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Castalian Spring

Corycian Cave and Environs

Marmara at Delphi

The Delphi Museum Gallery

Mount Parnassos

Up the Sacred Way

The Stadium at Delphi

The Temple of Apollo

The Theater at Delphi


Dr. J's Illustrated Sacred Way
at Delphi

9601MID.jpg (8774 bytes)A misty view of the Sacred Way of Delphi, with the Phaedriades, or "Shining Rocks," as a backdrop. It is difficult to discern, but the Way winds its way up the mountain in a series of serpentine turns, offering showcases at every turn for the votive offerings left behind by grateful city-states and island colonies. Delphi achieved the height of its fame during the 6th century BC, as Greece passed from the Archaic to the Classical Age. But stories from before and since abound: an old tale tells that Aesop met his death by being thrown from these very rocks, the punishment for mocking the gods.
IMG0042MID.jpg (7966 bytes)Greek city-states engaged in terrific one-upsmanship when it came to erecting votives to the oracle. For example, in this niche were showcased 37 bronze statues. They celebrated the Spartans' victory over the Athenians at Aegospotamoi in 404 BC, ending the Peloponnesian War and Athens' supremacy among Greek city-states. The monument was purposely erected directly across the Way from the Athenian monument celebrating victory at Marathon, which originally only held 13 statues (although those were made by Pheidias himself!).
IMG0043aMID.jpg (8773 bytes)The Kings of Argos monument also had a political message. The Argives celebrate their alliance with Thebes, together with whom they founded Messene in 369 BC. As a group, they stood against Spartan domination in southern Greece. This monument fostered good feelings between Thebes and Argos, mythical enemies but real-life allies against Sparta. 
IMG0050MIDx.jpg (5069 bytes)The Sacred Way was once lined with tens of buildings called "Treasuries," literally "place where gold things are put," which housed the valuable and beautiful votive offerings provided by individual city-states and colonies.  As a political oracle, Delphi served states, not individuals, and was rewarded by same. This frieze from the Siphnian Treasury (525 BC) survives and is on display in the Delphi Museum: it tells the story of how Herakles once came here and challenged Apollo for his tripod, the seat of his power.
IMG0063XX.jpg (2825 bytes)IMG0072MID.jpg (8590 bytes)The Athenian Treasury is the only one to have been reconstructed (except for its roof, as the photo on the right shows). Not only the votives found inside, but the building itself stands as official Athenian thanks to the Oracle after their victory at Marathon in 490 BC. The political nature of this game is apparent here: although the Athenians were not favored by the oracle, they nevertheless established this shrine in a show of undeserved but politically correct gratitude and paid for it with the spoils from their successful rout of the Persians.
9407MID.jpg (8757 bytes)IMG0052MID.jpg (7157 bytes)The metopes from the Treasury of the Athenians depict the labors of Herakles and Theseus' victory over the Minotaur (right), as displayed in the Delphi Museum, and its original home (left). By associating Theseus with Herakles, the Athenians hoped to universalize their local Attic hero, Theseus. The rear wall was covered with more than 150 inscriptions, including a hymn to Apollo complete with musical notation.
9406MID.jpg (8611 bytes)There is a reason that Delphi became such a significant site in Greek history, religion and politics: when Zeus sent forth two eagles from far-flung corners of the earth in search of the center of the world, they met here, over Delphi. This omphalos, Greek for "belly-button," marks sacred Delphi as that center. This is just a concrete representation; the original omphalos was housed inside the adyton of the Temple of Apollo. Even by Pausanias' time it had been replaced.
IMG0071MID.jpg (9804 bytes)The Rock of the Sibyl Herophile, immediately below the Temple terrace. Pausanias claims that she is the one who composed the Hymn to Apollo while under the influence of the god Apollo (10.12.1)
IMG0045aMID.jpg (8523 bytes)IMG0051X.jpg (2036 bytes)The columns in the photo on the left mark the 30 meter long Stoa of the Athenians, where in 478 BC they displayed war trophies taken from the Persians. The inscription refers specifically to thwarting Xerxes' ingenious plan to cross the Hellespont using tied-together ships as a bridge. Pausanias mistakenly attributes this to the Peloponnesian War era. (X.2.4-5) The Sphinx of the Naxians, 570-560 BC (right), towered into the air right next to it: the 8 foot tall (2 1/2 meter) sphinx sits atop a 44-flute Ionic column that towered 35 feet (11 1/2 meters) into the air.
IMG0046aMID.jpg (8074 bytes)One of the most celebrated monuments of antiquity, the Tripod of Plataea celebrated the defeat of the Persians by 31 Greek city-states at Plataea in 479 BC and was financed by 1/10 their spoils. Three intertwined serpents made of gold supported a gold cauldron. Constantine the Great removed the monument to his Hippodrome, and fragments of it are still on display today in Istanbul. 
IMG0069MID.jpg (9405 bytes)The Temple of Apollo, the sine qua non of the Sacred Way, is so important that it has its own Illustrated Temple of Apollo Page.

copyright 2001 Janice Siegel, All Rights Reserved
send comments to: Janice Siegel (jfsiege@ilstu.edu)

date this page was edited last: 08/02/2005
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