Looking west and northwest
Looking west towards the shore of the former Sacred Harbour, the precinct is bordered by the Stoa of the Naxians, whose long rear wall backed onto the harbour quays. An arm of the stoa also runs east to join the main propylaia. This structure was a part of the 6th century bc building programme of the Naxians, which had begun with their ‘Oikos’: as one of the first examples of the organisation and enclosing of space by colonnades of this nature, it was a highly innovative piece of design. In the stoa’s southwest corner are the granite foundations, with a cylindrical hollow in the middle, of the base of the Bronze Palm Tree dedicated by Nikias in 417 bc. On one of the fragments (replaced) of the lower marble course of the monument can be read the name of Nikias, beginning the dedicatory inscription.
Immediately in the foreground when looking west is the long, right-angled base of the Ionic portico of the Artemision, whose columns are visible standing just beyond the fragment of the colossal statue of Apollo. This defined an area occupied at its centre by three successive sacred buildings raised on top of one another. This is probably the oldest place of worship on Delos , where a female divinity—a precursor of Artemis—was honoured long before the appearance of Apollo on the scene.
At the lowest level is a Mycenaean place of cult. Although the obvious continuity of cult here is interesting, it would be misleading to call this a ‘temple’ to ‘Artemis’, since both these appellations bring different, more recent connotations with them. In 1946, the exquisite ivory pieces and plaques now exhibited in the museum were found at this lowest level. Directly on top of this, in the mid-7th century bc, an Archaic Temple to Artemis was raised, embellished by statues of korai found on the site, the most famous of which is that dedicated by Nikandra—one of the earliest pieces of Archaic sculpture known—now in the Archaeological Museum in Athens. The last temple of Artemis whose remains are visible today, dates from the Hellenistic period. Near its west side stand the two imposing fragments of the Colossal statue of Apollo (see above).
The somewhat chaotic area directly south of the Artemision contains the foundations of several ancient and important places of cult: a semicircular platform hewn in the rock, which is perhaps the ‘sema’ mentioned by Herodotus where a cult, associated with the tomb of another two Hyperborean maidens, Laodice and Hyperoche (see below) who brought the first of the yearly offerings to Apollo, was practised. Abutting the south side of the temple of Artemis are the remains of a building often identified as the Keraton, a building which once housed the sacred and ancient ‘altar of horns’, said to have been fashioned by Apollo himself, and before which, accord to legend, Theseus danced on his return from Crete together with the Athenian men whom he had saved from the Minotaur: this ‘dance [resembling the flight] of the crane’, or geranos, was ritually performed at the altar of Apollo throughout antiquity. The altar appears to have been composed of the horns of goats and other animals (many of them hunted down by his twin-sister Artemis). The existing remains are of a building of Athenian construction, dating from the middle of the 4th century bc, which enshrined the ancient altar.
APOLLO AND THE HYPERBOREANS
Grandly named yet vaguely defined, the Hyperboreans (‘from beyond the North Wind’) were a legendary race of Apollo-worshippers who lived in the far north of the world as imagined by the Greeks. They and their magical existence are mentioned in passing by Hesiod and by Pindar; a fragment of Alcaeus suggests that Apollo left his customary Greek abodes each year after the winter solstice and wintered in the land of the Hyperboreans. Other than the god, only heroes such as Perseus or Hercules could reach their land. By the time Herodotus wrote in the 5th century bc the arrival of the yearly offerings sent by the Hyperboreans to the sanctuary at Delos was already a long established tradition. What exactly the offerings were is unclear, but we know that they were always carefully wrapped in straw; where they ultimately came from was equally unclear, but their route— described by Herodotus (Hist. IV, 34–5) was precise and unchanging. The offerings came from the Hyperboreans to the Scythians, whence they were ceremonially passed between neighbouring people, until they arrived at Dodona in the mountainous north west of Greece, whence they were passed to Euboea over the Malian Gulf; from Karystos on Euboea they were then passed to the people of Tenos, who finally delivered them to the Delians. The first maidens who made this journey to accompany the offerings were Hyperoche and Laodice; they died in Delos and are remembered here, close by the Temple of Artemis. Herodotus mentions two other maidens, Opis and Arge, who came to Delos even earlier, ‘at the same time as Artemis and Apollo’. They are honoured in the circular theke before the south front of the portico of Antigonos Gonatas. These unusual legends, and the unusual method of the arrival of the offerings, may have represented a desire by the Delians to have a tradition akin to the Daphnephoria of Delphi.
The furthest area, visible to the northwest, beyond the Artemision and west of the Sacred Harbour, was in antiquity dominated by a vast (56.5 x 34.3m), closed meet-hall. It was known as the ‘Hypostyle Hall’ from the 44 columns in its interior that supported its wide roof and the central lantern that admitted light from above. This unusual structure dates from the late 3rd century bc and may possibly have had both a religious use (hosting the celebrations of the festival of Poseidon in mid-winter) and a secular use (as a meeting-hall for grain-traders). To the south it looked out, from its only open side, onto the large esplanade, raised on an embankment, known as the Agora of Theophrastos and named from the plinth in its centre bearing an inscription to a certain Theophrastos who was Epimelete (a chief supervisor) in 126/5 bc. An other surviving base commemorates L. Cornelius Sulla.
Delos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.