Delphi and the ancient site.

Arriving at the sacred precinct, in a gorge between the two Phaidriades rocks, we find the Castalian Spring, with recesses in the rock for votive offerings. Here the Pythia and the faithful visitors cleansed themselves before coming to the temple (on a path now barred by the fence).

Right opposite the road from the Castalian spring, a path leads to the sports’ facilities for the athletes. The Gymnasion, which consisted of a covered running track 180m/200yd long, (being the training centre for the track athletes), the palaestra (the training area for wrestlers), and a circular bath 10m/33ft in diameter. Remember that, the Greek word Gymnasion derives from the word "gymnos" meaning naked.

The Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia and the Tholos: The circular temple with the colourful columns, being the most photographed structure of the site in Delphi. An interesting section of the Delphi site is the Marmari precinct, with the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia ("Athena in front of the temple of Apollo”). Beyond the later temple of Athena (4th c. BC.) are:

  1. The circular Tholos (soon after 400 B.C.; partly re-erected), which had Doric columns on the outside and Corinthian columns in the interior,
  2. The Ionic Treasury of Massalia (Marseilles), with a beautifully profiled base (530 B.C.),
  3. A Doric treasury (5th c. B.C.), and
  4. The older temple of Athena, built about 510 B.C. on the site of a still older building of the early 6th c., later destroyed by a rock fall and in 1905 damaged by a further rock fall. The Doric capitals of the earlier building, with their fine echinus mouldings, can still be seen, as can the capitals and columns, still standing, of the late archaic temple.
  5. To the east of this temple - which, like the other Marmari buildings, is oriented to the south - are a number of altars, extending towards the east gate of the precinct, which can still be identified. Further excavations are now under way in the southern part of the precinct.

The Sanctuary of Apollo, is approached from the museum to the main entrance to the site,on a path which runs past the remains of a mosaic pavement belonging to an early Christian basilica. By way of the Roman market we come to the southeast gateway of the sacred precinct, which in the classical period was roughly trapezoid in shape, measuring 200m/656ft from north to south and 130m/427ft from east to west, and surrounded by a plain enclosure wall.

Returning to the ancient site, over today’s main road, walk in the sanctuary of Apollo, and from the gateway of the Sanctuary, the Sacred Way leads uphill to the temple of Apollo.

Treasuries: The Sacred Way was lined with votive monuments erected by various Greek cities political pattern of ancient Greece. The monuments have been destroyed, only their bases survived. Along the Sacred Way, on the left, there are the first of more than 20 treasuries in which votive offerings were preserved from the weather and from theft. Monuments dedicated by Argos - the Seven against Thebes, the Trojan horse and an exedra with figures of the Epigonoi (descendants of the Seven against Thebes) - and others by Taras in southern Italy.

On the right-hand side was a bronze bull dedicated by Korkyra (480 B.C.), followed by a colonnade built by the Spartans after their defeat of Athens in the naval battle of Aigospotamoi in 405 BC., standing opposite the treasury of the Athenians. In front of the Spartan colonnade there was a monument erected by the Arcadians to commemorate their victory over the Spartans at Lefktra, in 371 B.C. Beyond it, a semicircular monument, like the one on the opposite side of the Sacred Way, was erected by Argos, with figures of kings of Argos, followed by the Doric treasury of Sikyon (ca. 500 B.C.), in the foundations of which can be seen an earlier circular structure, and the Ionic treasury of the island of Siphnos (525 B.C.), considerable remains of which can be seen in the Museum.

Further up, on the left-hand side of the Sacred Way we find the long narrow base of a monument erected by the Athenians in gratitude for their victory over the Persians at Marathon.

The Treasury of the Athenians (built about 510 B.C. and re-erected 1903-06) is in the form of a Doric temple in antis. The metopes (copies: originals in the Museum) depict themes from the myths of Theseus and Herakles. Immediately beyond the treasury is the retaining wall, with shallow recesses for votive inscriptions, of the Vouleuterion.

Continuing on the Sacred Way, just before it crosses the Halos ("Threshing-Floor") - on which cult ceremonies were performed - and the temple of Apollo, side by side, stand, the Rock of the Sibyl, the sanctuary of goddess Ge, (the mother Earth), and the site of a tall Ionic column bearing the figure of a sphinx erected by the Naxians about 560 BC. The site selected for this monument, immediately south of the temple, its considerable height (12.5m/40ft) and the significance of the sphinx as a spirit of death support the suggestion by Zschietzschmann and Gross that this sphinx marked the mythical tomb of the god Dionysos. This is the oldest part of the sacred precinct.

