Archaeological Site of Delphi
The Archaeological Site of Delphi comprises the remains of a sanctuary that was the "navel of the world" and had a huge impact on the ancient world.
Delphi reached its height in the 4th century BC, when large numbers of pilgrims came to ask advice of its oracle. The oracle, an old priestess, was believed to be Apollo's mouthpiece. She answered the visitor's questions (via a priest), inhaling the fumes of a chasm. In return, the pilgrims brought lots of votive gifts to the temple. Also city-states like Athens and Thebes contributed with treasuries and statues, thanking Apollo for supporting them in wars.
Delphi's fame dwindled in 191 BC, when it was taken by the Romans. It was totally closed down in the 4th century AD by Theodosius, who wanted to get rid of the pagan sanctuaries.
Map of Archaeological Site of DelphiLoad map
Suddenly we were alone. The last of the tour buses charged back towards Athens. Looking down over the theatre and the standing columns of the great temple of Apollo I could not see a single other soul. The ever-present drone of the cicadas was our only company. So, on the one hand, after 2pm seemed a perfect time to be visiting Delphi without the crowds. However, I thought as I drained the last of my water bottle, after 2pm in July in the middle of a Mediterranean heatwave when half of Greece appeared to be on fire was also a monumentally stupid time to be visiting Delphi. And I didn’t need an oracle to tell me that!
The ancient world was liberally larded with oracles and soothsayers, whether it is the ill-fated Cassandra in Troy or the haruspices sacrificing animals on Rome's Palatine Hill. So what makes Delphi the example par excellence of an oracular site? I would say it’s a perfect mix of supply and demand. In terms of demand, Delphi has a cracking set of origin stories with Zeus discovering that this was the omphalos or navel / centre of the Greek world, Apollo slaying the monstrous Python and Heracles being ordered to complete his famous Labours by the pythian priestess. It was hence fully integrated to the mythological worldview of the Hellenic world. And because of this it was sought out by historical kings and rulers only increasing its fame. So this created the demand. But supply was restricted. Audiences with the oracle were strictly limited – one session a month, for only nine months of the year. And even then water from the Castalian spring needed to be sprinkled over a goat – only if the goat shivered was it prophesyin’ time. The result: big queues and sudden closures. So accommodation and stalls (such as those in the Roman forum at the base of the archaeological park) were needed to cater to the waiting crowds of pilgrims. Entertainment was also provided through the Pythian Games every four years. If the oracle was open for business there was a strict order of who could go first: locals of Delphi, other Greeks, and then visitors from outside Greece. But, of course, queues could be jumped with an appropriate donation to Apollo. So the city-states of Greece funded improvements to the site in the form of altars (Chios) and statues and founded treasuries to store their wealth (and showcase their glory). And in this way the site developed into the form we see today. Even the Romans continued to pay homage to the oracle of Delphi, bestowing further statues (such as consul Aemilius Paulus)… or carting them back to Rome (looking at you, Nero!). The pervasiveness of Greek/Roman history in European education and the fact that there is a lot still remaining to be seen makes it a must-see location.
Other than having slow-moving children there really is no excuse for visiting the Archaeological Site of Delphi in the heat of the afternoon. Even the day trippers from Athens have left by early afternoon. The site is open 8am-8pm 6 days a week (and 10-5 on Tuesdays). So, by staying in the nearby town of Delphi – or even any of the other towns nearby like Arachova, Itea, Amfissa or Galaxidi if you have your own transport – you have the flexibility to visit first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening. Essentially you can have a thorough exploration of the site in 60-90 minutes, maybe a bit more if you want to visit the stadium at the top of the site. The stadium is well worth a view and is well signposted but is a bit of a climb up to reach it. Even if you do not visit the stadium do make sure you follow at least a bit of the route up to get the picture-perfect view of the theatre and temple of Apollo (photo). In the morning visit the site and then the neighbouring airconditioned museum; in the evening visit the museum first. As others have said, the quality of exhibits here is astounding. My favourites were the Sphinx of Naxos and the remains of the silver bull; I found the famous bronze Charioteer of Delphi a bit stiff and stilted. Outside the ticketed site itself (and hence free to enter, though with the same opening hours) you will find a gymnasium and the temple of Athena Pronaia with its iconic tholos. You will need to cross the main road but it is an easy stroll down to the temple of Athena; it can be a stiffer climb back up, particularly in the heat!
