A trip to Mykonos is not complete without a visit to the sacred island of Delos. As legend has it, it was the birthplace of the twin gods Apollo (god of light, music & the arts) and the goddess Artemis or Diane (goddess of hunting, protector ofwildlife) as she was referred to during Roman times. Their mother Leto, one of the many Zeus’s girlfriends hunted by his jealous wife Hera found sanctuary on Delos and gave birth to the twins.
Delos is situate in the heart of the Aegean Sea in the centre of the complex of islands known as Cyclades as they form a circle around it; “hearth of the islands”!
Delos has a long and checkered history. It has over the centuries been in the centre of trading routes, wars, cultural activities, destroyed and rebuilt and visitors today visit the ruins of a city that once was!
There are daily trips to Delos from Yialos with the last boat departing at 5pm and returning by 7:30pm. At the ticket office all visitors are given maps with designated routes. For the best possible experience of Delos, the Semeli Hotel offers private guided tours of the island. Ask the Semeli Hotel concierge to arrange.
Key sites on Delos Island are:
- The Minoan Fountain was a rectangular public well hewn in the rock, with a central column; it formalized the sacred spring in its present 6th century BCE form, reconstructed in 166 BCE, according to an inscription. Tightly-laid courses of masonry form the walls; water can still be reached by a flight of steps that fill one side.
There are several market squares. The Hellenistic Agora of the Competaliastsby the Sacred Harbour retains the postholes for market awnings in its stone paving. Two powerful Italic merchant guilds dedicated statues and columns there.
The Temple of the Delians, dedicated to Apollo, is a classic example of the Doric order; a pen-and-wash reconstruction of the temple is illustrated at Doric order. Beside the temple once stood a colossal Kouros of Apollo, only parts of which remain extant. Dating to the 6th Century BCE, parts of the upper torso and pelvis remain in situ, a hand is kept at the local museum and a foot in the British Museum.
- The Terrace of the Lions also dedicated to Apollo by the people of Naxos shortly before 600 BCE, had originally nine to twelve squatting, snarling marble guardian lions along the Sacred Way; one is inserted over the main gate to the Venetian Arsenal. The lions create a monumental avenue comparable to Egyptian avenues of sphinxes. (There is a Greek sphinx in the Delos Museum.) Today only seven of the original lions remain.
- The meeting hall of the Poseidoniasts of Beirut housed an association of merchant, warehousemen, shipowners and innkeepers during the early years of Roman hegemony, late 2nd century BCE. To their protective triad of Baal/Poseidon,Astarte/Aphrodite and Eshmun/Asklepios, they added Roma.
- The platform of the Stoivadeion dedicated to Dionysus bears a statue of the god of wine and the life-force. On either side of the platform, a pillar supports a colossal phallus, the symbol of Dionysus. The southern pillar, which is decorated with relief scenes from the Dionysiac circle, was erected c. 300 BCE to celebrate a winning theatrical performance.
- The statue of Dionysus was originally flanked by those of two actors impersonating Paposilenoi (conserved in the Archaeological Museum of Delos). The marble theatre is a rebuilding of an older one, undertaken shortly after 300 BCE.
- The Doric Temple of Isis was built on a high over-looking hill at the beginning of the Roman period to venerate the familiar trinity of Isis, the Alexandrian Serapis and Anubis.
- The Temple of Hera’, ca 500 BCE, is a rebuilding of an earlier Heraion on the site.
- The House of Dionysus’ is a luxurious 2nd century private house named for the floor mosaic of Dionysus riding apanther.
- The House of the Dolphins is similarly named from its atrium mosaic, where erotes ride dolphins; its Phoenician owner commissioned a floor mosaic of Tanit in his vestibule.
- The Delos Synagogue, the oldest synagogue known today.
Since 1872 the École française d’Athènes (“French School of Athens”) has been excavating the island, the complex of buildings of which compares with those of Delphi and Olympia.
In 1990,UNESCO inscribed Delos on the World Heritage List, citing it as the “exceptionally extensive and rich” archaeological site which “conveys the image of a great cosmopolitan Mediterranean port”.