Delphi, Greece – once the centre of the world

The Ancient Greeks did not have the first civilisation on Earth, but their teachings ensured that any great power which followed theirs would have a level of sophistication that would allow them to flourish.  If it weren’t for the Greeks philosophy, mathematics, theatre, poetry, architecture and warfare would not have had as much impact on civilisation for perhaps many hundreds of years.

One of the noblest places in Ancient Greece was Delphi, which is situated on Mount Parnassus in the valley of Phocis.

Delphi in ancient times was considered to be the centre of the known world, the exact place where heaven and earth met. This was also considered to be the place on earth where man was closest to God. According to Greek Mythology, Delphi was the meeting place of two eagles, released by Zeus and sent in opposite directions. Where they met indicated the centre of the earth. In ancient times, Delphi was known for being the central place of worship for the God Apollo, son of Zeus who embodied moral discipline and spiritual clarity.

Apollo’s sacred precinct in Delphi was a Panhellenic sanctuary, where every four years, starting in 586 BC athletes from all over the Greek world competed in the Pythian Games, which were held two years apart from the Olympic Games.

It was at the Temple of Apollo that the eternal flame burned. It started a tradition that has continued until this day.  The eternal flame at Delphi burned for hundreds of years, until the temple was sacked by Roman invaders in 87BC      

Delphi is probably most famous for being the home of the Oracle of Delphi, who was also known as the Pythia.  The Oracle was the Priestess at the Apollo Temple and she was the most prestigious and authoritative oracle in the Greek world.  Her job was to give wise counsel and prophetic opinions and predictions on the future, and it was believed that her advice came directly from the Gods.

Ancient Delphi, there is also a modern Delphi which caters to the tourists who flock to the area, has a spectacular location on the side of Mount Parnassus.  Here you will see the ruins of the Temple of Apollo.  The original temple burnt down in the 4th Century BC, and was rebuilt.  There is also a quite impressive theatre, which was a contemporary of the temple, and a large stadium where chariot races were held.

As you walk along the Sacred Way you pass the remains of treasuries that were built by the various regions in Ancient Greece to commemorate victories over enemies and other important events.  Here’ you’ll also see the Hippodrome, Gymnasium and the remains of statues of athletes who successfully competed at the Pythian Games.  The Castalian Spring, the sacred spring of Delphi, where pilgrims would bathe before consulting the Oracle, still flows freely.

And, according to the legend that I was told when I visited, across the valley from Delphi, is a steep mountain from the top of which the dwarf storyteller Aesop was thrown to his death for questioning the Oracle’s advice.  I don’t know whether the story is fact or fiction, but it certainly cemented in my mind the realisation that many of the names that we take for granted: Plato, Archimedes, Euripides, Sophocles, Aristotle et al, were indeed very real people and that this place, Delphi, was considered to be sacred by them; so while I don’t share the same religious beliefs as they, because of their legacy, Delphi also remains sacred to me.

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