The island of Delos is located near the center of the Cyclades archipelago and is one of the most important mythological, historical, and archaeological sites in Greece. It held had a position as a holy sanctuary for a millennium before Greek mythology and by the time of the Odyssey, the island was already famous as the birthplace of the twin gods Apollo and Artemis.
From our base in Mykonos, we made an excursion to the nearby Delos (just 30 minutes by boat) and spent the day here with a local specialist learning about the history of the small island. Today, it is inhabited only by an antiquity guard and an employee of the Archeological museum and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ongoing excavation work takes place under the direction of the French School at Athens and many of the artifacts found are on display here at the Archaeological Museum of Delos as well as on the mainland at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
In the past, Delos was an ancient center of worship – a temple to the twins Apollo (god of the sun, music, and healing) and Artemis (goddess of the moon, maidenhood, and archery). It was here that it is believed Leto gave birth to her children; fathered by Zeus.
Delos, if you would be willing to be the abode of my son Phoebus Apollo and make him a rich temple; for no other will touch you, as you will find: and I think you will never be rich in oxen and sheep, nor bear vintage nor yet produce plants abundantly. But if you have the temple of far-shooting Apollo, all men will bring you hecatombs and gather here, and incessant savour of rich sacrifice will always arise, and you will feed those who dwell in you from the hand of strangers; for truly your own soil is not rich.
— Homeric Hymn to Delian Apollo 51–60
During the Hellenistic period (323 – 30 BC), it became one of the most important center for commerce and religion in Greece. Its inhabitants were wealthy merchants, seafarers and bankers who came from as far as the Middle East. The Romans made it a free port in 167 BC, which brought even greater prosperity to the island. The shift in trade route and the waning interest in ancient religion in the following centuries brought the decline of Delos.
It was fascinating to walk along the streets and homes of ancient Delos. Though not as completely excavated or restored as Pompeii, it is much older. Most fascinating to me were the intact mosaics on the floors; the more elaborate and intricate the design, the more wealthy the home owners. In the House of the Dolphins the atrium mosaic features erodes (winged gods) riding dolphins.
House of Dionysus
The House of Dionysus was a luxurious 2nd century private house named for the floor mosaic of Dionysus riding a panther. The mosaic depicts the god with outstretched wings and ivy wreath, mounted on a panther with a wreath of vine branches and grapes around its neck. In his right hand the god grasps a thyrsus, a staff crowned with ivy, as if it was a spear.
On the ground, between plants, a kantharos, a wine vessel, another attribute of the god of wine. The wings suggest a Dionysiac daimon, a supernatural being acting as an intermediate between gods and men, rather than the god himself.
The Terrace of Lions
The Terrace of the Lions (pictured at bottom in the collage above) was dedicated to Apollo by the people of Naxos shortly before 600 BCE. Originally there were nine to twelve marble lions guarding the Sacred Way. The lions create a monumental avenue comparable to Egyptian avenues of sphinxes. Today only seven of the original lions remain.
House of Cleopatra
The remains of the House of Cleopatra (138 BC), a dwelling of a wealthy merchant family. It was named after the wife of the owner. Headless statues of the owner of the house, Dioscourides and his wife, Cleopatra, are visible here.
The open floor plans of the homes permitted natural light and fresh air to circulate. The city also featured a complex underground sewage system. Located near the theater is a cistern, evidence of the advance water system developed by the ancient inhabitants to overcome the shortage of fresh water supply in the island.
This is the first in a five-day hopscotch exploring the Mythological Secrets of Greece:
The Acropolis & Ancient Athens
The Island of Delos (this post)
The Lost City & Paradise in Santorini
Find more homeschool related topics to explore at the iHomeschool Network’s Homeschool Hopscotch