Digging in the dirt in Delphi

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Europe » Greece » Central Greece » Delphi
September 15th 2022
Published: February 25th 2023
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A truth spoken before its time is dangerous… ~ Greek Proverb

Today we were travelling southeast from Kalambaka to Delphi.

We woke early and headed down to Hotel Alexiou’s stark dining area, where I enjoyed a fairly basic breakfast of yoghurt and muesli, bread and jam, and tea and juice. We checked out around 9am and settled into a very comfy and roomy minibus for the four-hour southward journey to Delphi.

In less than a minute we’d left the small township of Kalambaka behind, and we were driving through its outlying rural landscape that featured cotton, tobacco and corn fields. As we travelled further south, hay bales lay neatly in fields, man-made dams glistened in the sun and distant hazy mountain ranges shimmered on the horizon. At times we drove parallel to a railway track, and I wondered if it led north to Thessaloniki – the one we’d travelled on only a few days previously.

About 90 minutes into the drive, we started descending into the Spercheios River valley, which rests in the shadow of a towering mountain range. At the eastern end of the valley lay the shimmering waters of the Malian Gulf, which my eyes were continually drawn to. At about 11am, we pulled into a roadside cafe near Lamia for a 20-minute stopover. It was great to stretch our legs.

Feeling refreshed, we clambered back into the minibus and continued our journey southward. It wasn’t long before we were slowly climbing out of the river valley. Olive groves shared the densely forested hills with a multitude of different trees, including fir and pine trees. At one stage I noticed a solitary fireman sitting on the side of a hillside road in a folding chair, sheltering from the sun in the shadow of his fire truck. He seemed to be on watch, scanning the valley below for signs of smoke. I wondered if a fire alert had been declared, or whether this was standard practice for hot September days in Greece.

The higher we climbed, the more arid the mountain slopes became. I loved this feature of the Greek landscape. As we descended a series of never-ending bends, we had to navigate slow trucks and the occasional cow wandering in the middle of the road. We passed the beautiful (and tiny) township of Eleonas, set on the slopes of a small valley. Olive groves started to dominate the landscape, and the glistening Gulf of Itea became more distinct in the southern distance. It was a fantastic experience travelling this rural and remote road in the Phocis region of Central Greece.

We arrived in Delphi around 1pm and immediately checked into Hotel Varonos, our accommodation for the night. We typically prefer to stay in small townships for at least two nights on our travels, but Delphi was scheduled as a one-night stand on this trip. When we dropped our packs in our room, we couldn’t believe the view from our window. The Pleistos River valley stretched out below us, the Gulf of Itea shimmered in the middle distance, and hazy grey mountains lined the southern horizon. We even had a small (and very narrow) balcony. We were in heaven!

After wandering the town to get our bearings, we dropped into Restaurant Phivos for lunch, which was only a few doors down from our hotel. The place had been recommended by our hotel owner, as it had an open-air balcony with incredible views of the Pleistos River valley and the Gulf of Itea. It was almost identical to the view from our hotel room, and it was spectacular.

We ordered the following dishes to share:
> Stuffed tomatoes
> Greek salad
> Bread, olives and dip.

The food at Restaurant Phivos was good – especially the stuffed tomatoes. And the view was superb! I’m going out on a limb here. I actually think the view enhanced the flavour of the food. I know there is probably little scientific basis for such a claim, but there are times when a multisensory experience can amplify single senses. For example, visual art can be enhanced with emotive music. The taste of biscotti can be enhanced by the smell of fresh roasted coffee. And the taste of stuffed tomatoes can be enhanced by the view of a river valley stretching to a distant gulf. Especially when the river valley and the distant gulf are in Greece!

Delphi is a beautiful little township, although some of the shops are very touristic. We encountered a particularly dislikeable salesman in one such shop. He asked if he could help in an uninterested tone, and we made the mistake of telling him we were looking for a torso of Socrates. What an error of judgment! His sarcasm was brutal, and he refused to disguise his disdain for tourists who buy torsos of Greek philosophers. He marched us past many torsos of Socrates to the most expensive one in the shop. You can imagine his reaction when I told him we were looking for something smaller.

