Before I tell you about the things to see in Delphi, I will tell you why I was super excited about visiting Delphi. Ancient Greeks called Delphi the centre of the earth. So I called this trip to Delphi ‘A Journey to the Center of the Earth’. Even though my journey was not similar to the one described by Jules Verne in his novel, ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’, written in 1864, I flew all the way from Dumdum Airport, Kolkata to Athens, Greece. I took a day trip to Delphi from Athens. ‘Dumdum to Delphi’ definitely sounds cool. Delphi is like threads of history and mythology woven together. The protagonists of the above mentioned sci-fi novel plunged into the interior of the Earth and I plunged into the pages of Greek history and mythology. I had booked my guided group day trip with lunch for 80 Euros (negotiation possible) with Fantasy Travel near Syntagma Square, the heart of Athens.
The Journey to the Center of the Earth, Delphi, from Athens:
I was picked up at 5am from ‘The Hilton, Athens’ by a huge bus of ‘Fantasy Travels’. The Hiltons were generous enough to pack me a heavy breakfast which I devoured after boarding the bus. We were greeted by our tour Guide, Hana, a middle aged jovial lady. She introduced our co-passengers. The group consisted of Greeks, Italians, French, English, Irish and Russians, besides me, the only Indian. My co-passengers were welcoming and warm to me when they heard that I was traveling alone from India. Hana started telling us a lot of stories from the Greek Mythology. She was amazed to see that I knew them all. In fact we became friends when I elaborately narrated to the fellow travelers, the story of the great Emperor, Alexander’s visit to India. The bus drove through the roads of the city and then into the high way. The terrain started changing from snow covered rolling fields to rough rugged snow covered mountains on all sides. We drove across ancient Thebes, famous for the story of the sphinx and Oedipus. (Check for the story in the end). Finally we reached Delphi surrounded by Mount Parnassus, mountain of limestone, after 3.5 hours. By road we travelled 120 kilometers. I knew for sure that the things to see in Delphi will not only be historical but the place will also offer spectacular views.
The Iconic Archaeological Site of Delphi:
The most important things to see in Delphi are The Temple of Apollo, the God of Music, Harmony and Healing, The Sacred Way, Omphalos, Athenian Treasury and Ancient Theater and Stadium. These 4th-century-B.C structures are UNESCO World Heritage Site. This Pre-Helenic Sanctuary of Apollo was once home to a legendary Oracle and Priestess Pythia. Delphi was known as Pytho. The iconic ruins of the Temple of Apollo are wondrous. Remains of the humongous Doric pillars are majestic. The well laden path leading uphill to the Temple of Apollo is called the Sacred Way. While climbing the Sacred Way I was amazed to look at the craggy peaks of Mt. Parnassus and some remains of the walls with polygonal designs. The harmonious blend of the mesmerizing natural landscape and the ruins conjured a mystique spiritual calling. The Athenian Treasury lies on the Sacred Way before reaching the Temple of Apollo. It is a Doric building with the appearance of a temple from outside. The ancient Theater and Stadium is situated on platforms higher than the temple. Here the Pythian Games and Hellenic celebrations took place accommodating 6500 people. I relived history with the mythological stories narrated by the guide. Words can’t do justice in describing the aura of the place.
The Navel of the Earth:
Omphalos, navel of the earth, is a stone. Greek mythology is alluring and so is the story of Omphalos. Zeus, the Greek God of Sky and Thunder, in his attempt to locate the center of the earth, launched two eagles simultaneously from two ends of the world. They flew at equal speed and crossed each other at the area above Delphi. From this point in the sky Zeus threw a stone, the Omphalos, which fell at Delphi, which since then was considered the center of the Earth. Among all the things to see in Delphi, obviously, Omphalos is the most exciting because it marks the earth’s center.
Delphi Archaeological Museum:
It is amazing to see the care and precision with which these historic ruins, built even before 500 BCE, are being preserved and protected. The site is guarded 24X7. The Delphi Archaeological Museum is spread across 2000 square meters of area and is situated just beside the archaeological site. It displays artifacts found from the ruins, ranging from prehistoric to late Byzantine era. I realized at the museum how religion, art and architect are bound together to form master pieces for ages. The sculptures are remarkable. I remember a sculpture depicting a war which is said to have influenced the eminent painter, Pablo Picasso. I loved the statue of the Sphinx of Thebes, a very different one from that of Egypt. The detailing of the Charioteer, a bronze statue, is etched in my mind. This list of things to see in Delphi is incomplete without ticking of visit to this museum.
Lazy, Picturesque Mountain Village Near Delphi:
Just beside the museum, there is a place for refreshment. However, we drove to a lovely tavern in the mountains, a little below the site of Delphi. It was an awesome lunching experience. I shared my table with an Irish lady and a 75 years’ old Russian lady from Moscow. The Russian lady was very motherly and was helping serve food. We ate chicken and salads. She didn’t know English and definitely I didn’t know Russian. Yet, we enjoyed our lunch together speaking about our lives in our own language. I realized that more than language what makes a communication effective is compassion, inclusiveness and a broad bright smile. These are some little and heart touching experiences one gets from a solo trip. The liitle hamlets are so scenic and must be included in the list of things to do in Delphi.
Visit the beautiful village of Arachova:
After lunch we drove 10 kilometers away from Delphi to the beautiful town, Arachova. It is a ski resort on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. Since it was January and snowing, it became added attraction. The place offered us some breath-taking views of snow covered mountains and roads. The mountains around look like Alps and become Ski lovers’ paradise during winters. The simple people of the village won our hearts with their warm smiles and friendly nature. Stopping by Arachova, and absorbing its beauty, is amongst the best things to see in Delphi, especially in the winters.
Bonus: The Special Story of Thebes; A Riddle from the Greek Mythology:
Laius, the ruler of Thebes, was warned by an Oracle that he would be killed by his son. He sent a shepherd-servant to leave Oedipus, his newly born son, to die on a mountainside. The shepherd took pity on the infant and didn’t kill him. Oedipus was finally raised by the King and Queen of Corinth. In his early manhood, Oedipus went to Delphi where he learnt that he was fated to slay his father and marry his mother. To Oedipus the King and Queen of Corinth were his parents. So he never returned back home at Corinth from Delphi. One day he happened to pass by Thebes which was guarded by the Sphinx. The Sphinx devoured all travelers at the gate of Thebes who could not answer the riddle it posed. The riddle is “What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening?” Oedipus gave the answer, “Man”. Oedipus answered the riddle correctly and entered the kingdom. Laius, the ruler of Thebes, felt challenged and fought with Oedipus. Oedipus killed King Laius, became the King of Thebes and married Queen Jocasta, the wife of Laius. He had no knowledge that she was his actual mother. Sigmund Freud has coined the term, ‘Oedipus Complex’, based on this legendary story.
While driving back to Athens, I was lost in time, into the Hellenic days and didn’t even realize how the actual time on the clock just flew and brought us to the end of the day and the trip.