic would have to stop and back up to let the big coach pass. We passed through the village of Chrisso, where the driver not only had to worry about parked cars on the road but also jutting balconies above as well. Perhaps “Traffic in the Village” means that if someone parks their car in a bad spot, your bus will be late.

After much more uphill windiness, we were deposited at the bus station in modern Delphi adjacent to the old site. The place was very quiet apart from a few people standing bleary-eyed outside their hotels, before ambling up the street with us towards the ancient site. Before even getting to the site, the first thing that struck us was the overwhelming majesty of the steep cliffs above, upon which the ancient site rests on a slightly less steep hill before the cliffs resume their drop.

The general setting and scenes from Delphi Town (modern, well, not the ancient bits)

We bought our tickets at the Museum, where we had a long explore of most of the best stuff brought down from the ruins, including some huge statues and much of the sculpted stone facing from the tops of the temples. One statue we were really taken with was of Antinoos, the beloved companion of the Emperor Hadrian. This statue pre-dates Michelangelo’s David by 1400 years and seems no less lovely.

Museum houses some of the great treasures that once lived around ancient Delphi

[Maryanne]Before we set off for Delphi I’d searched the internet for downloadable audio-guides of the site (nothing). There is no available audio-guide on the site and no organized tours by the museum, so the only option is to go it alone, or to hire an experienced private guide. I was really tempted until I realized that the going rate was €150 for a guide for an hour. Wow! How do you even know you are getting a good one? Will it be worth it? From experience I’ve found it really does help to have a story to go with the ruinous scenes, to help you picture the people, the purpose of each building, and the progression of time and events through a site. But €150, I was too cheap, we’d just have to manage with our basic guidebook and our imagination.

Some still make ancient Delphi home

I knew the basics of the Oracle, and the Delphi site, but it soon became clear how lacking my knowledge was. Firstly the site has the most beautiful and dramatic backdrops one could imagine. It’s easy to believe there would be no better place for prophesy nor temple. Secondly the Oracle over the years was so revered by so many great kings and rulers of history, that she was constantly being given very grand gifts of beauty and value, and to house and protect them numerous treasuries all were built (now all ruins). The museum gave a wonderful insight into these amazing statues, and treasures – I just had no idea!

Delphi sites -- Roman Agora (Market place) and Theatre

Yet again we find ourselves in awe of a ancient time and place, that had enough time and money to spend on entertainment and the aesthetic beauty of life – to enjoy life rather than just survive it. Theatre, gymnasiums, stadium(s), etc. I’m not sure how small and elite that group was (compared to those enslaved and in drudgery) but the life and the environment they managed to build make modern-day me feel so small and insignificant. The site with just the tiniest bit of imagination to picture it in its prime was simply draw-dropping to me.

I’ll let the pictures explain it. But I hope you get a feel of this wonderful place from this blog, it is truly stunning.

Ancient Delphi sights

[Kyle] After the museum, we walked to the ancient site, where the central road, the Sacred Way, zigzagged its way through temples gifted as offerings to the Oracle for her council. The last and largest, the Temple of Apollo, loomed over them all. Above the temples were a large arena and a stadium.

At the Arena, we were fortunate enough to see a show. Every so often, a caretaker is posted at a small hut, to keep a low-key eye on visitors, for their sake as wall as the monuments. The caretaker nearest us, a stern looking middle aged Greek woman blew a whistle a couple of times at someone and then shouted something in Greek. Looking over, we could see a teenager in a green shirt standing on top of, rather than behind a high wall at a viewing area. After a few attempts at yelling, she left her post and started marching up the hill with purpose - no small inconvenience in the steep terrain. She was mad.

The teenager got down and started milling around the rest of his group of about twenty as she approached, but there was no way he was hiding in that green shirt of his. To our surprise, the angry caretaker grabbed the arm of a middle-aged woman in a white shirt and started marching her down the hill, pointing forcefully and yelling “Downstairs!” She seemed reluctant to go and tried to protest. Nothing came out but feeble ‘Uh…uh…uhs”.

The Greek caretaker wouldn’t hear it, yelling, “No!”, pointing, “Downstairs!” She looked at the group, including the teenager. “Group! Upstairs!”, then at the woman, “You, downstairs!”

It turned out she had not been angry at the teenager after all, she was mad at the woman for leading an unauthorized tour group. I’m sure more than a few people in that group will be wanting their money back.

We headed further up to see the stadium at the top before turning back down. On the way back, we saw the angry caretaker cheerily talking to people. Maryanne asked where exactly the Oracle was supposed to have sat. This hadn’t been very clear. She pointed toward the Temple of Apollo and said, you guessed it, “Downstairs”.

The writing on the wall

One thing I hadn’t noticed at the Temple of Apollo on the way up was that the wall beside it – every last inch of it – was covered with line after line of small Greek writing. We heard an authorized guide explain to her group that the ancients didn’t put spaces between words to allow for more writing. There must have been thousands of pages worth on those walls.

At one point, as we were gazing up at the columns, Maryanne uttered the quote of the day; “We can’t even build a Wal-Mart that lasts more than three years!” It’s hard not to feel that humanity has lost some of its grandeur sometime between Delphi and Wal-Mart.

Further below the temples on a second site was a large outdoor gymnasium, complete with a circular pool and hot baths. Below the gymnasium are the remains of another circular temple, the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia, with one lone section of pillars standing against the mountain backdrop.

[Maryanne]We spend some time wandering and wondering at the site, but eventually it was time to find our way home again. We were reluctant to leave for a hot bus and Kyle had a plan, oh no.


kate said...

so the oracle was one woman and the pilgrammages made to delphi took place only in her particular lifetime? or the greeks chose different women at different times to prophesy? endlessly fascinating to me. i would have shared your sense of awe while there - amazing and yes, it's hard not to feel insignificant. oh, and exactly, maryanne! that they were able to build such a place, for worship AND entertainment - i mostly think of how difficult life must have been long ago, barely eking out a living, but the greeks (or at least the elite among them) had much time to enjoy the aesthetics. thanks for sharing!

SV-Footprint said...

Ahh.. no, the Delphic Oracle (or Pythia) changed over time, and was replaced every time one ran away with a lover, or died off, or whatever... Apparently there grew to be quite a strict procedure for selection (and training) of the next Oracle.

Consistent dates are hard to find.. but the Delphic Oracle presence seems to have started from 8th Century BC and died off (was banned) as Christianity grew (by 4th Century AD).