I also told him I wanted a torso with ‘Socrates’ inscribed on the base. All of his torsos had ‘Socrate’ on the base. I assumed the missing ‘s’ was a translation issue. Maybe ‘Socrates’ was better suited to English tourists, while ‘Socrate’ was better suited to French tourists. When I offered my explanation, he glared at me as if I’d just crawled out of Darwin’s warm little pond. By this stage I was fuming, and so was he. I didn’t want his overpriced torsos, and I couldn’t get out of his shop quickly enough.

We wandered back to Hotel Varonos to freshen up, then made our way to the Sanctuary of Apollo in the late afternoon – which is literally a ten-minute walk northeast from the main township of Delphi. We explored the dusty archaeological site in the fading afternoon sun, marvelling all the while at the craftmanship of centuries past. The standout features (for me at least) where the Athenian Treasury, the polygonal wall, the Temple of Apollo, the theatre and the stadium.

Yet to be honest, the real standout feature of the Sanctuary of Apollo is its location. Set on a steep barren hillside of Mount Parnassus, the ancient site affords incredible views over the Pleistos River valley below, which carves through the rugged landscape with such power and authority. It’s as if the mountains have obediently and acquiescently stepped back at some point in time to let the river flow freely to the sea. I loved the Sanctuary’s remoteness and isolation, and the silent presence of Mount Parnassus. This is a place to ‘sit and be yourself’ (to paraphrase Anna, a schoolteacher we met in Thessaloniki).

Making the most of our short visit, we wandered the ruins in the fading light of the setting sun, then walked to the nearby Delphi Archaeological Museum. This small museum was well curated and very interesting, and despite arriving just before closing time, we really enjoyed its exhibits.

We wandered back to the township of Delphi, where I settled on our small narrow balcony with a cold beer and caught up on my travel notes. The hotel owner was fantastic, and she offered a great deal on local beer. Her prices were lower than any of the nearby shops, so we all made the most of her generous hospitality.

At around 8:30pm we headed out to Taverna Vakhos for dinner, which was very close to our hotel. The taverna was set a little higher on Delphi’s hillside than our hotel, and it offered amazing views of the Gulf of Itea from its open deck. We settled at a table inside and ordered the following dishes to share:
> Beef meatballs with tomato jam
> Stuffed cabbage leaves in lemon sauce.

The meat balls were fantastic, but that’s where it ended. The cabbage leaves were ordinary, and the lemon sauce they were served with was not very appetising at all. My potted theory about the taste of food being enhanced by extraordinary views was very short-lived.

I also ordered a jug of house wine (red), and despite it being a bit rough, it was so nice to enjoy a glass of red wine after so long. At the end of the meal, a complimentary dessert of baklava (a long thin honey and nut roll in filo pastry) was brought to the table, along with plates of grapes. After a long day of travel, which included a four-hour minibus trip from Kalambaka, we walked back to our hotel and crashed around midnight.

We woke early the following day. We were leaving for Athens in the late morning, and there was a place we really wanted to visit before our imminent departure. The breakfast setup at Hotel Varonos was surprisingly basic, but more than adequate for our needs. I enjoyed yoghurt and muesli, croissants and honey, and tea and juice. The hotel staff were very friendly, and more than happy to answer any questions we had about the breakfast offerings.

Feeling suitably energised and revived, we set off on foot to the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia, which sits about one and a half kilometres north-east of the township of Delphi. We passed the Sanctuary of Apollo on the way, and we were surprised by our accelerated walking speed. We were on a mission.

