Delos, a rocky island near Mykonos, is one of the most historical and archaeological sites in Greece. As per Greek mythology, this island was the birthplace of the twin gods Apollo and Artemis. Because of its mythological significance, Delos was considered as the most sacred of all islands. However it’s believed that even before it was made the birthplace of the twin gods, Delos had the position of the holy sanctuary. Finally in 1990 this spectacular archaeological site and its setting was designated as an UNESCO world heritage site. Read on to know why this tiny uninhabited Greek island has become so important and popular among travelers.
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History Of Delos Island
Why the Island which was once a thriving city is today an uninhabited island is on everyone’s mind. To understand this we need to dig deeper into its history. Initially Delos was called ‘Ortygia’ or ‘Adilos’, which means ‘invisible’ as it was a floating wandering rock. But after Poseidon anchored the rock in the absolute center of the Aegean Sea, it came to be called Delos, which means ‘visible’. Its geographical location attracted the interest of the ancient Greeks and brought about great wealth to Delos.
Based on archaeological finds and scientific research, it has been proved that the island was inhabited since the 3rd millennium BC. Because of the birth of the twin gods, Delos was considered a holy place. It became even more of a sacred island by the end of the 6th century and went through further purification to allow for proper worship. Everyone was moved out of this place as nobody was allowed to die or be born on Delos. In the 9th century the island developed into a major cult center with pilgrims coming in from around the Greek world to worship.
Later during the Roman rule, Delos became a thriving trade hub with ships from all over the Mediterranean coming in with merchandise and slaves through Delos. The city grew quickly and became an important trade hub. The city started getting rich and sadly its richness got noticed by people with bad intentions. Pirates and looters started looting and ultimately residents started moving away. Eventually by the end of the 7th century, except for a few pirates, the entire island got completely deserted. After that it was only in 1873 that a team of French archaeologists started excavating the site and uncovered the ruins of Delos. There are plenty of ruins still below the surface waiting to be explored.
How To Get To Delos Island
A boat from Mykonos or from other nearby islands such as Naxos, Paros, Tinos and Syros are the only ways to reach Delos Island. A Delos ferry from Mykonos takes about 30 to 35 minutes to reach. There are various organized Mykonos Delos tours that will help you explore Delos Island. Apart from archaeologists no one else is allowed to stay on the island outside the opening hours. So a Delos day trip from the old port of Mykonos or from the nearby islands are the only ways to see Delos Greece.
Things To See On Delos Island
As soon as you step foot on the island you will be surprised to see how rocky and deserted it is. The 5km long and 1.3km wide island is full of stones and marbles of the ruins. Fortunately for us the ruins on Delos are very well preserved. Here’s how you can explore the mystifying island of Delos with the many things to see here.
The Museum of Delos is an on-site museum with a collection of rich finds from archaeological digs surrounding the museum. All these finds were from excavations carried out over a century by the French Archaeological School. The collection includes sculptures, vases, pottery, inscriptions, mosaics and artifacts which gives an insight into the life of the ancient inhabitants of the island. The 9 rooms in the museum have significant collections of ancient Greek art placed chronologically and thematically. Some of the best finds have been transferred to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
House of Cleopatra
Do not confuse this with the house of the Egyptian queen Cleopatra. The Delos House of Cleopatra is the ruins of the residence of a wealthy couple called Cleopatra and Dioscurides. Here you’ll find a ruined villa with various statues, Doric columns, large and spacious rooms and headless statues of the couple. It was very common for the rich and famous people to put up statues of themselves in front of their wealthy mansions.
Terrace Of The Lions
A row of 9–12 marble lions are the most famous statues on Delos. It was gifted by the people of Naxos in the 7th century to protect the harbor but today this place gives a feel of what it would have been like thousands of years ago. Not all of the lions of Delos are original, some of them are replicas as the original ones are shifted inside the museum for safekeeping and to protect them from the weather.
The Sacred Way
The Sacred Way or the Sacred Precinct is a 13 meters wide paved avenue that connects the Sacred Port to the Sanctuary of Apollo. It is the most important road on the island as the entrance to the Archaeological Site of Delos begins here. Either side of the sacred way was once lined with shops and stalls, just like a marketplace. Ruins of colonnaded porticoes, grand statues and inscribed plinths that date from the 3rd to 2nd centuries BC can be still seen here.
Temple Of Isis
The Temple of Isis sits on a small hill above Delos Museum. The climb and the extra time to make it up the hill are all worth it as it is one of the best sites on Delos. Once up there, a headless statue of a Greek goddess awaits to welcome you in front of the temple ruins. Views from above are impressive and it’s a great spot to click some pics to take back home as memories.
House Of Dionysus
This ancient ruin is one of the largest and most lavish mansions in Delos. One cannot miss this as the towering columns that extend above the walls of the house are easy to spot. The excavated ruin was a mansion of a wealthy person way back then. The main highlight here is a central courtyard with beautiful mosaic floors that has a large Dionysus riding a tiger with wings carrying a wreath of ivy and a vine of grapes.
Ancient Greek Theater
The Ancient Theatre of Delos is one of the few theaters that is completely built in marble. This impressive historic landmark which was built in 314 BC has the capacity to seat around 7,000 people at a time. As per reports the site has been given funds for restoration and protection. Hopefully after restoration the theater may even be opened for small and major events.
Standing at 120 meters high, Mount Kynthos is the highest point on Delos Island. You can get a spectacular view of the surrounding Delos ruins, countryside and coast from here. You can also see the nearby islands of Mykonos, Naxos, Rhenia, Syros, and Paros. The mountain is the mythological birthplace of the twin god Apollo and Artemis. With a little preparation you can hit the summit easily.
Few Key Facts About Delos
- Almost everywhere on this island is either a landmark or a place of historical importance. Sadly Delos Island was destroyed for its beauty and wealth.
- Excavations of the site started in 1872, even today archaeologists are still excavating it.
- Until now 30,000 vessels, 8,000 sculptures, 3,000 inscriptions have been recovered while excavations.
- It can get really hot during summer as this island is an open-air archaeological site without much shade to take cover from the heat.
- Facilities on the island are limited, toilets and a small gift shop are the only things you can see here. There are no cafes and food counters, hence come prepared.
- The island is so sacred that the Athenian leader Peisistratus got rid of all existing graves in the 6th century BC. Since then no one was allowed to be born or die here.
Now that you have got a feel of the island, go explore this tiny piece of island which is full of archaeological sites and religious significance. Let the magic of the island of Delos Greek mythology sweep you off your feet! If you stumble on something new, do share it with us in the comments below.
FAQ’s On Delos Island
Delos is an uninhabited Greek island in the sparkling Aegean Sea which is very close to the stunning Mykonos. It is an easy half-day trip from most of the nearby islands and totally worth it for Delos Island is one of the most significant archaeological sites in Greece.
When Hera warned all land and water to not give sanctuary to Leto, the goddess eventually found Island Delos perfect for giving birth as it was neither joined to the mainland nor attached to the ocean floor. She could give birth here as it was not considered land or island.
Swimming is forbidden here as there are important findings on every corner of this UNESCO protected archaeological site.