Delphi - Home of the Oracle, Athens
Great leaders including Alexander the Great used to go this place (to ask what will happen in the future from the Oracle) ---- Delphi, which is over 170km northeast of Athens. So, I decided to take a bus tour to the site and I enjoyed looking at the olive groves and magnificent mountains that you have to pass through before getting to the ancient sacred site.
Ancient Delphi is built on the slopes of Mt Parnassos which looms over the Gulf of Corinth. It was regarded by the ancient Greeks as the center of the world, and somehow you do feel some kind of spirituality in the area. Look up and see the bright sky, the rocky mountains and looking down, you see the hundreds of cypress and olive trees. It is said that Zeus released two eagles and they met at this very location - now, designated as a World Heritage Site.
I went to the Temple of Apollo which has the remains of a 4th century BC theatre, and went on the very top to see the stunning views. From this theatre, the stadium is easily reached - one of the best preserved in all of Greece. You can walk further and see the Castalian Spring where pilgrims cleansed themselves before seeing ther Oracle, and also find the remains of a gymnasium.
There is a museum which has a wonderful "frieze" which depicts the tales of battles between gods and giants, and of Paris who was asked to judge who was the fairest of them all - Aphrodite he chose, not Snow White.
I heard stories that the oracle were young women (not sure if they were virgins) who were put under the influence of something (illegal fumes were used?) and then put in a trance to give their predictions. If I were there myself, I would have asked, "When is the economy going to get better and when will my retirement fund go up again (?) " --- lol, 2008 is really a bad year for the stock market...
The site of the ancient oracle is about a three hour bus ride from Athens. Not much remains of the original but the museum is excellent and the scenery of the area is worth the trip in itself. Be ready to climb when you go there.
Every school child has heard of the Oracle at Delphi. Delphi is a about two – three hours drive from Athens. There are many bus tours that will pick you up at a nearby hotel in the city, take you to Delphi, generally with another stop along the way, and return you back to your hotel in the evening. You can also rent a car, if you do so I highly recommend taking the Metro or a train as far out of Athens as you can and picking up a car there (Athens traffic if horrible.) The site at Delphi is huge with many things to see. There is a pretty good climb up the hill, so be prepared. The museum (included in the price of the ticket) is large, modern and has a very nice collection. The bronze Charioteer is a highlight of the collection and is located near the exit. A ten minute walk past the museum is the village of Delphi. The village has a couple of hotels, and numerous restaurants. I had a wonder pasta dish with veal at the first restaurant on the right as you go into town.
Delphi may not be quite as impressive as some other ruins but its main assets were its beautiful mountainous setting and intriguing story. The Oracle of Delphi made her vague predictions at the Temple of Apollo (ruins in the picture). People and dignitaries came from all over bearing gifts in order to receive her mysterious words of wisdom. The Oracle made her predictions after chewing bayleafs and sniffing vapors that came out of a crevice in the ground. She spoke her predictions in verse in a strange tongue that only priests could understand. Finally, the priests 'translated' the apparent gibberish into the prediction for all to hear. This took place from about 1100 BC until caesar Theodosius put an end to it 390 AD.
Delphi is almost 23 hours away from Athens by bus. I took a tourist bus (80Euros round trip) for a daytrip. Well worth the time, especially if you know the history and the mythology of this place.