Thursday, April 18, 2013

#843 Delos, Greece

Just off Mykonos (#895) lies the most sacred island of Delos, the whole reason why the Cyclades Islands are named as a circle: they encircle this island. As the mythical birthplace of twins Apollo and Artemis, it has always been famous and formed one of the three most important religious centers in ancient Greece, but it was also an important commercial center. It has been inhabited since the 3rd Millenium BC, and a shrine to Apollo from the 8th Century BC. From 487 BC Athens had established the Delian League with their treasury on Delos, and all native inhabitants were removed because no one was supposed to be born or die on the island. The Romans made it a free port in 167 BC where it became a slave trading center. However, by the 3rd Century AD its decline was clear as only a small Christian settlement remained and many of the antiquities were looted in following centuries.
Boats from Mykonos land to the south of Sacred Harbor and passengers disembark onto Sacred Way to make their way to Sacred Lake (drained in 1925) past the Sanctuary of Apollo in the direction of the famous terrace of the lions: the originals are in the museum, but superb copies give an accurate sense of their towering shapes which protected the sacred area of the birth. 

One of the more rewarding options is to climb Mt Kynthos (113m), past the Sanctuaries of the Foreign Gods (built by merchants who lived on Delos), the Theatre Quarter and a deep cystern for a view back to Mykonos and over to neighboring Renia. Many houses are named for their beautiful mosaics discovered, such as the House of the Dolphins or the House of Dionysus which has one depicting the wine god riding a panther. The House of Cleopatra had headless statues of its owners.

Source: Lonely Planet Greece 8th Edition

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