The inexplicable mystique of Delphi

 

With the successful survey under our belts on Sunday, the catamaran we planned to buy in Athens, Greece, we decided to take a little break.

On the way to Delphi

We headed for the ancient archeological site of Delphi, the Greek religious sanctuary sacred to the God Apollo (the god of light, knowledge and harmony), on Mt. Parnassus near the Gulf of Corinth.

How many miles had this poor man walked to paint the lines on the road?

 

My memories of Greek myths and legends was that this is was home to the mysterious oracle of Apollo which was famed throughout the Greek world for giving cryptic predictions to city-states and individuals about important decisions on battles, political situations etc. I was looking forward to seeing the place that I had heard so much about as a school student.

Once we had got out of the Athens traffic, we had a beautiful drive through a deep and fertile valley (the Kopais Plain) where to our surprise the main crop appeared to be cotton. We later learnt that Greece is the EU’s main cotton grower accounting for more than an incredible 80 per cent of total European production.

We saw many, many, small fields growing cotton
There was loads of fluffy cotton balls at the roadside

We stopped for lunch in Aliartos , a small farming community, opposite a cave with what turned out to be a Medieval tower perched above it. At the back of the cave  we could see the start of a “secret” passage which looked like it connected to the tower – maybe an escape route if the tower was attacked?

The outside of the cave with the tower above
We couldn’t find out much about this cave but we could definitely see signs of a passage to the tower above
Taken from inside the cave

 

Mount Parnassus here we come

Soon after lunch we started to climb up the southern slopes of Mount Parnassus,  and before too long reached Delphi.

Climbing up the slopes of Mount Parnassus
A common site in Greece – sheep at the side of the road
Reaching Delphi

The views were incredible!

Such an amazing view

To reach Delphi Camping where we hoped to stay, we had to drive on a road with the most hair-raising hairpin bends but the spine tingling trip was so worth it.

An incredible reward after all those hair raising hairpin bends

 

We arrived in the early evening and there was good news and bad news. The good news that it was open. The bad news was that it was closing for the Winter the very next day.

Such a wonderful spot to camp
Sadly it was a bit late for a swim

Such a shame as it was a fantastic campsite with the most incredible views over a deep valley densely covered with hundreds of age-old olive trees and onwards to the sparking waters of the Gulf of Corinth.

There were hundreds if not thousands of olive trees as far as the eye could see the in the valley below

The owners of the site were fantastically hospitable and after we had checked in presented us with a small sample tray of olives, tapenade, olive oil – all products from their own trees – and small nuggets of delicious cornbread

This was such a nice touch and very welcome after the drive up the mountain
 

They were so delicious that of course I had to go and buy several bottles of olives, a huge can of beautiful olive oil and some bottles of tapenade too.

So many tempting goodies (as long as you like olives) in the campsite shop
 

We really felt that we were in paradise in this beautiful spot. It was very high up so the air was sweet and clear, even the gentlest breeze generated a beautiful swooshing noise as the cypress tree branches moved above us.

The beautiful pine trees made a lovely swooshing noise – sounded a bit like the ocean

 

Heavenly breeze in the branches above

After a peaceful sleep we woke reasonably early to make the most of the day. We wanted to walk right round the ancient site of Delphi as well as spend a decent amount of time at the museum. Then of course there was lunch to fit in.

View from the road as we drove to the Delphi archeological site

 
We were looking for a place to park in the village of Delphi and was flagged down by a middle aged man who asked if he could help. We explained we needed a carpark for our plus-size vehicle but had found the most likely spot said “no camper vans” at the entrance. “No problem, “ he said “You can go back there, it’s OK. I’m the mayor of Delphi so it’s OK”!


So we parked up and walked through the village of Delphi towards the ancient site but first, following the example of our good friends on S/V Yantara, stopped for “an early lunch” at a very pleasant taverna with wonderful views.

Such a wonderful view from the taverna


After a typical Greek meal of a beautiful salad with great lumps of feta and juicy olives on top, moussaka, chicken souvlakia and a sticky and very sweet dessert, we walked the couple of kilometres to the ancient site of Delphi.

The Delphi site was on a steep hillside


For the next few hours we climbed higher and higher, marvelling at the Temple of Apollo and other temples such as the one dedicated to Athena and around 20 treasuries which were constructed to house the votive offerings and dedications from city-states all over Greece. 

The Temple of Apollo
A replica omphalus which marked the centre of the universe
More temples and the remains of some of the treasuries in the background
Incredibly many tablets inscribed in Ancient Greek still survive and have been transcribed to give a wealth of information on the history, religion and social life of the people of Delphi
This serpentine column once held a pure gold tripod dedicated to Apollo following the Greek victory over the Persians in 479 BC
Doric columns from a large stoa – a votive of King Attalus


There was also a spectacular amphitheatre (capable of seating an audience of 5,000) and at the very top of the steep site, a sporting stadium that could seat 6,500 spectators.

The magnificent amphitheatre
Looking down on the amphitheatre below
Another shot of the amphitheatre from up high
The athletics stadium


This stadium was where every four years, starting in 586 BC, athletes from all over the Greek world competed in the Pythian Games, one of the four Panhellenic Games, precursors of the Modern Olympics. 

Visiting Delphi was an awe inspiring experience

We were absolutely enthralled by Delphi but more than that, we both felt that it had an inexplicable mystique, something awe inspiring and profound.

No wonder the Ancient Greeks considered Delphi as the centre of the universe

No wonder the ancient Greeksconsidered Delphi to be the centre of the world. We could definitely feel the strange and compelling charm that would lead people to believe that.

What a miraculous find. This silver bull was cast in the 6th Century BC

The nearby museum was excellently laid out with many fascinating displays. One of the exhibits that really affected me was a stunning statue of a bull forged from three silver sheets connected by bands of silver-plated copper. This was made in the 6th Century BC.

So full of life and strength

The statue was so life-like and captured the amazing strength and movement of a real bull.

The discovery of the statue of Antinoos
Emperor Hadrian’s “beloved companion” who died tragically

I was also fascinated by the statue of Antinoos who was Emperor Hadrian’s “beloved companion”.  We had learnt about him when we had visited Hadrian’s Wall on the way to Scotland so it was interesting to see an image of this “youth of extraordinary beauty”.

Another treasure was a statue of a charioteer – cast in bronze in 470 BC and erected in honour of the winner of the chariot race at the Pythian Games held in Delphi.

The sculpture would have originally consisted of a chariot and horses but when the piece was rediscovered in excavations in 1896, only the driver and a few fragments survived. How aristocratic and noble he looks!

The bronze cast in 470 BC and erected in honour of the winner of the chariot race at the Pythian Games
This is how the original statue would have looked
A model of Delphi when it was all intact
A copy of the original omphalus which marked the centre of the universe

 

The views from Delphi across the the coastal plain to the south and the valley of Phocis were sensational and as we walked back to the van we were lucky enough to see this amazing vista in the last of the sunlight, the magnificent mountain slopes were bathed in marvellous reds and oranges. Such a glorious sight.

Because the camping site was closed we had no choice but to free camp but we found the perfect spot just a few minutes away with the same commanding views. 

 

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Salty tales from Bali Hai

In 2015, after a break from cruising of almost 30 years, my husband and I sailed off into the sunset - this time to the wonderful Islands of Indonesia and beyond. Three years passed and we swapped sails for wheels driving through Scandinavia and Europe in a motor home. Now we are on the brink of another adventure - buying a Lagoon 420 Catamaran in Athens. This is our story.

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