Delphi the oracle of Apollo, the ancient sanctuary is the cradle of one of the most important of the Greek antiquity and its most famous oracle was the land of Phocis and specifically the green valley of the river Pleistos. To the north, the valley is surrounded by the Mount Parnassus, while on the south it opens to the sea of the Corinthian Gulf. A landscape of untamed beauty and a crossroad of natural passages in the heart of mainland Greece, the land of Delphi meant much more for the ancient Greeks: According to the legend, Zeus let two eagles fly from the ends of the world to find the navel of the Earth. And the sacred birds met at Delphi.
In the course of 1500 years, the Delphi ancient sanctuary and oracle mirrors the ancient history, as its fate was inextricably tied, not only with the history of Greece but also of the then known world. The powerful monarchs of the East seek its oracles, while there isn’t a single event with some historical significance in the Greek region, in which the Delphic oracle has not implicitly or explicitly taken part or stand. Due to its wealth and influence was the apple of discord and a magnet for invaders. The prevalence of Christianity deprived Apollo from its shelter and Pythia was silenced. The last Delphic oracle uttered to the emperor Ioulianos (AD 360-363) would be its swan song. In AD 394 the decree of the emperor Theodosius I banned the pagan cults and their sanctuaries. One year earlier were held the last Olympic Games of the antiquity.
The Delphic sanctuary lies on the base of the gigantic rocks of Parnassus, the Phaedriades. The rocks are split forming an awesome chasm. Its clefts emitted the vapours in which the ancients saw the spirit of God and gave way to the waters of the sacred spring of Castalia; no one was allowed to seek Apollo’s oracle before washed and purified in its waters.
When approaching Delphi the first site to be seen is the temenos of Athena Pronaia, the epithet meaning the goddess worshipped before the temple of Apollo. In this sanctuary is situated the renowned tholos of Delphi, a 4th century BC masterpiece of the ancient Greek architecture. The tholoi were circular structures, attributed to the cult of heroes or chthonic deities, an interpretation that remains uncertain in lack of ancient testimonies regarding their use. The type is found in other major sanctuaries as well, in Epidaurus and Olympia for instance.
Leaving behind the grounds of Pronaia we ascend to the sanctuary of Apollo. The roughness of the amphitheatrical landscape betrays the most difficult challenge that ancient craftsmen dealt with. A winding path, the Sacred Way led to the imposing temple of Apollo, that overlooks the shrine from its centrally located, elevated position. In the adyton of this temple, a separate closed room at the rear, Pythia, seated on the tripod, uttered the prophetic – and by all accounts unintelligible – words of the god. The Doric temple we see today was completed in 330 BC, during the reign of Alexander the Great, and it was the last in a succession of six temples built on the site in honour of Apollo.