At this point, the Sacred Way bends northeast, there is an omphalos (navel) stone, located at the place where the two eagles sent out by Zeus from the ends of the earth met one another, set up here some years ago recalling the ancient belief that Delphi was the centre of the world.

Temple of Apollo: The present Temple of Apollo at Delphi is the third on the site. The first temple, built in the seventh century B.C., was burned down in 548 B.C. The second was built by the Alcmaeonids in 531 BC after their expulsion from Athens by Peisistratos. In Archaic style, with 6 x 15 columns and sculpture depicting Apollo's coming to Delphi on the east pediment, it collapsed in 373 BC, burying the pediment (fragments in Museum). The third temple, built between 346 and 320 BC., preserved the elongated ground-plan of the archaic temple and re-used the old column drums, but the detailing has the cool harmony of the late classical period. Of the main structure only the foundations are left, but we know that the pronaos contained inscriptions with the sayings of the Seven Sages (including the famous Apollonian imperative Gnothi seauton, "Know thyself") and that at the west end was the adyton, on a lower level, which contained the omphalos stone, a gold statue of Apollo, a laurel tree and (over the aperture for the oracle) the tripod of the Pythia. It is likely, according to Roux, that an area in the right-hand part of the adyton was curtained off for those seeking the oracle's advice. The water of the Kassotis spring probably played some part in the cult of the oracle: according to Pausanias "it brought the women in the adyton of the god into a condition in which they could give prophesy". With this Georges Roux associates the spring chamber on the terrace between the temple and the polygonal wall, to which a flight of 12 steps leads down.

From the spring a channel runs into the foundations of the temple, and an outflow hole can be seen in the polygonal wall. This spring belonged to the second temple, but was removed during the building of the third temple in 346 BC.

On the hillside above the temple stood the figure of the "Charioteer", now in the Museum, which was buried under a mass of earth brought down by an earthquake in 373 B.C. and was thus preserved from later metal-thieves. Close by is a large niche which once housed a sculptured representation of Great Alexander's lion-hunt.

To the rear of the Sanctuary of Apollo we see the Polygonal Wall, a 6th c. B.C. structure, covered with ancient inscriptions, supporting the platform on which the temple stands. Against it, a 2 8m/92ft long Stoa of the Athenians was built after 479 BC.

Just before the Sacred Way bears north, on the right, there are the remains of the Treasury of the Corinthians, which also contained offerings from king Midas of Phrygia and kings Gyges and Croesus of Lydia (although these had disappeared before the time the historian Pausanias visited Delphi in the 2nd c. AD.).

Alongside the next section of the Sacred Way, which runs north in a series of steps, there were more votive monuments. The surviving remains include the circular base of the "Serpent Column" of 479 B.C., formed of three intertwined snakes, and, on the esplanade in front of the temple of Apollo, the tripods erected by the Deinomids of Syracuse and the pillar which bore an equestrian statue of king Prusias II of Bithynia. The esplanade is dominated by an altar (partly re-erected) dedicated by the island of Chios and by the six re-erected columns of the temple of Apollo, with a ramp leading up to the entrance at the east end.

A flight of steps leads up to the theatre (4th c. BC.) that with later alterations during the Roman period) could accommodate 5,000 spectators. It lay within the sacred precinct, as did the Lesche (Assembly Hall) of the Knidians, built against the north wall of the precinct. From the theatre there is a fine view of the sacred precinct, extending down to the Marmari precinct below.

50m/165ft higher than the theatre is the Stadion, which received its final form in Roman times. Of this structure the tiers of seating and the seats of honour on the north side, the rounded west end (sphendone) and part of the entrance at the east end, survive. The presence of the theatre and the stadion is a reminder that the Pythian Games were held at Delphi from 590 B.C. onwards - musical and athletic contests, which included chariot races in the Hippodrome, located in the valley below.


The modern little town of Delphi was established only in 1892, when the village of Kastro, which had grown up on the site of the temple of Apollo was moved to a new position 1km/0.75mi west to allow excavation of the ancient site to proceed. Nowadays, modern Delphi, is a concentration of hotels and shops catering for tourists.