Although Delphi isn’t in the Peloponnese we’ve included it because it’s only a few hours drive from Patras and it makes a good route from or to Athens.
It’s one of the most outstanding ancient sites in the world; being so close it’s not an opportunity to miss. The Greeks considered it to be the center of the world, and the location, up in the mountains, makes it also one of the most beautiful sites you’ll ever visit.
The Temple of Apollo with its cult of the oracle at Delphi held tremendous political influence as many people of high rank would consult the oracle before a major undertaking to ensure it’s success, and afterwards to make a valuable offering in thanks to the God. The prophesies of the oracle, when asked a question, were generally obscure enabling the governing priests to interpret meaning (no doubt to their own advantage)
Originally, the oracle, or Pythia sat on a rock when prophesying that is still there today. Later when the large temple to Apollo was built above and behind the rock she was moved into an underground chamber.
The site is in 2 parts. Lower down is the sanctuary of Athena, photographs of the Tholos Temple here are often used to represent Delphi and ancient Greece as a whole. Ironically, the tour parties usually miss this part out as it’s some way down a hillside from the road. This is a very ancient site occupied in Neolithic times (5000 – 3000 BC). There is evidence of an earth mother cult at Delphi well before the cult of Apollo established itself. Its likely that the oracle was a continuation of an earlier tradition with the Earth Mother goddess known as Ge or Gaea.
The upper site has a main path known as the Sacred Way that zigzags up the hillside. On either side are the ruins of alters and treasuries, built by the various states to house their lavish gifts to Apollo. One of the treasuries has been reconstructed to give visitors an impression of the site in its heyday.
A little way past this on the left side of the path there is a fenced off area with a rock in the middle, mostly unnoticed by the hoards of visitors. This is the rock the Pythia is thought to have sat on. Above is the Temple of Apollo, the view of the mountains and down the valley from here is inspiring.
Further up there is a Theatre and if you continue to the top of the site you will find a compact, well preserved Stadium with Roman stone seating all around.
Apollo presided over Delphi and the prophecies he transmitted to the Pythia during the summer months, but in the wintertime the god Dionysios took his place, when entertainment and games became the order of the day.
There is an extremely good museum containing many magnificent statues and artifacts from the site. The paths in the site are uneven, steep and slippery in places – more could have been done for people with walking difficulties. On a hot day its quite a challenge to get to the top of the site.
The modern town of Delphi a kilometer from the site, is there only to service the coach tours visiting the site. Look for a hotel on the right hand side of the lower road as you go into the town and make sure to get a room at the back with a balcony overlooking the valley – the views are stunning, whereas the roadside rooms are very noisy at night. We’ve stayed in 3 of the hotels and they are all much the same. The restaurants along the lower road are mostly large and geared for the coach tours, if you arrive to eat after a group has just come in you’ll be waiting a long time for your food. There are a few smaller restaurants on the upper road which generally have better food anyway.