Controversially, I would argue that the site would be much-less impressive if it had not seen so much reconstruction. The tholos of the temple of Athena, the Treasury of the Athenians, and the bronze column of the Tripod of the Plataeans are some of the most eye-catching remnants in situ – and they have all been reconstructed. The purists might attack me for this, but I wouldn’t be averse to a bit more reconstruction (maybe the Treasury of the Syphnians or the Stoa of the Athenians) to really show off what the complex would have looked like. I will, however, say that there is very good signage contextualising the ruins, provided in Greek, English, French and Braille (though with the crowds, slope and rocky pathway I probably wouldn’t recommend a visit for the partially-sighted).
Tickets for those over 25 are E12. Children under 5 are free. Those in between get in for free if an EU citizen and for half price if not (yet another 'Brexit benefit' for us Brits...). The ticket covers one visit to the archaeological site and one to the museum.
The new town of Delphi is an easy walk away, essentially a mix of four one-way streets staggered up the hillside and has plenty of accommodation and restaurants for those staying overnight. Parking in town is an issue however, and even in a regular-sized four-door sedan you may found yourself hitting wing mirrors. While the town of Delphi can be reached on public transport (the KTEL bus for Amfissa from Athens), having your own vehicle is recommended if you wish to also visit the Monastery of Hosios Loukas (a 45 minute drive back through Arachova and Distomo).
One final thing – and something that really moves any visit to Delphi from the impressive to the spectacular – is the surrounding landscape. The hillsides and valleys of this area add an extra wow-factor and while the actual inscribed area is fairly neat, Delphi has a very extensive buffer zone protecting the beauty of the surroundings (so too does the Hosios Loukas Monastery actually, though I’m not convinced that the two buffers actually meet).
World Heritage-iness: 4
Our Experience: 4
(Visited July 2023)
When you visit Epidauros or Olympia you can transfer the site quickly to a modern counterpart. Epidauros, the spa town. Olympia, the sports place. With Delphi this is way harder as it's not really clear how/if the Oracle really worked.
One explanation is that the Oracle would give ambivalent advice that would hold true no matter what. The most famous example is the advice "If Croesus goes to war he will destroy a great empire." True either way as you can see. Another explanation is that Delphi was like an intelligence hub. The whole Greek world would pass through. And to obtain advice, you needed to share information first. So the priests at Delphi would have access to a wide range of very sensitive information. Thinking about it, they maybe were what we nowadays call mentalists, and all they did was to use cold and hot reading techniques. Unfortunately, no historic description that would shed some light on the process remains.
The site roughly consists of three parts. The area above the road, the area below the road and the museum. All are stunning and convey how central a role Delphi played in the Greek world for centuries. The museum holds many great pieces with the horse carriage rider the greatest piece.
To me Delphi is on par with Olympia, another great site, just a tiny bit below the Akropolis as it's lacking the iconic image.
Athens has several bus stations and I paid a Greek cabbie 15 EUR as I went to the wrong one. The correct bus station is Liosion Terminal B. The bus to Delphi is operated by KTEL Fokidas and continues to Amrissa. Travel time should be around 3h including a stop at Livadia.
In Delphi (town), the stop for the return bus is across the street from where they drop you off. The ticket booth for the site is near the museum. The main site entry is further up the road. For the lower site, you have to walk along the road (no sidewalk) some more till you get to the entry. You will pass the spring.
I had wanted to connect from Patros (doing a circle around the Peleponnes). However, I wasn't able to find a bus connection from Patros to Itea, so I returned to Athens first. Also, Hosios Loukas monastery is just around the corner, but again, I wasn't able to find a connection. And having spent substantial amounts of money on Greek cabs already and having visited Daphni monastery in the morning to get my tick, I decided not to make the effort. Obviously, if you travel by car, you should be able to make this work.
