Everything you need to know about Delos

The Myth

Delos is located in the middle of the Aegean Sea and around the island circle all the other islands of Cyclades. According to mythology, Delos was originally a rock that moved in the sea and covered the waves, and its original name was Adelos.   

The current name was given after Zeus pleaded Poseidon to secure the stellar rock of the Aegean so that Leto could give birth to his twins, Apollo and Artemis.   Zeus plea to Poseidon was because Leto was hunted by Hera, who, angry at Jupiter's infidelity, had given orders to all places in order not to accept Leto to give birth.   After Poseidon intervention he named the island as "Delos". The island acquired not only a steady place in the Aegean, but also the Sanctuary of Apollo.

The History

The oldest inhabitants of Delos are estimated to be around 2,500 BC and built their ellipsoid houses at the summit of Mount Kanthos (113 m height).  From the mountain they could easily supervise and control the small valley and the sea. 

The Mycenaeans, arrived at the end of the 15th century BC.  Being the dominant in the Aegean Sea they started settling in the small valley by the sea.   The Apollonius Sanctuary, have already been established since the Homeric years.  

The island reached its greatest prosperity during the Archaic (7th-6th centuries BC) and classical (5th-4th century BC) years. Greeks from all over the Greek world gathered on the island to worship the god of light Apollo and his twin sister Artemis, the goddess of the Moon.  In antiquity, ships that sailed from Athens to the coasts of Asia have always been refueled to Delos.   That was also the case when they sailed to raid against Troy.  

In 478 BC, after the end of the Persian wars, the Delian Alliance of Hellenic Cities was set up to address future threats.  The seat of the alliance was Delos. There was the enormous amount of contributions from allied cities, and there were meeting delegates.  Soon the Delian Alliance evolves into Athenian hegemony and the Delians become citizens of the Athenians.  The funds of the Common Fund were transferred in 454 BC. on the Acropolis of Athens, allegedly for safety reasons, but in fact to finance the ambitious building program of Pericles.  In 476 BC the second temple of Apollo, the Great Temple, began to be built.   

In the winter of 426/5 BC the Athenians did the "cleansing" of Delos.  They opened all the tombs that existed on the island and carried the bones and graces to Rhenia, where they buried them in a common pit.  At the same time, they decided no one to be born and die in Delos, and transfered the pregnant or serious ill to Rhenia.  Since then no one has ever been born, no one died and no one was buried on the Holy Island, and the Delians, as the Athenians sought, became stateless.  In 422 BC they completed the "purification" exorcising the entire local population.

Immediately after the purification, despite the fact that they were in a state of war, the Athenians start by remorse or fear the extremely costly work of building another temple of Apollo and establishing Delia, a celebration in honor of Apollo each five years.

The city, which the visitor now faces, grew up in a few decades after 166 BC, when the Romans, now settling the fate of the Aegean Sea, declared Delos as Tax Free. 

Rich merchants, bankers and shipowners then settled on the island, attracting a large number of builders, craftsmen, sculptors and voters who built luxurious houses for them, decorated with frescoes, mosaic floors and statues. The small island soon became the largest commercial center of the world.

It is estimated that at the beginning of the 1st cent. B.C. this small island, which is just a dot on the Mediterranean map, inhabited about 30,000 people and that 750,000 tons of goods were transported each year to its harbors.

Archaeological site

The excavations in Delos, began in 1873 and continue until today, as the holy island of Apollo constantly reveals new findings to archaeologists.  Today the island is uninhabited. In antiquity, however, it was full of life. In addition to the houses of the residents had shops, theater, stage and of course various places of worship. 

The wealth of the inhabitants is evidenced by the 350 mosaics, which have been uncovered and considered to be among the finest in the ancient world .

When the traveler begins his tour of the archaeological site, he will see a stone-paved square surrounded by temples, the so-called Agora of the Cometarians of the 2nd century BC. The buildings that survive south and east of the square hosted shops, but most activities were in the open air. Most know the island for the famous Avenue of Lions.

The Avenue of the Lions with its marble lions was made in the 7th century BC. century when the inhabitants of Naxos wanted to thank Apollo. The lions you see today on the Avenue of Lions are imitations of the original, since the marble lions are kept in the Archaeological Museum.

One of the most important sights of the island is the temple of Isis, where inside is the statue of the goddess, the patron saint of the seamen. The temple is situated at the foot of the hill of Kythnos, which rises up to 113 meters from the surface of the sea. The temple was built in the early 2 nd century BC. and was repaired by the Athenians in 135 BC.

The route that visitors cross into luxury homes - like the house of Dionysos - until the ancient theater is called Theater Quarter and there are many of the treasures of the island's archaeological site, such as the house of Cleopatra and Dioskourides (2 nd century BC .).

Regarding the ancient theater of Delos, the stone construction was built in the 3rd century BC. and could accommodate up to 6,500 viewers. In the ancient theater were organized fights in the framework of the Dylia.

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