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Friday, 07 March 2008 16:16

Delos

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Delos island, one of the smallest of the Cyclades, Greece, an ancient centre of religious, political, and commercial life in the Aegean Sea. Now largely uninhabited, it is a rugged granite mass about 1.3 square miles (3.4 square km) in area. Also called Lesser Delos, it lies between Rina (Rhenea), or Megali Dhilos (Greater Delos), to the west and Mykonos Island to the east. Since 1873 the Ecole Française d'Athenes ("French School of Athens") has been excavating the island, the complex of buildings of which compares with those of Delphi and Olympia.

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Among Delos' most noted sculptural artifacts are fragments of a colossal Apollo and nine marble lions.Four main groups of ruins are distinguishable on the west coast: the commercial port and small sanctuaries; the religious city of Apollo, a hieron (sanctuary); the sanctuaries of Mount Cynthos and the theatre; and the region of the Sacred Lake. Behind the Sacred Harbour begins the paved Sacred, or Processional, Way 13 m wide. To the west stood a sacred precinct, or shrine, and on the east a terrace with three important temples. The Doric temple of Apollo (mid-5th to 3rd century BC) has plain frieze motifs, scant sculptural decoration, and no interior colonnade. Adjoining it is a Doric Athenian temple (425-417 BC); the third is the Porinos Naos. Beyond this complex is a sanctuary, an unusual elongated structure in two sections. At the north end was an altar built of the horns of animal sacrifices. Other features of the precinct included a broad road flanked with votive offerings and the precinct of Artemis, with three temples superimposed on one another, perhaps the oldest edifice of pre-Hellenic times. delos_map

 

 

Outside the precinct of Apollo, on the south, was an open space; between this and the precinct was a house for priests; and within it, the tombs of the Hyperborean Maidens, worshipers of Artemis.To the east was the temple of Dionysus, on the other side a large commercial exchange that had a temple of Aphrodite and Hermes. Behind the commercial harbour were docks and warehouses; behind them lay the private houses of the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, each featuring a court surrounded by columns and many paved with mosaic. The theatre (early 3rd century BC) lay beyond the commercial harbour, on the lower slope of Mount Cynthus; its summit has remains of ancient Cycladic dwellings (3rd millennium BC) and a small precinct of Kýnthios Zeus (Cynthian Zeus) and Athena. delos_agora

Down the slope lay a sanctuary for foreign gods; the southern section reserved for Egyptian gods, the northern for Syrian. To the north, on the south side of the Sacred Lake (now drained), was the Agora of Italians, with entrance arches of Doric columns, the most spacious structure in Delos. Nearby, between the lake and the Sacred Harbour, was the Agora of Theophrastos (late 2nd century BC). North of the lake was the Palaestra (gymnasium), a large court with Ionic peristyle, and a stadium about 540 feet (165 m) long. There are many traditional accounts of Delos' origin. It was inhabited in the late 3rd millennium BC. In the 9th-10th century BC, Ionians brought the cult of Leto, who in legend gave birth there to Artemis and Apollo.

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The island was already a flourishing port and cult centre, famous for references to it in the Odyssey. After the Persian Wars, in 478 BC the Delian Confederacy was established there under the leadership of Athens, but at the close of the Peloponnesian War Sparta briefly gave Delos its independence. For 150 years after the breakup of Alexander the Great's empire, Delos was independent. Under Rome after 166 BC, Delos became a free port. In 88 BC Menophaneses, a general of Mithradates VI of Pontus, sacked the island for remaining faithful to Rome; thousands of people were slaughtered. A pirate attack followed (69 BC), and, though Athenian control was restored by Rome in 42 BC, the Greek geographer Pausanias records that the island remained almost uninhabited. By the end of the 1st century AD, changes in trade routes ensured the commercial demise of Delos, and its cults were then or soon thereafter abandoned. Its structures were quarried for building material by the Venetians and Turks in the European Middle Ages.

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The history of Delos is rich as it contains the most varied collection of ruins in all of Greece.

Dating back to 3000BC, Neolithic dwellings prove the arrival of prehistoric settlers but the real story has it`s beginnings from around 1500BC. As recorded in the mythology of ancient Greece, Delos was believed to be the birthplace of Apollo the son of Zeus. The Mycenaean's of that time were first to recognize the island as a place of worship but it was the coming of the Ionians in 1100 BC where major development began. In order to acquire spiritual and political status various Ionian leagues began to compete by building elaborate temples and shrines to Apollo and other related gods. The Athenians being superior in their contributions, in 425BC decreed a purification of the island. All graves were removed and it became law that no one would be allowed to die or be born on Apollo's island.

As populations grew throughout the whole eastern Mediterranean, commercial trade also increased. Near the end of the fourth century BC the Macedonians were in control and because of Delos' geographically central location, turned the island slowly into an important trade and commercial center. The Romans were next to follow and it was during their reign the population grew, made up not only of Greeks and Italians but also Phoenicians, Syrians, Egyptians, Palestinians and Jews. Delos is a small island, which covers an area of approximately 5 square kilometers. At this time in history it was estimated to have had a population of 25000 people.

The decline of Delos happened gradually through the first century BC and into the first century AD. Rome began to concentrate its attention on Rhodes as its eastern commercial port and the religious beliefs of ancient times slowly gave way to those of its varied inhabitants. Pillaging of the island began as early as the eight century AD but the real devastation of its buildings took place through the reign of the Ottoman Empire. The abundant supply of marble was crushed and used as building material and the bronze cramps that once held the ancient structures together were removed to aid in the increasing demand for metal.

What remains of Delos' history can be seen today, mainly through the efforts of the French School of Archaeology whose excavations of the site began in 1873. In digging through the vast collection of archaic ruins the story of the island began to unfold. Today, Delos has been internationally recognized for its importance as one of the most famous centers of ancient times.

One of the advantages of visiting Mykonos is to be able to experience a temporary leap back into history. The island of Delos, one of the most famous archeological sites of Greece is only a short boat trip away. Daily excursions set off for the harbor of what was once a great sacred and commercial center with ruins dating back to over five thousand years.

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