So what was it about the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia that held so much interest? The site had a much smaller footprint than the Sanctuary of Apollo, and it was nowhere near as popular with tour groups and tourists. It was isolated and windswept, and it sat in the shadow of Mount Parnassus. It was also featured on the cover of our Lonely Planet Greece guidebook, and we absolutely loved the photo. So much so, we were hoping to capture a similar vista. It was a quintessential Greek image – ancient ruins shrouded by hazy mountains and a blue-sky horizon. It was Greece in a single frame.

Our main focus (from a photographic perspective) were the three Doric columns that remain of the Tholos of Delphi. I think we captured them in the way we’d envisaged. It was a beautiful morning, and we had the site to ourselves – apart from a slightly timid cat who was looking for attention and food, and a couple of annoying tourists who overstayed their welcome in front of the Doric columns. Were they ever going to stop talking? The place was calm and peaceful, and the view of the Pleistos River valley was exhilarating – as it always was. I’d become very fond of this part of Greece.

We retraced our steps back to the main township of Delphi, passing a few resident dogs along the way (who were intent on guarding their territory). We grabbed a quick cup of tea from the hotel’s breakfast room, then prepared our packs for the three-hour road trip to Athens on a public bus.

I was so glad I’d forced myself to pack the night before, because it made getting ready to leave for Delphi a relatively leisurely affair. Unsurprisingly, the breakfast at our hotel in Kalambaka (Hotel Alexiou) hadn’t miraculously improved over the last 24-hour period. The bread was still stale and the tomatoes were still gross. However, going down to the buffet a bit later in the morning turned out to be a blessing! I fortuitously discovered the kitchen’s policy of not bringing out the fresh tomatoes until the manky leftovers from the day before were finished. I was very happy to have my usual meal of toast, cheese, FRESH tomatoes, olives and boiled egg. It doesn’t take much to make me happy! 😊

At 9am we left for Delphi in a minibus hired through the Visit Meteora company we’d used for the Sunset tour. There were only 10 of us in the group, and with two spare seats (Intrepid Travel groups have a maximum size of 12), Andrew and I spread out over the entire back seat. It was a lovely and relaxed trip.

The landscape was predominantly dry flat farmland, and as on our journey from Thessaloniki to Kalabaka, the crops continued to be mostly corn and tobacco. However, the further south we travelled, the number of olive groves seemed to increase quite exponentially.

We had a brief coffee and toilet stop in Lamia, and then started climbing into the mountains; with the Corinthian Gulf peaking briefly through valleys and patches in the trees. The gorgeous peaks had tiny red roofed villages clinging to their sides, and up further, craggy white rocks with primary forests of plane trees or perhaps oak or maple, that were just on the turn into their autumn colours.

There were tiny shrines set into the rocks on the sharpest bends of the windy road. I wondered if they were memorials of fatalities on those corners, or if they were there for drivers to seek a blessing for safe passage.

We arrived at the tiny but modern village of Delphi at 1pm. The place is understandably touristy, but also very charming. Andrew, Cilla and I were the only members of the group who were brought all the way into town. The other group members had opted to spend the whole afternoon at an olive farm doing a tasting and having lunch. By this stage, Andrew and I had experienced two olive and olive oil tastings, and we were more interested in exploring the town of Delphi (especially given our stay was going to be very short).

Our excellent driver dropped us off at the lowkey and homely Hotel Varonos. After we checked in and walked upstairs, we realised our room had a very cool balcony that overlooked the vast valley below the town. The town sits on a steep hillside and our hotel was on the valley side of the town. We had breath-taking views to the Corinthian Gulf and the town of Itea on its shores; closer to us there were olive groves that filled the Pleistos River Valley, and more mountains across the valley from us.

The main section of the town has two parallel streets that are about one kilometre or so long, and are connected by three sets of steps. Our hotel was in the centre of town, near the middle set of steps.

