Aegean Odyssey takes our guests to some of the most historical places in the world in true style and ultimate comfort, and two of the regions that we sail – the Adriatic and the Aegean – are always firm favourites. To celebrate these fascinating areas of our world, we wanted to highlight some of the wonderful things you can see and do with us on our voyages here and today we’re looking at the ancient site of Delos, a true one-of-a-kind experience in the Greek isles.
Claimed to be the birthplace of the Greek God Apollo, Delos serves as the religious hub of the Cyclades. In ancient Greece it was a place of great importance for trade and commerce. This as well as its religious significance made it popular with both pilgrims attracted to the Sanctuary of Apollo and merchants visiting the Sacred Harbour. Such extensive popularity was also due to its prime location in the centre of the Aegean Sea. It remained a place of religious significance until the Byzantine times.
It is believed that habitation of the island dates back to 3000 BCE, but the now deserted isle became important during the Mycenaean period (1580-1200 BCE) when trade boomed as well as religion. The Delphic Oracle in 5th Century BC ordered the purging of all of the dead on the island and no-one was allowed to give birth or die on the island to preserve its sanctity.
The small size of the island made it vulnerable and susceptible to attack from many maritime powers during its long history. This resulted in Delos experiencing various cultures through the centuries. The Athenians ruled the island for almost five hundred years during which two “purifications” took place; one in 540 BCE that decreed all burials within sight of the temple of Apollo be removed, and the second in 426/5 BCE (the one ordered by the Delphic Oracle). Delos was home to the treasury of the Delian League after the Persian Wars took place before it was moved to the Athenian Acropolis. By the 4th Century BCE, Delos was under the protection of Macedonia and her population boomed. She changed hands again back into Athenian control after the Roman conquest of Greece. Whilst the Isle flourished during this time, the Romans during their war against Mithridates razed the island from which Delos never recovered. Her population decreased slowly resulting in several plunders in the 8th and 9th centuries before it became a pirate stronghold during Ottoman occupation. The marble and stone of the ancient ruins was also removed for use on nearby islands.
These ancient ruins include the Lions of Delos which guard the Sacred Way, and the Sanctuary of Apollo. Although not a ruin, there is the Sacred Lake, where it is believed Leto gave birth to Artemis and Apollo, which is today left dry to prevent bacteria. This is guarded by the Avenues of the Lions who serve as guardians to the lake. There is even the Delos Synagogue which is the oldest synagogue in existence today.