11 August 2008

Delos: Tiny Island, Huge History

The uninhabited island of Delos was our next destination.

Unlike the previous day in Santorini where we were joined by six cruise ships, we had Delos to ourselves. Our ship had about 600 passengers, but I would say that only a third of them got off the ship. Which astounded me, because this was such an interesting destination. An island that is nothing but an archaeological site? (Have I mentioned how much I love these things?) But I didn't mind because it meant no issues with crowds.

In Greek mythology, Delos is where Leto went to give birth to Apollo and Artemis after being seduced by Zeus and the island has been a religious sanctuary since the third millennium BC. However, it rose in importance in the 5th century BC as the site of the Delian League. Comprised of several Greek city states united by Athens, the Delian League joined together to defend themselves against the Persians. Delos was selected as a neutral central location for the league members to meet. The common treasury for the Delian League was kept on the island.

Eventually Athens power grew and they became the leaders of the league. At that time the treasury was moved to Athens and all meetings and decisions happened there. However, Delos remained an important religious sanctuary with many cults based there. Especially the ones for Apollo.

During Roman times it's geographic position made it an important port within the Aegean Sea, eventually reaching a population of 25,000 inhabitants. On the darker side, it had one of the largest slave markets in Ancient Roman times, although many tour books choose not to mention this fact.

It began to decline in 88 BC when it was sacked by King Mithridates of Pontus. Eventually it was abandoned. Now it serves only as an archaeological site and museum. But it was never a true "dig." Because of the rocky nature of the island, and the lack of soil, very little was ever covered up.

We explored the site on our own, following a clockwise path through the ruins.

Immediately inside the entrance are three Temples to Apollo. Only three of many on the island.

But don't ask me to tell you which one that is!

Working our way around we came upon the Terrace of the Lions.

Dedicated to Apollo by the people of Naxos around 600 BC, it originally had 9-12 lions.

Time has diminished the ferociousness of their snarls. (By the way, these are exact replicas. The originals are in the museum located on the island.)

After visiting the original lions and other Delian artifacts in the museum, we continued on our way. We next began to climb Mount Kynthos towards the first sanctuary which was built in a cave around 3000 BC. But it was hot and there is practically no shade anywhere on the island, so we only went as far up as the Temple of Isis (facade with columns pictured below) in the area of the island dedicated to the worship of foreign gods.

We stopped to rest in the one bit of shade we had found anywhere on the island and enjoyed the view.

After a brief rest and a chat with another couple who were working their way around the island in a counter-clockwise pattern, we continued towards the Theater District.

It's the best preserved area on the island, perhaps because it is sheltered from the wind?

And what would a Theater District be without a Theater?

But it also has many houses which were once home to some of the wealthiest of the island's inhabitants. This is from the House of the Dolphins, named for the design in the mosaic floor.

The ship left Delos at 11:30 am for the very short sail to Mykonos where we were scheduled to spend the afternoon and evening.

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