I noticed there were many large Greek Shepherd-like dogs hanging about the town. It was a very hot afternoon, and these very fluffy dogs were seeking the coolest spots under trees and on damp ground near over-watered pot plants. They weren’t unfriendly, but they certainly didn’t seek or seem to want human attention either. It’s quite interesting that the only stray dogs we’ve seen in the country have been on this portion of the trip – in Thessaloniki and now Delphi. I assumed the dogs were strays, but they were all very well fed and had tags on their ears to indicate being vet-checked.

It didn’t take us very long to meander along the two streets and look in a few cute and interesting looking shops. We were well past the halfway mark of our trip, and we were starting to think of souvenirs. We had the misfortune of walking into the shop of a very rude and pompous man – and he lost a small sale because he thought he’d try to bully us into a huge sale. He’d do well to listen to that old Greek adage “To have five drachmas in the hand is better than ten drachmas on paper”.

We’d received a recommendation for lunch from the owner of our hotel, and after our explorations we settled at a balcony table at Phivos Restaurant. It was only a few doors down from our hotel, and it had the same beautiful view of the valley.

We shared a lovely lunch of bread, olives, yoghurt and paprika dip, Greek salad, and very delicious gemistas (baked tomatoes stuffed with herbed rice). I’d enjoyed a similar dish of stuffed peppers at lunch the day before, and wanted to try the tomato version. These stuffed vegetable dishes are deceptively filling, and I struggled to finish the complimentary dessert platter of fresh fruit (peaches, honeydew melon, watermelon and grapes) they brought out for us.

After our very long and lazy lunch we returned to our room to rest. I desperately wanted to sit on the balcony, but it was way too hot. I had a very short nap under the refreshing aircon before our late afternoon visit to the ruins.

Feeling quite refreshed, we met the rest of the group who’d just returned from the olive farm. We walked to the Delphi Archaeological site which was only 10 minutes down the main road. It was lovely walking along the curve of the valley that snaked along the Pleistos River.

Keeping in mind that the main reason we were stopping in Delphi for a day was to visit the archaeological site, I was very disappointed with what followed next. As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, Georgia (our group leader) hadn’t led this particular trip before, and she was learning the trip on the run. It had mostly gone okay, but we really bore the brunt of her inexperience at the Delphi site.

We’d been given the option of collectively hiring a local guide. Georgia heavily pushed this as the best way to get the most out of the site. Working on the premise that she had better knowledge than us, we all decided to take her advice. Andrew and I had slight misgivings, and we really should have listened to our gut feelings. More on this later.

We were supposed to meet the guide at the gate, and we assumed Georgia knew which gate. After to-ing-and-fro-ing for about 15 minutes, it was finally figured out and we met our guide, George. The entrance area to the ruins isn’t a large zone, and it occurred to us that it would have taken George two minutes to run down to where we were, rather than trying to direct Georgia on the phone through an area she clearly had never been to. Normally, this 15-minute delay wouldn’t have mattered much, but we were then rather shockingly informed that we had less than two hours to explore the entire site, including the onsite museum!

Our tickets had been valid for the WHOLE day, but here we were trying to cram in the entire archaeological site into the last hour before they closed the gates! I couldn’t believe Georgia had prioritised visiting an olive farm over getting us to the ruins in a timely manner.

Despite having told us we were short on time, George stood us in a spot outside the sanctuary and took his time relating the entire history of the place. Again, normally this would have been fine, but all I could think of was that we weren’t going to cover even half the site at this rate. As a guide he wasn’t too bad, but I later realised that he hadn’t really given us any information than we couldn’t have read on the site’s excellent information panels (or read in our trusty Lonely Planet guide). Oh well. Even though I learnt very little from George, I suppose we had helped the local economy.

Before coming to Greece, the Acropolis and the Delphi Oracle were probably the two things I knew most about. The legend of the Delphi Oracle was so powerful that it had carried firmly through many centuries as an intriguing and compelling part of Greek history. However, it wasn’t until I was actually at the ruins that I questioned whether the Oracle had really existed, or if it was a mythical tale. George confirmed that archaeologists believed she had really existed.

