Delphi in detail


The Greeks told many stories to explain the origins of Delphi. The site was originally sacred to Gaia (also known as Ge), the ‘Mother Goddess’ whose cult centred on the Korykeon Cave, high on Mt Parnassus. After slaying a snake or she-dragon (known as Pytho) here, Apollo took the local name of Apollo Pythios.

For a thousand years, pilgrims flocked to his sanctuary for guidance. The height of its fame came between the 6th and 4th centuries BC, after the Amphictyonic League, a federation of 12 tribal states, took control of the sanctuary following the First Sacred War (595–586 BC). As an autonomous state, Delphi earned great prosperity from benefactors including the kings of Lydia and Egypt, and the Roman emperor Hadrian. Nominally neutral, it was a locus of political power.

After surviving fire in 548 BC and earthquake in 373 BC, the sanctuary was conquered by the Aetolians around 300 BC, and by the Romans in 191 BC. Although the Roman general Sulla plundered Delphi in 86 BC, later emperors kept the oracle’s rituals alive well into the 2nd century AD. Ultimately its influence waned with the spread of Christianity, and the sanctuary was abolished by the Byzantine emperor Theodosius in the late 4th century AD.

By the 7th century, a new village, Kastri, had taken over the ancient site. It remained atop the ruins until late in the 19th century, when its inhabitants were paid to relocate to the newly constructed village of Delphi, allowing archaeologists to unearth the ancient site.