live at the apollo (part 3): delphi

we’ll leave the peloponnese for a while and move on to delphi, on the slopes of mount parnassus. it is said that zeus wanted to find the center of the earth, gaia, so he sent two eagles flying from the east and the west, and they crossed at delphi, where gaia’s “navel” was.1

the naxian sphinx,
the naxian sphinx, 328-327 bc.
the people of naxos donated this statue, which stood on a 12.1 meter high column, to the temple of apollo at delphi.

delphi, of course, is famous for the oracle (pythia) at the temple of apollo.  the legend is that apollo shot an arrow that killed python, the son of gaia, and python’s body fell into a fissure. the pythia, who had to be an older woman of virtue, sat above the fissure, and the fumes from python’s body sent her into a trance. the god apollo spoke through the pythia while she was in this trance, addressing all types of political and personal matters. according to wikipedia,one theory is that the fissure gave off some kind of intoxicating gas so that the pythia was essentially speaking in tongues, and the priests interpreted her utterances to reveal the god’s words; other scholars think the oracle was actually lucid and could be understood directly.

interestingly, prior to the construction of the temple, there was a different oracle, called the sibyl, who sat on a rock near what became the temple site. it isn’t clear what happened to her.3

the ruins today only hint at it but, in its time, the road to the temple was lined with votive statues and treasuries (buildings filled with offerings to apollo) from the various greek city-states, all tributes to the oracle. today, only the athenian treasury has been rebuilt, while some of the statues that weren’t carried off by nero’s armies are in the nearby museum.

on to the photos:

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the athenian treasury. the rock of the sibyl. the sign, unhelpfully, only says “do not touch.”
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the temple of apollo, 4th century bc. this is the third temple to have stood on this site, the others having been destroyed by fire and earthquake, respectively. the artistic shot. the nearby temple of athena, 4th century bc.

1that said, looking at delphi is not considered navel-gazing.
2without which this blog would be completely devoid of information.
3again, according to wikipedia, the sibyl rock should not be confused with sibyl m. rock, the computer scientist. i love wikipedia.

more antiquities: the sanctuary and death oracle of poseidon tainarios

as we continued our journey through the peloponnese, we came to cape tainarios …

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… and, at its tip, the sanctuary and death oracle of poseidon tainarios. “death oracle of poseidon tainarios” sounds like the name of a swedish heavy metal band from the 90s, but it’s an actual archaeological site, albeit one that is fairly unassuming. apart from a pointing to the ruins, there is no information about how old the site is or how it was used, and the oracle site itself had a metal cover on it; an archaeologist we later met suggested that there may have been a water spout from an underwater cave at the oracle site.  other than that, i have not found any information about this site on the web, just hundreds of photos, to which i’m adding my own. quite the mystery.

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this was the easy part of the path.

from there, we set out for the modern-day lighthouse, 2 kilometers away. the weather was already pretty bad, however, and the rain and the wind only picked up tremendously, with gusts of (i’m guessing here) 20-30 mph. we made it three-quarters of the way before the winds and the treacherous path made it too difficult to continue. perhaps our dog’s trespassing on the site angered the god.

more antiquities: the temple of alea athena

one of the more interesting things (to me) about the ruins in greece is the way that you find them in quietest of places.  when you think of greek ruins, the acropolis might be the first thing to spring to mind, but there are many small archaelogical gems tucked away in villages or in the middle of an olive grove someplace.

for today’s example, we have the temple of alea athena in tegea. it’s not clear when the temple was built, but it burned down in 395 or 394 bc and was rebuilt in 350 bc.  the new temple was notable for its superstructure, made entirely from marble – a first for the peloponnese – and its triple row of columns. the greek historian pausanias writes:

the modern temple is far superior to all other temples in the peloponnesus on many grounds, especially for its size. its first row of pillars is doric, and the next to it corinthian; also, outside the temple, stand pillars of the ionic order.

it was also noted as a place for people seeking sanctuary from prosecution.  nonetheless, to see the temple today and in its current setting, you wouldn’t know the reputation it had in its time.

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next: still more antiquities

on to the peloponnese

the peloponnese are the part of greece south of athens. this is the area where the peloponnese war happened between athens and sparta in 431-404 bc, and where independent greece first was established. nafplio, the city where we started our trip, was the first capitol of independent greece.

the weather was fairly dismal every time i wanted to walk through town and take photos, so all i have are some pictures of the harbor. the castle in the center of the harbor is bourtzi castle, built by the venetians in the 15th century to protect the city against the ottomans. it later served as a prison, and then, from 1930-1970, as a hotel.

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when in nafplio, you have to go to the palamidi fortress, perched high above the city in the acronauplia – the edge of nafplio (in greek, “au” is pronounced “af”). unlike me, you should also remember to photograph it from a distance … anyhow, the fortress was built in the early part of the 18th century to defend the city against the ottomans, and this turned out about as well as you’d expect, although the greeks did take it during the war of independence, forcing the turks to surrender with a fight. there are 999 steps to the top. we drove.

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