I’d always wanted to go to Delphi, so last September I took a bus from Athens and fed my soul on the majesty of the ancient site.
I spent three glorious days sweating on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, and hour after hour traversing the ancient sanctuaries.
I stayed at the Kastalia Boutique Hotel, which I recommend if you’re journeying to Dephi. It is the embodiment of Greek hospitality. When I arrived, the owner said:
“Ask me anything you please, and your wish will be granted.”
And she meant it.
Cheaply I had chosen a street-facing room, and naturally it was loud. I didn’t sleep well my first night, so the next day I asked to switch rooms. It was no problem at all, and the owner even went so far as to not charge me the higher price for a room with a breathtaking view of the valley.
She also gave me clear instructions on how to get to the ruins, and how to ensure blessings from the goddess Athena.
The Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia
The iconic ruins are a short walk east from Delphi Village.
Athena’s sanctuary is further from the village than Apollo’s temple, but the owner of the Kastalia said the best way to take it all in is to go to Athena first because she’s always held the gateway to the main sanctuary.
There was a tour group wrapping up when I got there, and then I had the place to myself. I asked Athena for healing, and my month in Greece only got better from there.
The Castalian Spring
For millennia it’s been customary to make a stop at the Castalian Spring on your way from Athena to Apollo.
In ancient times, travelers purified themselves here, taking rest on benches that lined a beautiful fountain-house carved into the rock. The priests and priestess also used to bathe in the spring in preparation for divination.
Nowadays, you cleanse your feet under the modern fountain next to the ruins of the ancient bath. The water is said to be high in minerals and deeply healing, so I soaked my toes and filled my bottle up. From time to time, locals stopped by to fill 5-gallon jugs.
With blessings from Athena and purification from the fountain, I was ready for the main sanctuary.
The Temple of Apollo
It’s astounding enough to see the ruins of Apollo’s temple. To imagine the awe it must have commanded in its full glory is powerful when you’re standing among its foundations. (And in a weird way it’s less of a tease as a ruin, because Hephaestus’ temple is intact in Athens [as are others] — and I can’t tell you how much I wanted to go inside that one, though they rope that puppy off to protect it.)
Above the Temple of Apollo is a horseshoe-shaped theater:
Between Apollo’s temple and the valley you can see a treasury… cuz everyone who was anyone had a treasury at Delphi.
And above this sweeping vision is the gymnasium:
It was here that athletes competed in the Pythian Games in honor of Apollo.
I had always thought of Apollo as god of sun like Helios (which he was, until Helios took over the chariot of the dawn), but I learned that Apollo is also god of archery (which makes sense given the games)… plus knowledge, healing, protection (which makes sense given the heavenly feeling of this sacred site)… and much more.
The entire sanctuary is infused with peace.
It feels like holy land — intrinsic holy land — and the ancients made it more so with the sacred geometry of their architecture.
It’s so otherworldly that this is where the Oracle of Delphi, or the Pythia, gave prophesies from the divine.
Nowadays it’s believed that the high priestess’s oracles were gibberish induced by vapors emanating from a chasm below her tripod. Some even say that the priests translated the gibberish into false prophesies for political gain.
I believe it could have come to that. But soaking up the soul of the place, I could feel that the oracles began as trance-connections with the divine. I suspect that even their translations began as authentic.
It was gloriously hot.
I was wearing a thin white cotton shirt, a thin light-colored skirt, and sandals, and I was sweating bullets as I basically did interval cardio up the slope, stopping from time to time to absorb the atmosphere. I found it staggering that other people were wearing long-sleeved black shirts and tight jeans and socks with trainers as they climbed up — and they didn’t seem to feel the heat or break a sweat. And yet it was 34°C (93°F).
One thing that people did do, though, really impressed me. See the pert buttocks on this sarcophagus? (Look left)
A group was walking by this sarcophagus and a lady said, “Nice ass.”
A gentleman said, “Thank you.”
Oh, those magnificent days of delight and discovery.
I also loved Delphi Village.
There’s nothing like good, hot, dry weather and a landscape like this:
Surprisingly, Delphi Village was built around 1891.
Before that, villagers lived in what was called Kastri, right on the site of the ruins.
French archeologists moved the village to its current locale at the end of the 19th century so they could excavate the sanctuary.
Here’s what the modern village looks like above the Kastalia:
Years before I came here, I’d had dreams of riding a motorcycle down a street like this.
In waking life, a little further up this street, I had a magnificent Greek salad and souvlaki.
What I love about Greek food is that, everywhere I’ve eaten throughout three month-long journeys in the country, the food is always fresh and never pompous.
Down the street from my lunch spot was a pomegranate tree.
As I write, longing for hot weather and pretending that 34°F is 34°C (93°F)…
… this pomegranate picture has particular significance for me now in December, with Persephone stationed in Hades for the winter.
You know the myth of Persephone and Demeter?
Persephone was off limits to the menfolk as far as her mother, Demeter, goddess of the harvest, was concerned. But all the gods wanted Persephone because she was a hot young slice who embodied beauty and fertility.
So Hades, god of the underworld, swooped up and pulled Persephone to his realm.
Demeter was so distraught that she forbade the earth to fruit, and winter came.
Eventually she got wind of Persephone’s whereabouts, and Zeus made Hades return Persephone to the upperworld, marking the season of spring and the rebirth of life.
But Persephone had tasted the fruit of the underworld in the form of six pomegranate seeds, and became Hades’ wife. She has co-reigned his realm ever since for six months every year.
Where I come from, winter is indeed six months long, and the climate is so fierce that we could never grow mild-region fruits. Thus for the novelty I longed to pick a pomegranate, but they weren’t mine to pick, so I headed back to my room for a nap.
By my second night in Delphi, the waiter at the Kastalia knew how much I loved their hummus, their salads, their wine, their view.
When I was done with dinner on my second night, he said to me, “What is your little name?”
“Your little name.”
“‘My little name? Erin.”
“Erin, do you like chocolate cake?” he asked.
“I do,” I said, even though I’ve been gluten-free for 17 years.
He said, “Erin, because I like you, I will bring you chocolate cake.”
Another thing I loved about Delphi
was a peaceful moment while I was waiting for the bus back to Athens. There was a lusty breeze blowing between what I believe are chestnut trees, enormous and ancient, soaring above wrought-iron balconies with painted wooden shutters.
It was then that I noticed a restaurant sign that had the most wonderful typo I’ve ever seen.
It said lamp chops.
I’m an editor as well as a writer, so you might think I’m a spelling snob. But this filled me with as much happiness as drinking an Alfa under the hot Grecian sun.
When we arrived in Athens, I grabbed a taxi and was off to the ferry port, headed to the Akrotiri excavations of ancient Thira.
But that’s another story for when it’s 28°F.