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Notes on the Geography of Greece: Delphi

Delphi was the cosmological center of the world for the Greeks, as well as the home of the great oracle of Pythian Apollo.

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Greece: Delphi picture 1

The countryside is dramatic.

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And long-abused.

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The first glimpse of Delphi, from the east. The oracle was closed by Theodosius I in the 4th century, but the desolation of the site is not so ancient, because until the 1840s the village of Kastri occupied the site. The villagers were booted out to make way for excavations, and the excavators eventually were able to reassemble these few columns from the Temple of Apollo Pythias, the largest of the many buildings that once surrounded it.

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The view from the west.

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A patch of the sacred way. The building on the right is the reassembled Treasury of Athens, the only building that has been reassembled. That's because it's the only one for which archaeologists were able to find the original stones.

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Reconstructed by French archaeologists in 1904-06, the treasury is a miniature temple. Built about 500, it has no steps because it was a vault, closed to the public. The metope sculptures are casts of originals held in the nearby museum.

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A view from above.

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The temple of Pythian Apollo was on a terrace whose lower wall was of massive, polygonal stones.

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The reassembled columns are of limestone, not marble, and were originally covered with stucco.

Greece: Delphi picture 10

The view from above. The sanctuary, which was last rebuilt in 320 B.C., measures 78 by 198 feet, with six columns at the ends and 15 along the length. This was an irregular ratio to accommodate the location of the oracle, which presumably was at the western (nearer) end of the building. The story of that oracle is that Apollo killed Python, child of Ge, and so became Pythian Apollo and the inheritor of oracular power.

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Above the temple is this 4th century B.C. theater, rebuilt by the Romans in the 1st A.D with room for 5,000.

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At the top of the site is this 5th century B.C. stadium built for the Pythian games. It was rebuilt by Herodes Atticus in the 2nd century A.D.

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Best seats in the house.

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Drains to reduce gullying on the steep site.

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Spare column drums.

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Fragments of the many ancient memorials.

Greece: Delphi picture 17

We're dropped down here to the Tholos ("Dome") of the sanctuary of Athena Pronaea ("before the temple"). This circular and domed structure was built about 375 B.C. for an unknown purpose. The architect was Theodorus of Phocaea.

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The fragmentary wall is original, but the columns, along with the lintel, frieze and cornice above, have been reassembled.

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The old village of Kastri, moved west a mile or so, became the new town of Delphi.

Greece: Delphi picture 20

The main street, like the rest of the place, is heavily oriented to tourism.

Greece: Delphi picture 21

Most of the streets run on the contour. Stairs run up and down the slope.


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