In ancient times, Delphi (from delphis, meaning womb) was revered as the sacred centre of the universe. The Sanctuary of Apollo was the home of the famous Oracle who could apparently communicate with Apollo. Over the hundreds of years that the Oracle was venerated, the Oracle was always a handpicked older woman who resided in the Temple of Apollo which was the epicentre of the sanctuary.

Once a month the Oracle held an audience with the public who sought Apollo’s wisdom. She would fall into a trance after inhaling ‘vapours’, and then prophesise. As with all things along these lines, apparently the prophesies were vague and open to interpretation. Nevertheless, she was highly regarded throughout the ancient classical world and pilgrims flocked to the sanctuary for guidance. Not surprisingly, Delphi grew into a rich and powerful complex over this period.

The Sanctuary of Apollo sits on the slope of Mount Parnassus. We eventually entered the ruins at the lowest level and made our way upwards. The site is still structured along the original Sacred Way, which is a sort of zigzag path that ends at the Temple of Apollo.

We first passed the Roman Agora. This was actually just outside the walls of the sanctuary, and it comprised a rectangular space which had the remains of columns that would have supported a portico. It would have been the gathering place before entry into the sanctuary, and is thought to have had a market and shops selling offerings for the temple.

We kept walking along the Sacred Way, passing the fountains that were fed by the holy Castalian Spring. The fountains quenched the thirst of pilgrims, but were also used to cleanse everyone entering the sanctuary.

Once inside the sanctuary, the Scared Way would have once been lined with treasury buildings representing all the rich Greek city-states. The Athenian Treasury is the only treasury structure that’s been restored, and it’s an extremely beautiful building. These treasuries were erected to commemorate the war victories of the cities and to thank the Oracle for her advice. The treasuries were filled with 10% of the spoils of war. Even all those thousands of years ago, religions were as astute about their financial acquisitions as they are today! 😉

Passing the remains of a few columns which mark the Stoa of the Athenians, we turned a corner on the zigzag Sacred Way and faced the centre piece of the sanctuary – the Temple of Apollo. There isn’t much of the temple left and the few remaining columns have been dated to the 4th century BC, but it was apparently built on a much older temple.

According to Greek mythology, Delphi came to be founded because of Zeus (god of the Sky and recognised as ruler of all the gods). The myth is that he attempted to locate the centre of the universe by releasing two eagles from the two ends of the world. The eagles flew at equal speed and crossed paths above the area of Delphi. Therefore, Delphi was recognised as the centre and marked with the placement of the omphalos (navel) stone. The hollow stone was housed in an inner sanctum of the temple, and it’s thought to have held the source of the ‘vapours’ that put the Oracle into her trance.

The inner workings of the Oracle are still a source of much debate. Some theories suggest that the ‘vapours’ came from underground, and others suggest it was from the smoke of laurel leaves (or even cannabis). With excavations still continuing, and ancient texts still being pored over, I suppose more theories may yet be formed.

In front of the Temple of Apollo sat a single but very eye-catching column. It was a spiral bronze construction, and it looked oddly out of place in its surrounds of cream stone buildings. Sophie from our group read us the key points from the information panel – it was a replica of the 4th century column that once sat there. It wasn’t until I was writing up my notes later on that I realised we’d seen the original of this Serpentine Column in Turkey! The Roman Emperor Constantine ‘relocated’ the column to his new capital Constantinople (now Istanbul) where it decorates the Hippodrome track near Aya Sofya. Our hotel had been close to the Hippodrome, and we had often passed by the many tall monuments stolen from around the world. Man’s obsession with power seems to go hand-in-hand with his obsession with phallic symbols. 😄

At this point our guide George suggested we may want to explore the rest of the site on our own. At first I thought I’d misheard him, but no, really, he was apparently done. On the one hand I was very surprised that he couldn’t be bothered walking up a few more levels to the theatre and stadium, but on the other hand I was relieved that we could now move through the site at our own pace.

