Delos , the Archaeological site
(Open daily 9–3, except Mon & public holidays. The return boat fare does not include admission to the site.)
Already from the arriving boat the ruins can be seen stretching over a considerable area along the shore and up the hill behind. The shuttle-boats moor on a new mole constructed in what was the middle of the ancient harbour. The extension of the line of this mole eastwards roughly divides the site in two—the sacred centre of the Sanctuary on the left side, and the residential and commercial area to the right-hand side. In early times, when the religious nature of the site prevailed, the centre of activity was the former; while, during the later ascendancy of the commercial importance of the island, the rising slopes to the right became a new focus of much of the island’s activities.
* Visible to the left is the area where the original temples of Apollo and Artemis stood at the heart of a large sacred court, surrounded by other sacred buildings and temples of other divinities, just inland of the mole. The sacred lake, where the palm-trees associated with Apollo’s birth grew, overlooked by the Terrace of the Lions, stretches further to the north. On the periphery of this main area and over towards the opposite shore of the island were later Hellenistic residential and recreational areas.
* Visible to the right are the residential and commercial buildings, mostly dating from the Hellenistic Age and after, which are the best preserved structures on Delos , rising up the slopes of the hill towards the city’s grand theatre which is visible above and to the right. Beyond this was a newer area given over to the communities of foreign merchants and to the temples of the cults they brought with them. Behind and yet further to the east rises the summit of Mount Kynthos (112m), reached by a cut stone stairway. Here have been found the earliest, prehistoric remains on Delos .
The extent of the site is considerable and several visits to the island are necessary to understand it adequately. A combination of the degree of ruination, the superimposition of different layers of different periods and the often mystifying names used means that patience is needed to unravel the complexity of what confronts the visitor.
On a visit at any time of year it is possible frequently to glimpse the island’s agama-, or ‘dragon-’, lizards (Laudakia stellio)—similar to small iguanas—which here grow to considerable size. Often it is the characteristic head bobbing movements of the male which reveal their pre ence. They were probably brought to Delos from Africa in connection with the cult of Apollo—hence the frequently encountered sculptural image of the deity as ‘Apollo Sauroctonos’, or ‘lizard-slayer’. The description of the area has been divided as follows:
* the area in and around the Sanctuary of Apollo;
* the Terrace of the Lions, the Sacred Lake and be yond;
* the Museum (where refreshments and rest may also be had);
* the Commercial and Theatre Quarter;
* the area of the Terrace of the Foreign Divinities, Mount Kynthos and the Valley of the Inopos
* south of the harbour.
The first three describe a consecutive loop to the north; fourth and fifth a loop to the south east; and the last is a short detour to the south.
the myth in brief
Zeus conceived an extra-marital passion for the beautiful Leto, daughter of the Titans, Coeus and Phoebe. Zeus’s rightful wife, Hera, being fearful that Leto would bear Zeus a son who would supersede Ares, her own son, in his affections, forbad every place in the world to give Leto shelter. As her time came, Leto wandered the world seeking where to give birth, but nowhere wished to incur the wrath of Hera—with the single exception of a barren, in significant, floating island called Ortygia. The island figured it had little to lose in any case and accepted Leto willingly on condition that her children did not forswear the island because of its poverty, but would make it thenceforth one of their favourite abodes. Leto’s birth pains lasted a full nine days: Hera had deliberately detained Eileithya, the divine midwife, on Mount Olympos. Eventually, by promising her a sumptuous gift, Iris persuaded Eileithya to attend, and Leto, clinging to a palm-tree, was delivered of the twins, first Artemis and then Apollo. In some accounts, Artemis even helped her mother give birth to her twin brother. The floating island was there-after fixed to the sea-bed and became ‘Delos ’, suffused with light and carpeted with woodland flowers (Hymn to Apollo, 139).
The hunting bow was the sacred symbol of both Artemis and Apollo, and the lyre also for Apollo. A high-arching haughtiness bordering on ruthlessness, characterises them both; neither had much time for pity or sympathetic sentimentality. They embodied different aspects, male and female, of purity and clarity, of cool and incisive action. The cerebral is uppermost in their worlds—a pursuit of chastity for Artemis, and of prophecy and music and art for Apollo. They represent luminousness: Artemis, the moon’s crystalline light; Apollo, the sun’s fearful brilliance—as well as the far-seeing, brilliance of the Greek mind in its intellectual heyday of the 6th and 5th centuries bc.
Delos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.