The island of Delos sits in the sparkling Aegean Sea in the centre of a circle of Greek islands called the Cyclades. Just a 25-minute boat trip away from Mykonos it’s one of the most important mythological, historical and archaeological sites in Greece. It’s also the mythical birthplace of Apollo, god of light, truth and music and his twin sister Artemis. For over a thousand years Delos, Isle of Light, font of life, was a sacred place and is today UNESCO protected and part of the World’s Cultural Heritage. And it’s beautiful.
A morning excursion from our cruise was spent exploring the sprawling ruins of the ancient shrine. The island is 3.5km south-west of Mykonos and just 5k long and 1.3 wide so this can be done in less than a day. Just as well really because the island shuts at 3 pm when the last boat leaves.
This tiny island was inhabited from 3000 BC by a population of around 25,000 and by 300 AD was completely abandoned. At one time, Delos was so sacred that people close to death or giving birth were kicked out to a neighbouring island. It would seem things have gone full circle as the only inhabitants are now the team of archaeologists working on the ruins. This makes it a peaceful contrast to busy Mykonos just across the water.
Delos, in ancient Greek, means clear and brought to light. You can pretty well roam as you please through the ruined streets, arcades and temples and the light gave everything a particular clarity. The pale golds of the stonework complimented the blue skies and seas perfectly giving it a softer appearance than the pristine whites and crisp blues of Mykonos. So, what is there to see on Delos? Here’s what I discovered…
The Theatre District, Delos
The theatre once held up to 5,500 spectators. Nearby is an underground water cistern – there was no fresh-water on Delos so drinking water was captured from the rainfall and stored in the cistern.
The House of Dionysus
The remains of many mansions are near to the theatre. Obviously ‘the place’ to live. The mansions must have been impressive with outdoor pillared courtyards, two or three levels have intricate mosaic floors. The House of Dionysus (below) has a mosaic showing Dionysus riding a panther.
The Sanctuary of Apollo
The Sanctuary of Apollo lies at the heart of the ancient remains at the end of The Sacred Way. The remains of a massive statue of Apollo rests here although only the torso is left – probably because it was too heavy to loot. One of the hands rests in the Delos museum and a foot resides in the British Museum.
Terrace of the Lions
This is probably the most famous of Delos’ sights. The lions on the Terrace of the Lions are replicas of a possible nine to twelves lions that once guarded the wealthy trading port. The remaining five original lions are now housed in the island’s museum. The lions were a gift from the people of Naxos in the 7th century BC – an imposing sight to guard the ‘sacred way’.
Terrace of the Lions
Most of the significant finds from Delos are now housed safely in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens but there are still some interesting and beautiful pieces in the museum at Delos so it’s worth taking a look inside at the statues, pottery and mosaics.
Boats leave for Delos from the Old Port of Mykonos daily, weather permitting, except Monday when the site is closed to visitors.
The first boat to Delos leaves at 9:00 am and the last one at 12:50 pm. The first boat back to Mykonos goes at 11:00 am and the last at 3:00 pm
Travel Tips for Delos:
There are toilet facilities in the museum.
It is not possible to stay overnight in Delos.
It’s very hot with little shelter so I’d advise taking water, a hat and sunscreen.
Many thanks to Celebrity Cruises for hosting me on this fabulous cruise.