The ancient theatre at Delphi was built a bit further up the hill from the Temple of Apollo. It was not only a lovely looking theatre, but when we walked around it to the top tiers, I realised what a stunning view it had of the entire sanctuary and the valley below. The rows of seats are cut along the natural slope of the hillside and would have had amazing acoustics. Like many other buildings in the sanctuary, it was originally built in the 4th century BC, but was apparently remodelled many times as architectural tastes changed.

The theatre was cordoned off and had ‘No Entry’ signs, but a couple of people had jumped the side cordons and entered the upper section. This included a bare-chested guy who seemed to be deep in meditation, but observing his body language I realised he was merely posing. Andrew reckons he was enjoying the attention of people photographing him. 😊

We then rushed along to the stadium. The stadium is located much further up the hill, and I was a hot and sweaty mess by the time we reached it. Unfortunately, the stadium was closed due to rockslides, but we could still get a sense of it by peering over the stone wall. I could just spy the stone starting blocks standing at the far end of the running track. The stadium was built in the 5th Century BC, but like the theatre, was altered in later centuries to add stone seating etc. At the height of its popularity, it could seat 6500 spectators.

By this stage we were quite concerned about not making it to the museum before it closed, so we rushed back downhill. I have to admit that our fast-paced walk was considerably slowed down by the many fluffy dogs and tabby cats who needed a greeting or a pat along the way! But we still made it through the museum doors in time. I loved that these strays were welcome to hang around in the shade of the trees and shrubbery surrounding the museum. I’d seen most of these dogs in the town that afternoon, so it seems they move between the two locations as they wish.

The on-site Delphi Archaeological Museum was small but modern, and it beautifully showcased the original artefacts found on-site. I enjoyed walking around, but in hindsight the lighting could have been much better. I also couldn’t quite figure out the structure of the curation or the flow of the various gallery rooms. However, this could have totally been because we were rushing to get through the museum, and I probably missed key information at the start.

My favourite artefacts were:
> the gigantic pair of kouroi (statues of nude young men) called the Twins of Argos;
> the tall Column of Dancers which depicted three dancing women;
> the omphalos (navel stone that marked the centre of the earth); and
> the life-sized Bronze Charioteer and the accompanying diagram showing how archaeologists were still trying to piece together the various parts of the chariot and horses.

Most of the pieces in the museum seemed to be life size or larger than life. I’m not sure if this depicts the considerable scale of Delphi, or if for some reason the larger pieces had more chance of survival and discovery than anything else.

After all that rushing through the ruins and the museum, it was a relief to walk back to our hotel in the beautiful afterglow of golden hour and sit on our balcony for a while. The plan was to write travel notes with our wonderful view, but Andrew had barely and sat on the balcony with his beer before I had to retreat inside due to an unrelenting attack by a swarm of mosquitoes!

We regrouped downstairs to walk to Restaurant Vakhos for dinner. Andrew and I had walked past it earlier in the day and noted it had a back section with large windows that looked over the view. However, by dinner time that view had been lost to the dark night.

Now, as disappointed as Andrew and I had been with the mismanagement of our visit to the Delphi ruins, we’d decided not to say anything to Georgia. We’ve learnt over the years to only speak up if there’s a chance that the situation could be rectified or if the group leader could ensure a similar issue didn’t happen again on that trip. In this case, the problem couldn’t be fixed and the trip was ending the next day…

However, on the way to dinner Georgia asked the group of us walking with her if we’d enjoyed the visit to the Delphi site. Everyone made non-committal sounds and looked down. At which point Georgia asked me directly what I thought of the guide. Having been asked a direct question, I wasn’t about to lie. Well, I should have lied. Georgia didn’t take kindly to my honest reply. I absolutely don’t blame her for making mistakes due to being inexperienced; I totally blame Intrepid Travel for putting her in that situation. Either way, I should have stuck to our plan of not expressing our disappointment.