I am quite disconcerted at reading other travellers' comments that Delphi might not be the best in Greece, or that its ruins might be disappointing... allow me to claim that Delphi actually is among the top 3 archaeological sites in Greece (at least for me)!!! And this comes from a blend of history and setting.
My first (and until now only) visit to Delphoí came quite late (October 2018) when considering my numerous previous forays in Greece, and I was quite excited at the idea. Delphi, the navel of the world, home to the prophetic Pythia! If you have ever studied Classics and Greek at high school (a quite common thing in Italy) or at university or wherever, this name will be covered in legends. We might well say that, whenever an ancient text tells of two Greeks meeting along any road in Greece, one of the two is always heading to Delphi.
A fact I found astounding: what we see now is a result of excavations and partial reconstructions that could only happen at the end of the XIXth century after an entire village was dislodged and relocated where we find it now. The village had stood there for centuries, and Delfi had vanished and been long forgotten. Was it ethically acceptable? I don't know. Could such a thing happen today? I don't know. Was it worth it? I am inclined to think so.
The natural scenario is stunning. You are high up in the hills, just below the steep crest of a mountain, with a view that sweeps to the south over oceans of olive trees towards the Gulf of Corinth. There's some energy that can be felt in this place, that is maybe a reason for its development as a spiritual and political centre. The main complex is uphill with respect to the road and comprises the ascent to the temple of Apollo along the Sacred Way: the visit is, so to say, linear. The (rests of the) buildings are quite compact and it is easy to imagine all the statuaries, the columns and the treasuries of every city and nation boastfully replete with wealth facing the Way. The centerpiece and focal point of this path is the partially reconstructed of the temple to Apollo, although the secret of the oracular chthonic exhalations is lost to us. The more you go up, the better you can appreciate the whole site; I'd recommend to buy a plan of Delphi for a mere 2€ to see how it looked where you tread today.
Apparently, not all visitors do this, but by no means forgo going up at the summit of the theatre (a wonderful specimen) and then beyond to the later (Roman) stadium, lying somewhat off of the main complex and very well conserved. To end the visit of the archaeological part, the downhill section with the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia is also not to miss, even if less striking than the main one. And then, head to museum and bask in the glory of the works of art that got accumulated here by hordes of worshippers through the centuries. Probably the most impressive of such museums (I am thinking of Olympia, Aigina, Acropolis, Mycenae...) in Greece.
Here you have a total centre of power of the ancient Classical world and I think everything conveys this exceptionality. No ruin may particularly stand out by itself, but each has its meaning in the whole. In my opinion, the only serious competitor to Delphi in Greece is Mycenae.
In the end, some practical details and suggestions for the visit. Most important thing: however you decide to reach the village, do yourself a favour and plan to stay there or in the vicinity for the night. You shouldn't have problems finding a good deal for an accomodation, and there are some nice restaurants. This will allow you to come with ease during the day, visit both the site & the museum with no hurry at your pace, and enjoy the place in the late afternoon and evening, when most of the tourists leave, and/or early in the morning. I am pretty sure you can even decide to visit the site on the first day and the museum on the next morning with the same ticket, or viceversa. By the way, the visit to the museum is morally obligatory, don't ever think not to visit it, you would lose some masterpieces and not fully understand the place. Bus connections should be quite frequent, but probably with a change if you don't come from Athens. If you come by car, don't underestimate the distance, as you will be using mostly secondary roads; e.g. from Athens it's easily 3 hours. The Osios Lukas monastery is a nice addition to the itinerary, but of course this takes up a lot more (and well spent) time. We drove to Delphi directly from the Meteora, and it took us 6-7 hours (with just a few stops), passing through some beautiful countryside and hills. As for the suggested period, remember that October is one of the best months to go to Greece: low season, but very enjoyable weather, long days and no heat (however Delphi is already more ventilated than at lower heights).
May the pythonic inspiration descend on you on your visit to Δελφοί!
- Photo: Apollo's temple from above and the valley.
