Sacred Delphi

An in-depth look at Delphi, one of Greece’s most important cultural sites 

By: By Jim Calio

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Touring Delphi With TrueGreece

The best way to see the ruins at Delphi is with an experienced guide included in a tour package. TrueGreece, a luxury travel company based in Athens, offers customized and escorted trips to the mainland and the famous Greek islands.

For Delphi, TrueGreece CEO Christos Stergiou recommended either a package tour that begins in Athens and includes stops at other popular ruins, or a day trip from Athens, either of which can be arranged through his company. Overnight stops are arranged at Arachova, which boasts a fine collection of luxury hotels and B&Bs.

“When a travel agent comes to us, we can create a FIT tour for them,” said Stergiou. “Our advantage is that we’re right there on the ground.”

The tour operator does not book tours, hotels and transfers separately, but entire packages, including guides. Travel agents do not receive a direct commission, but are quoted a net price and are then free to add their own commissions.

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Delphi was probably the most sacred site in ancient Greece, and today it’s one of the most important tourist destinations for visitors to the region, second only to Athens. Conveniently, Delphi is only a two-hour drive from Athens, up through hilly country and through lovely wide cotton fields that skirt the foothills of Mount Parnassus.

The ancient Greeks believed that Delphi was the center of the world. It is said that Zeus sent two eagles around the world in opposite directions, and where they met would determine the earth’s center. They met at Delphi. Nowadays, the only birds of that size you are likely to see are an occasional vulture skimming the treetops.

Even in its decayed state, the site is magnificent. The Sacred Way, which was trod by centuries of pilgrims, leads up to the Sanctuary of Apollo. Along the way is the “navel stone,” where the two eagles reportedly met.

The ancient Greeks believed that Delphi was the center of the world. // (C) 2010 Panoramas

The ancient Greeks believed that Delphi was the center of the world. // (C) 2010 Panoramas

The Sanctuary — which consists of the Temple of Apollo and adjacent treasuries — is where the famous Oracle of Delphi sent down pronouncements to the waiting populace. It worked like this: A local woman, usually elderly and with an unblemished personal history, was chosen to be the oracle, or Pythia, as she was known in ancient times. She would sit atop a stone or tripod structure. From below, vapors from a crack in the earth would waft up. The oracle would then be asked by the attending priests for her prognosis on personal and political matters, which would be interpreted as the voice of Apollo and revered throughout Greece.

Today, clients can see the exact place where the oracle allegedly sat, as well as the other structures that were built to honor the god Apollo. Looking out and down the mountain from the Sanctuary, there is a beautiful valley which in ancient times was planted with olive trees as far as the eye could see, the oil used for cooking and lighting, and beyond it the sea.

Delphi was plundered by succeeding waves of invaders, especially during the Christian era, when its many artifacts were looted. But many of them have been saved and can be seen in the magnificent Delphi Museum, located just below Apollo’s sanctuary. Clients can also take a break here with a refreshment at the cafe or a browse around its gift shop.

Because of Delphi’s rich and textured history, the most comprehensive way to experience this sacred site is with an experienced guide as part of a tour package. TrueGreece, a luxury travel company based in Athens, offers a day trip from Athens to Delphi as well as package tours that begin in Athens and include stops at other popular ruins.

The best time to visit is late fall to early spring. In the winter, nearby Mount Parnassus boasts some of the best skiing in the area, and the small town of Arachova, only a 15-minute drive away, is a playground for the rich and famous.