The restaurant was packed and the waiting staff were rushed off their feet. Having worked in the hospitality industry many many moons ago, I remembered that feeling of dread when you were seriously busy and a big group rocked up.

We’d recently realised that Greek meatballs were very delicious, and we’d started ordering them at most meals since that discovery. Andrew and I shared keftedes (meatballs with tomato jam) and lahanodolmades avgolemono (cabbage leaves stuffed with mince and rice). The stuffed cabbage rolls dish was probably the first meal we’d had in Greece that I would never order again! The cabbage rolls themselves were bland but okay. However, the egg lemon sauce they were slathered in had a weird gluggy texture and an even weirder aftertaste. I was very grateful for the complimentary dessert of delicious baklava (layered phyllo pastry filled with chopped nuts and soaked in honey syrup) and the platter of fresh red and green grapes our stressed waiter placed on our table at the end of the evening.

I would have loved to sit outside on our room balcony that night, as the evening had finally cooled down, but those blood-thirsty mosquitoes were still hanging around! Plus, there was a dog fight somewhere in the town and it wasn’t the most pleasant of evening sounds to relax to.

No sooner had I closed my eyes than the alarm was going off and it was time to wake. Given the kooky, almost homestay nature of our hotel, we had been wondering what they would offer for breakfast. We walked down to the small breakfast room in the basement, and the long heavy wooden tables and awkward chairs made it look like an old school canteen. Thankfully, the food was miles ahead of any tuckshop fare. I had a lovely breakfast of my usual toast, butter, cheese, tomatoes and boiled egg. And the small tiropita (feta pies) were absolutely delicious. These were the first cheese pies I’d had that were made with short crust pastry (rather than the traditional phyllo pastry).

Due to the rushed nature of our visit to Apollo’s sanctuary and the museum, we hadn’t been able to visit the nearby Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia the day before. Without much time before we left Delphi that morning, Andrew and I rushed through breakfast and just about sprinted 2km downhill past Apollo’s sanctuary, to Athena’s sanctuary.

It was still quite early in the morning. and the big tourist buses had already started arriving at Apollo’s sanctuary. However, we had timed our visit perfectly and had almost the entirety of the much smaller ruins of the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia to ourselves. Even though the sanctuary is a free site, I was very surprised to see no security or staff the whole time we were there. Do they really trust tourists to be respectful and not damage such an ancient treasure?

The main attraction of this site is the circular 4th century tholos (beehive tomb). Three of its 20 exterior Doric columns had been restored, and it created a very picturesque setting. In fact, it was the photo on the cover of the Lonely Planet guide we were using.

The rest of the site is still very much in the planning stage of restoration, and even the main Temple of Athena has only its foundations visible. It’s thought this sanctuary contained about three temples, many altars, a couple of treasuries, many monuments and the tholos. Based on two facts – that pilgrims approaching Delphi on the ancient road would have arrived at this sanctuary first, and that the name ‘Athena Pronaia’ means ‘Athena BEFORE’ – archaeologists think that pilgrims would have made offerings at Athena’s sanctuary before progressing up the hill to pray at Apollo’s sanctuary. There are many holes in this assumption, but I suppose all archaeological theories have to start somewhere.

Delphi is home to Apollo, the god of light, and this morning he was shining down very brightly on the sanctuary of his half-sister Athena. The white marble of the tholos columns was almost dazzling in that white glare. We also had the company of a beautiful setting moon to the west.

I absolutely loved this small sanctuary. A small group had left just as we arrived, and apart from two other stragglers who had decided to linger at the tholos, it was just us, the fresh air, the brilliant sun, a very light breeze… and an absolutely gorgeous little tabby cat who came out of its hidey-hole in a brick wall to check us out. He initially sat with Andrew in the shade, but eventually decided to come over and investigate what I was doing at the tholos.