Perched on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, northwest of Athens, the Archaeological Site of Delphi is one of the highlights of a trip to Greece. I visited Delphi on a personal day tour from Athens in November 2019, an off-season excursion that allowed my friend and I to wander through the site with few other visitors beyond a French class meandering up the mount.
Delphi is a showcase of Greecian history. The site I was most pleased to see was the Temple of Apollo, home to Pythia, the famed Oracle of Delphi. The foundation and a smattering of columns from one side of the temple remain halfway up the slope, although the abundance of fresh air makes it unlikely that any vapors from the subterranean chasm will lead to prophecies today. In a similar vein, the Sibyl rock, upon which another oracle expounded, remains a little further down the hill. Just next door is the incredible reconstructed Treasury of Athens, a gift from the city-state to thank Apollo for their victory over the Persians in the Battle of Marathon. Further up the hill is a theater with a spectacular view over the valley of Phocis, and a path to the sacred Castalian spring. At the summit of the archaeological site is the Stadium of Delphi, a well-preserved athletic site that was home to the Pythian Games, an ancient Panhellenic competition dedicated to Apollo and contested every four years (offset from the Olympic Games by two years). While it is true that much of the site is in ruins, I was amazed at how much of Greecian history could be seen while traversing the site.
Any visitor to Delphi must make a visit to the Delphi Archaeological Museum. Here can be found some of the best-preserved statues and stonework from Delphi. Some of the treasures on display include the Sphinx of Naxos (a gift from the Greecian isle), sculptures from the facade of the Temple of Apollo, a bronze charioteer, the Dancers of Delphi, and the Omphalos of Delphi -- a carved stone (by legend tossed to earth by Zeus) marking Delphi as the "navel of the earth". If for any reason one is unimpressed by the lack of extant architecture at the archeological site, this museum is more than ample compensation.
Logistics: Delphi is an easy day trip from Athens, and can be visited by tour, by bus, or by private transportation. The Monastery of Hosios Loukas World Heritage Site is located near Delphi, and makes for a good addition for a day trip.
Growing up as kids, we learned about the Oracle of Delphi. The whole Oracle thing was always a bit confusing – kind of a god or a seer of the future.
Visiting the actual archaeological site was more impressive than we ever thought it would be. Delphi is nestled in a crease of Mount Parnassus. It offers beautiful views of the valleys and mountains of central Greece.
Beginning in the 6th Century B.C., Delphi was essentially the center of the civilization. It was a religious center for the god of Apollo (the most important of the Greek gods). It was a major political center for Greeks and even the Mycenaeans before them. And the supernatural, where pilgrims received predictions of the future.
We really didn’t know what to expect in visiting in Delphi, but we were surprised that this far more to the site than the “Oracle.” This was a fantastic day trip from Athens.
Read more from Travel Addicts here.
Delphi was the sacred center of the world for the Ancient Greeks and undoubtedly a remarkable achievement of purposeful architecture, a sanctuary built into the challenging landscape to inspire awe and worship. Unfortunately, very little is left of its former glory, and the visual impact is fairly muted. Having experienced grandiosity of the Parthenon at Acropolis or the vastness in various states of preservation at Delos, it is hard to see Delphi as little more than a sequence of terraces with few surviving features here or there. Of course, you may be more into archaeology than I am or simply more attuned to the aura of the great legacy that the Ancient Greece bestowed on the mankind, so the simple fact of being in such an important and symbolic place may give you additional satisfaction.
The focal point of Delphi is the Temple of Apollo, undoubtedly photogenic, backed by the views over the valley of Phocis. Among other defined points are the Athenian Treasury, the theater, and the stadium up the mountain. The higher you climb, the more sweeping the views become, but in reality climbing more than a terrace or two above the Temple of Apollo is worthwhile only if you are looking for some mountain hiking.
Delphi is located in the administrative region of Central Greece about two and a half hours drive from Athens. An hour appears sufficient to explore the core of the site (for aforementioned hiking, add another hour). The archaeological museum is a short walk from the site along the main road and is accessible for a separate fee (or on a combo ticket); allow one more hour if you want to view its collection.
Read more from Ilya Burlak here.
