The deeper we traveled into the center of mainland Greece, the more beautiful and serene it became. Villages perched on hillsides had an ambience of wellbeing in spite of the ongoing financial crisis. Perhaps it was the friendliness of the people or the care of the surroundings that impressed us or maybe just the welcome greenness of it all in contrast to the dry landscape of Crete. In any case, there was a profound beauty to this place that surprised us and deepened our appreciation of Greece.
Our destination was ultimately the magical land of Meteora but along the way we stopped and took in what the rest of this area had to offer. It was a very warm day as we traveled in our little rental car towards the ancient site of Delphi. Stopping off in the village of Arachova, a popular hotspot for the winter ski crowds, proved to be a good idea as we explored around corners, walked the tight little streets and ended up indulging in some cold “freddo cappuccinos” at a table in a café overlooking an expansive view of the mountains.
The approach to Delphi is stunning. Its location high on the slope of Mt. Parnassus is both beautiful and perplexing. Why, of all places, did the ancients choose here to build one of the grandest centers of the ancient world for religion, art, music and sports? The answer is rooted in Greek mythology. Legend explains that when Zeus released two eagles from opposite ends of the earth it was above this site that their paths crossed in the sky and it was here that the center of the earth, the “omphalos” or bellybutton of the world, was established. High and mighty rulers as well as low and humble peasants of the ancient world from the 8th century BC up until the arrival of the Romans in 191 BC journeyed here to the dwelling place of the god Apollo to seek wisdom and advice from the Oracle of Delphi (a priestess and spokesperson for Apollo) who sat in the temple, inhaling hallucinogenic vapors and spilling out curious prophecies.
Visitors to Delphi, both then and now, zigzag up the path of the Sacred Way towards the temple mount, vaguely reminiscent of Disneyland queues where the line is part of the ride. There are inscriptions to read, statues to ponder, architecture to admire and in ancient times, poets and statesmen to entertain.
Although the main draw to Delphi was of a religious nature, this site was also the center of a huge festival showcasing theater, poetry and music. Later, athletic events were added and the festival was dubbed the Pythian games held every four years – a precursor to the modern Olympic games.
They must have been serious about their festivals because the theatre in Delphi, built 2,500 years ago, rivals that of other large theaters as the finest in Greece. The 655 foot long stadium that held 7,000 spectators is equally impressive.
If you plan to visit Delphi, don’t miss the nicely designed museum and, for Delphi in a nutshell, check out Rick Steve’s video here:
Because of the heat, it’s not the best place to visit in the summer, but we have no regrets and are so glad we didn’t miss it on our journey north to Meteora – next blog!