In this article I will give you all the information you need to make the most of your visit to the Oracle of Delphi; we will talk about its importance in ancient Greece, how it worked or what it consisted of, its mythological origin and of course, how to get there.
If I had only a day (or half a day) to make a trip from Athens, I would definitely choose Delphi. I hope that after reading this article you will understand why… Let’s go to them!
By the way, at the end of the article I’m going to tell you something that will surprise you a lot. We are going to disprove a piece of information provided by most travel guides about this archaeological site.
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What was the Oracle of Delphi?
Briefly, the Oracle of Delphi was one of the most important religious centers of ancient Greece. There were several oracles visited by the Hellenes in order to know the future or to obtain a prediction, being the Delphi oracle the most important of them all.
Taking this into account, we can affirm that the most important decisions that would decide the destiny of ancient Greece were taken here. To give you an example:
Thanks to Homer we know that King Agamemnon would go to the Oracle of Delphi before setting sail for the city of Troy, where one of the most epic wars of antiquity would be lived and in which the heroes Achilles and Odysseus (Ulysses) would participate.
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Sadly, this fact is not reflected in the famous movie “Troy”, however, you may have seen the participation of the oracle in the movie “300”. Do you remember how the famous Leonidas goes to the oracle before leaving with his 300 Spartans to face the Persian army?
I give you these examples to try to convey the importance of this place, let’s now see how it worked in practice:
How did this sanctuary function?
We have mentioned before that it was here where really important decisions were taken for the future of the Greeks, however, how did the Oracle of Delphi work?
The most important element was the “Pythia”, this was a young woman (obviously the most beautiful and the most “pure”) who had the ability to “connect” with the gods. In this way she was able to see the future and get the long-awaited prediction.
Before starting the ritual, the subject to be discussed by the visitor of the Oracle of Delphi was raised, that is, the big question of what decision he should take. Subsequently the said “Pythoness” would be immersed in a state of trance – who knows how induced… – in which she would pronounce words that were impossible to understand.
At that moment one of the priests of the sanctuary would approach her to listen to these words and later translate them to the visitor. However, this translation was given in verse form, so it was not so easy to draw a clear conclusion.
The visitor was responsible for drawing his own prediction from the verse provided, so that if it finally did not come true, it would be because of his misinterpretation… In fact, in this way the very powerful “Pythoness” was never wrong. She was not at fault if the visitor had misunderstood her prediction.
The Oracle and Apollo
The current Oracle of Delphi was founded by the god Apollo; twin brother of the goddess Artemis and son of Zeus and Leto. Among other qualities, Apollo was also said to be able to see the future.
Originally, however, the Delphi sanctuary was dedicated to Gaia (as the ancient Greeks called the “mother earth”). So the place already had an owner, but in addition, in this place lived a monstrous snake that protected it.
Apollo, after defeating the monster with his bow, left its body to rot there. In fact the word “Python” means in Greek “to rot”, which is the ancient name of the present Delphi.
Apollo decided to take the form of a dolphin and jump into the river to search, where he would meet a ship coming from the island of Crete. After guiding the sailors to the location of the new oracle, the god would offer them the position of Priests.
It was from this moment on that the oracle of Pythias would be called the oracle of Delphi (it should be noted here that Apollo was also known by the name Delphicus).
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Where it is and how to get to the Oracle of Delphi
The sanctuary of Delphi is located on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, also home to the present-day city of Delphi. So first you must move to this beautiful city, which can be reached either by renting a car, or in a bus of the Greek company KTEL, or hiring an excursion (which also would visit the other archaeological sites of Delphi).
Once there, it should be clarified that the archaeological sites of ancient Delphi are not exactly located in the modern city. Specifically, the Oracle of Delphi is located approximately one kilometer by road from the city.
And as promised, as I told you at the beginning of the article, I am going to tell you the biggest misconception about this place:
The temple you see in all the images of (supposedly) the Oracle of Delphi, either in Google Images or in any blog, IS NOT THE ORACLE OF DELPHOS!
Let me explain -> The Oracle would be located in the Temple of Apollo, makes sense doesn’t it?
Sadly there is nothing left of this sacred precinct today… But then, what is it that appears in all the pictures? Well, it is a temple of Athena, located several kilometers away from where the real Oracle of Delphi would be… Still, of course it is worth a visit too!
Kαλό ταξίδι! / Bon voyage!