Delos has magical powers. Those who have been confirm it. A magic pulls you towards the island on a spiritual journey. What is this magic? That depends on what you are looking for – everyone takes away something different. For some it is spiritual or in the ancient times – a pilgrimage.
Delos was a major pilgrimage destination like Delphi on the mainland. As the birthplace of Artemis and Apollo, a sacred site of significant importance to Greece, it was built up with many gorgeous temples and sanctuaries dedicated to the gods. People came from far and wide across the Greek world to worship Apollo, the god of light, harmony and the arts. The original inhabitants, the Ionians, took up residence Delos as far back as 1000 BC and ruled by King Delos who took his name from the 5 km long rock. Today Delos is a sacred land and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1990.
Delos is hot if visited in summer, so be sure to take along something to protect you from the sun. Essentials are a hat, sunscreen, shirt with sleeves, good walking shoes and of course water. Although there is a small shop on the island, be warned there is a limited variety in food choices. It is recommended that you bring your own snacks or lunch with you on the 30 minute ferry ride from Mykonos.
Not only is the ground uneven and rocky, you will also run into many small insects, lizards and snakes that have taken up residence in some of the out-posted building ruins. I saw many tiny lizards on my walk and I stopped counting at 20. Usually when I see these creatures I will head the opposite direction. However, my fascination in the magic of Delos overtook my fear of the creepy crawlies on the ground.
There is a lot to see on Delos and you may not get a chance to see everything on one visit. I spent my first trip to Delos exploring the following four sites.
For the more adventurous and those with a good level of fitness, it is definitely worth the hike up the staircase to Mount Kynthos. Rising a steep 113 metres to the sky, it feels like the “stairway to heaven”. Don’t forget to look out for the Grotto of Hercules among some stone slabs on your way up. Once at the top the view of the surrounding islands is amazing. Look east and see Mykonos with its telltale chapels.
House of Trident
Between the hill and the harbour, the theatre district is reminiscent of the 2nd century BC. The theatre is still prominent and was originally made of marble. There were 26 rows of seats to accommodate a capacity crowd of 5500 people.Walk the narrow winding streets and imagine how the buildings looked and feel the people who bustled by. Most houses would have been five metres high. The most prominent is the House of Trident rumoured to accommodate sea merchants, which looks over a courtyard with a mosaic of a dolphin swimming around an anchor. This hints that maybe the house was occupied by commercial marine personnel.
The most memorable part of this beautiful residence is the marble columns and the mosaic on the courtyard floor. The mosaic shows a beautiful design of Dionysus riding a tiger. It is a beautiful two floor house although slowly crumbling, but one can still see the stone staircase to show that there was a second level. Get there before the crowds to take the best photos and sit a while in silence.
Perhaps the best preserved building on the island, it is a 10 minute walk south of the archaeological museum. It is a DOric temple from the 2nd century BC and inside is the bottom half of the statue of Egyptian goddess Isis. Warning, you do have to walk up a slight incline to get to this one but it is worth it once you do to admire the detail of the columns. From the temple there is also a view of the harbour and a cool breeze.
For some temporary relief out of the heat, it is worth a visit to the archaeological museum where you will find a display of ancient finds from the site. Delos is still being excavated today and historical items are stored on Delos and the big museums on mainland Greece such as the National Archaeological Museum. My favourite item in here was the marble hand of Apollo and the replica lions that guarded the Lion Terrace in ancient times. On this trip I did not get across to the Lion Terrace so I will have an excuse to come back to Greece – not that an excuse is needed.
On my way back to Mykonos on the ferry, I felt sad to leave Delos. There was definitely something magical there that is hard to explain. It is almost like a breath of fresh air, an uplifting feeling that gives you a new energy. Next time I visit Greece, I will have to come back to Delos and explore that magic….