Lonely Planet review
Of all the archaeological sites in Greece, Ancient Delphi is the one with the most potent ‘spirit of place’. Built on the slopes of Mt Parnassos, overlooking the Gulf of Corinth and extending into a valley of cypress and olive trees, this World Heritage site’s allure lies both in its stunning setting and its inspiring ruins. The ancient Greeks regarded Delphi as the centre of the world – according to mythology, Zeus released two eagles at opposite ends of the world and they met here.
Check ahead for opening hours as these are subject to change. In summer, visit the site early to avoid the crowds and the heat. Don’t head into the site just before closing time; staff are already rounding visitors up by then and you won’t be permitted a thorough visit.
Sanctuary of Apollo
The Sanctuary of Apollo, considered the heart of the oracle, is on the left of the main road as you walk towards Arahova. One hundred metres to the right of the museum (follow the pavement), notice the brickwork of the Roman agora .
From the main entrance, the steps on your right lead to the Sacred Way, which winds gradually up to the foundations of the Doric Temple of Apollo. Entering the site, you pass several stone bases . The first is the pedestal that held the statue of a bull dedicated by the city of Corfu (Kerkyra). Just beyond it, on the right, are the remains of the Votive Offering of Lacedaemon, commemorating a battle victory. The next two semicircular structures on either side of the Sacred Way were erected by the Argives (people of Argos). To their right stood the Kings of Argos Monument.
In ancient times the Sacred Way was lined with treasuries and statues given by grateful city states – Athens, Sikyon, Siphnos, Knidos and Thiva (Thebes) etc – not only as thanks to Apollo, but as a kind of PR machine to show their wealth and might. To the north of the reconstructed Athenian Treasury are the foundations of the bouleuterion (council house).
The 4th-century BC Temple of Apollo dominated the entire sanctuary with a statue of Apollo and a hearth where an eternal flame burned. On the temple vestibule were inscriptions of Greek philosophers, such as ‘Know Thyself’ and ‘Nothing in Excess’, known as the Delphic Commandments.
Above the temple is the well-preserved 4th-century BC theatre , which was restored by the Pergamenon kings in the 1st century BC, yielding magnificent views from the top row. Plays were performed here during the Pythian Festival, held, like the Olympic Games, every four years. From the theatre the path continues to the stadium , the best preserved in all of Greece. Check out the sprinters’ etched-stone starting blocks at the eastern end. On occasion, stadium access is limited because of possible rockslides.
From the Sanctuary of Apollo, the paved path towards Arahova runs parallel to the main road and leads to the Castalian Spring on the left, where pilgrims cleansed themselves before consulting the oracle (closed at the time of research due to work to secure falling rocks).
Across the road, to the south, west of the Sanctuary of Athena Pronea, you will find the remains of the ancient gymnasium. Two running tracks occupied an upper terrace here; on a lower terrace, boxers and wrestlers practised their art and then cooled off in the large, spring-fed circular pool , which is still visible among the ruins.
Sanctuary of Athena Pronea
After the gymnasium is the Sanctuary of Athena Pronea, the site of the 4th-century BC tholos (rotunda), the most striking of Delphi’s monuments. This graceful circular structure comprised 20 columns on a three-stepped podium; three of its columns were re-erected in the 1940s. The white portions of each column are the original marble; the darker portions are new material. To its west, the foundations of the Temple of Athena Pronea are all that remain of a rectangular structure that was heavily damaged by the same rockslides and earthquake that levelled much of the tholos .