I visited this WHS in June 2014. It's one of the most crowded sites in Greece. However, most tour groups gather mainly in the shade of the trees near the Temple of Apollo and in the archaeological museum of Delphi, afraid of the scorching sun. Most don't even visit the theare and the stadium that are high above the Temple of Apollo. These were my personal favourites as they offer great views of the surrounding mountains and a great panoramic view of the Archaeological Site of Delphi. About 250 metres away, I visited the Ancient Gymnasium and the Athena Pronaia Sanctuary which has the famous tholos (picture). All in all a great classical site but not the best Greece has to offer.
The setting of this place is wonderful with its ruins, mountain backdrop, and vista down the deep olive tree strewn valley to the sea. The ruins are often photographed and described. What seems to be a secret are the remains of the stadium in the upper portion of this site. The banks of seats on the northern side and the starting blocks in the stadium field are very well preserved. This stadium is the best I have ever seen, except for the one at Aphrodisias in Turkey.
Emilia Bautista King
Delphi is indeed a lovely day trip from Athens. The Temple of Apollo is quite impressive and I'm glad I had a panoramic camera to capture the structure. The theatre (or stadium) is also spectacular. It's worth your time to go through the Delphi Museum. I was naughty and took a flash photo of the Charioteer of Delphi. It came out blurry (serves me right) but the statue had quite an impact on me during my visit.
Finally, after 10 days of being a lonely visitor to Ancient Greece, I saw them: The Crowds. On Sunday all archeological sites have free entrance, and a lot of Greek families take this opportunity. Also quite a number of foreign tourists - may be because of Delphi's relative proximity to Athens.
Ancient Delphi was built against a mountainside. An impressive setting, though not many remains. A steep walkway connects the monuments - The Sacred Way. This was once littered with gifts by graceful city-states and made a promising entrance to the temple of Apollo.
Highlight nowadays is the sanctuary of Athena, across the street from the main site. The graceful "tholos" there features in many Delphi pictures (including mine).
Delphi is one of those places whose ancient importance cannot really be seen today anymore, just felt and imagined. It is located in a beautiful mountain setting, on the Parnassus Mountain, and its remaining monuments don´t quite reflect its extreme significance in ancient Greece, when it was the site of its most important oracle and the "centre of the world". Many of the buildings and temples are similar to others all over Greece, but the walk along the Sacred Way is really special, and the setting of the site is unique. Definitely worth a visit when you´re interested in ancient Greece.
Participating in “organised tours” is not really my favourite way of travelling. But sometimes there is an arrangement where the hassle of getting to your destination might become too much compared to signing up and paying a couple of Euros to a company with a ready-to-go-tour. Making an excursion to Delphi from Athens is exactly such a tour. Getting to Delphi by car is of course a non-issue but with only public transport as option it becomes quite a complicated task. So it was not long before I found myself in one of those comfortable air-conditioned bus with a guide constantly mumbling a lot of gibberish in broken English to an audience of half-asleep tourist due to the early morning departure time.
After first making its way through a quite boring Greek landscape we reached the first mountains after a couple of hours driving. And suddenly the trip took on a more exciting perspective - in which turn is the bus going to drive off the road and tumble down in the valley…? Now, not now, now….considering how they drive in Greece I’m amazed that there are no more cars and other motor vehicles lying in heaps on the side of the roads?
Having reached Delphi, one immediately notice how beautifully located is sits on the mountainside and it is said that when Zeus released two eagles from opposite ends of the world, their paths crossed in the sky above Delphi, establishing Delphi as the centre of the world. And on what was a very hot summer day (over +40), I stumbled out of an air-conditioned tour bus and almost collapsed in the sudden heat. After pouring a bottle of water over myself I proceeded up the Sacred Way, leading up to the temple and a beautiful view over the valley beneath and the mountains across. It’s a magnificent site that makes you think of solitude and contemplation and the fact that this also was the site for the famous Oracle is quite fitting.
Delfi is well worth a visit when you’re in Athens. And after touring the temple site you can easily walk the 250 meters north and you will reach the small town of Delphi, bursting with souvenir shops and good restaurants to end your day in a beautiful part of Greece.
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