Delphi! The navel of the world. Spiritual center of Ancient Greece. The Oracle.
This is where the ancients looked for wisdom and guidance. This is one of the places the Roman Emperor Julian, from his capital in Constantinople, turned when he attempted to restore paganism to the empire during his brief reign from 361 – 362 CE. Christianity was taking over the empire by that point, and in return for his efforts he received the last oracle, in which he was told “the speaking water has been silenced.” The Wisdom of the Ancients had changed, the clock was turning, and the world was moving to another era.
After leaving Ancient Olympia yesterday we drove north, along the coast of the Ionian Sea, and past Patras to find a structure was the opposite of so much that we have seen on this trip.
The Rio-Antirrio Bridge is not old – instead it is a very modern cable-stay bridge that connects Western Greece to Mainland Greece over the Gulf of Corinth. One of the world’s longest cable-stay bridges, it is beautiful; a graceful compilation of steel brush strokes and concrete lines, with linear rays of twisted cable blending into impossible curves.
Beyond the bridge, we headed east, following the coastline along a stretch of serpentine pavement, with mountains rising to our left and the angry steely sea to our right, under a darkening cloud-filled sky.
We tried to stop for a meal, but found nothing among the deserted towns that a month or two ago were probably abustle with tourists (or in a the days pre-COVID would have been).
So after driving almost three hours we reached Galaxidi, and a well-kept small hotel, quiet on a COVID-plagued November evening. The hostess greeted us and then rushed us out to find dinner, as she was worried that the few restaurants that were open might close soon.
The next morning, the town wasn’t much more active, with but a few locals walking along the cobblestone streets. We circled the port once and headed out to my final destination for this trip.
This trip, if you haven’t noticed, somehow evolved into a mission to visit Ancient Greece, and while there are many possibilities when I first plotted and planned, one has always been on my list, and that has been Ancient Delphi.
For me, this has been one of the top places to visit here after Ancient Athens, and in fact it was the place to which the wise men of Athens turned for greater wisdom.
Getting to Delphi wasn’t as easy as I would have hoped. We got lost in a small town nearby, and parking was more difficult than the guidebook suggested (what must it be in other years?!).
Yet we found ourselves in a now-sacred park, climbing the ancient streets that marked this holy site, with grand niches where on either side great statues once stood.
And further up was the navel of the world, similarly marking this place the center of the world. As the tales tell the story, it fell from the sky already shaped as it still stands today.
We continued higher, exploring this very vertically structured site, to where the Treasury of Athens has been rebuilt.
Nearby was once the Temple of Apollo. This is where the oracles once spoke, influenced by noxious fumes emanating from fissures below the temple, producing cryptic words of guidance to send out into the world.
Turning around I paused, surprised to find a green spiral column stretching forth from the ground. I have seen this before – but it was the original. This is merely a replica of the one that stands in the Hippodrome in Istanbul, where the emperor Constantine moved it when he declared Constantinople the capital of the Roman Empire in 324 CE.
Finally, I visited the ancient theater, but unlike others on this trip we weren’t allowed to climb her ancient steps, gaze forth from her seats, and test her acoustics. And I guess that’s OK – I’ve seen other theaters that were more impressive and better preserved if I am to be truthful.
The view from here was incredible, with the Temple of Apollo exposed below, with the entire valley beyond.
Further up the path ahead was closed, so although the stadium is said to be spectacular it will have to wait for another trip.
Back at the car I tried to visit the portion of the site that stands below the roadway, but it too was closed. As we drove away, we found a second area that was open. But by that time the rain had begun to fall and my mind was set. It’s apparently an impressive area, so I will have to return to see it when I visit the stadium sometime in the future.
At long last we pointed our car toward Athens, and beyond that, to home. We tried to find a local restaurant for food, but this was unsuccessful. Later we would learn that this was because of a strike, which shouldn’t have surprised me.
We had to stop once to fill up the mercurial leaky tire which, after days of being stable, began to lose pressure precipitously on the highway. And then we deposited the car had dinner at the hotel and packed early for bed.
My plane departs before sunrise, and I have no time to be late.