As you can imagine, hanging out with a friendly kitty totally trumped taking photos, and after he’d got his fill of pats from me, he sat on the rock next to me and promptly fell asleep. I wish I could have adopted him as a brother for Mia and Oliver! His friendly and chilled personality would have fitted in so well.

Time was marching on, and it was definitely time to leave when we saw a very large group starting to snake their way downhill towards us. There’s something I’ve always noticed about large groups moving as one – they seem to lose their awareness of the rest of the world. Over the years of travelling, I’ve observed a distinct lack of respect for others in public spaces. There was an extended family in our hotel in Kalambaka who had no qualms about shouting to each other over the heads of strangers trying to eat their breakfast in peace; and now when trying to leave Athena’s sanctuary, Andrew and I had to literally push our way out through the throng at the entrance. A couple of older men tried to get their fellow group members to move aside for us, but no one took any notice. We had to laugh… mostly at their behaviour, but also at their footwear, which was probably more appropriate for a night out than scrambling down the steep rocky path of a ruin.

By now the entire road between the two sanctuaries was jammed with big buses. The road wasn’t really built for this purpose, and the buses had parked over the narrow walking path on the side of the road. This meant we had to nervously walk on the main road and navigate blind corners, but luckily all was fine.

Thankfully we not only got back to the hotel in one piece, but also had a bit of time to return to the breakfast room for another cup of tea before cooling down in our room.

Not long afterwards we checked out and headed off to catch our bus to Athens. We were ending our second trip and travelling on to the Cyclades islands on our third trip!

Next we travel southeast back to Athens – the Capital of Greece.


27th February 2023

I can't look at these blogs without getting hungry! Stop it! LOL.
28th February 2023

Re: Food
Haha Sorry! The food was very delicious :)
27th February 2023
greek salad

28th February 2023
greek salad

Re: Yum!
We had a Greek salad with almost every meal - so good! :)
27th February 2023
baked tomatoes stuffed with herbed rice

Even yummer! *drooling*
28th February 2023
baked tomatoes stuffed with herbed rice

This was utterly drool-worthy Jasmin! And definitely 'yummer' :)
28th February 2023

Aussies on the move!
I’m just getting back on this site after a few years absence and lo and behold my favorite bloggers are back at it! This time in Greece. Fantastic! I look forward to reading what I missed. Hope you are doing well! And found lots of yummy things to eat lol!
1st March 2023

Re: Aussies on the move!
Ah Andrea, so good to see you back here. I hope you're well and I hope this means you've got some adventures up your sleeve! Greece has been a revelation in many ways, and the fabulous food most definitely helps :)
2nd March 2023

An evocative place of religion and power. I imagine it was a grand vision in its day.
3rd March 2023

Re: Delphi
It certainly was very evocative Chris. If we'd been able to revisit the site after seeing the artefacts in the museum, I think I would have got even more out of the 'visual' experience :)
5th March 2023
temple of apollo

Did you get "ruin fatigue"?
On travels where I tend to see similar kind of sites everywhere I get tired of it after a while. I would guess that I could develop "ruin fatigue" in Greece. Did you?/Ake
6th March 2023
temple of apollo

Re: Did you get "ruin fatigue"?
Haha yes 'fatigue' does happen from time to time... we certainly get 'temple fatigue' in Asia and 'cathedral fatigue' in Europe! Amazingly, I didn't really get 'ruin fatigue' in Greece, and that's probably because we only visited key ruins around the country and were very picky about which ruins and museums we visited in Athens. Although I have to admit, we visited fewer and fewer Orthodox churches as the trip went on - they all started looking the same on the inside :)
26th March 2023

Delphi is amazing
We loved our time in Delphi and even though the hike to the top was difficult in the hot days of Greece it was well worth the energy. The views are something and the ruins spectacular. Thanks for taking us along on your explorations.
27th March 2023

Re: Delphi is amazing
We really liked Delphi too, and those beautiful views will stay with me for a long time. I don't remember your blog on Delphi... I'll have a look when we've finished writing this trip up :)

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