The History of Delphi
It was once believed Delphi was the center of the universe. In the time of the gods, Zeus let loose two eagles to encircle the world. Flying in opposite directions, they reunited over Mount Parnassus. The point of their collision was then determined to be the center of the world, the navel of the earth. Zeus deemed such an auspicious site to be in need of a sanctuary and chose his son, Apollo, to be its patron.
The sanctuary of Apollo would be built into the south-west slope of the mountain and surrounded by the small village of Delphi. Delphi would get its name from a combination of sources. The ancient Greek word "delphys" meaning womb, in part to honor Mother Gaia, the Earth, and one of Apollo's nicknames, "the Delphinian" or the dolphin. Legend has it Apollo took the shape of a dolphin when he first visited his temple on Mount Parnassus.
Within the sacred Sanctuary of Apollo resided the all-seeing Oracle. The source of great prophecy and a direct connection to the gods. The Oracle would come to predict the fates of men and nations alike. Revered throughout the ancient world, thousands each year would travel from worlds away for an audience and prophecy from her. The path of history often led first to the steps of Delphi. Walking the sacred way to the sanctuary began with a cleansing. Washing yourself in the baths of Delphi in the spring water of Mount Parnassus, making yourself pure.
King Leonidas of Sparta first came to Delphi for the blessing of the Oracle to wage war against the invading Persian Army in 380 B.C. He was denied this blessing and defied the gods when he took his 300 Spartans to lead a coalition of Greeks at Thermopolis. According to Herodotus, the Spartans were warned of Persian invasion by the Oracle "Either your famed, great town must be sacked by Perseus' sons, or, if that be not, the whole land of Lacedaemon shall mourn the death of a king of the house of Heracles, for not the strength of lions or of bulls shall hold him." Leonidas and all 300 would be killed at Thermopolis. Their deaths would serve as a rallying cry for all of Greece in the eventual defeat and expulsion of the Persians, fulfilling the prophecy's ultimatum and the foretold sacrifice of a Spartan king, the lion, Leonidas.
In 359 B.C. when Phillip II of Macedon came to Delphi, the Oracle predicted whoever could mount an unbroken black colt in the king's possession would conquer the world. Neither Phillip II or any of his generals could ride the horse, none succeeded except his son, Alexander. Alexander the Great returned to the site of this prophecy in 336 B.C. to hear it retold and confirmed to him. When the Oracle refused to see him, he marched into the sacred temple and dragged her out screaming by her hair. In her terror, she shouted, "you are invincible my son." Alexander let her free and stated, "now I have my answer." He would go on to conquer most of the known world.
Delphi would remain a spiritual hub in the western world into the late 4th century A.D. despite the rise of Christianity. Christian relics can be found mingled in amongst the ruins of the site. No matter the faith, Delphi, like the Acropolis, has always been holy ground. The classical Greeks, Romans, and Christians all treasured the site. Today it is preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site where millions continue to make the pilgrimage. The ancient spring water continues to run to this day. You may drink from it, you may wash your face clean with it, and you may still walk in the footsteps of millennia, of kings and gods, along the sacred way to the temple of Apollo. It is a trip in time, a journey to the center of the world, and an adventure not easily forgotten.
Click on the trip calendar for your next opportunities to visit this history rich destination!