Whether you are spending the day or a few hours on the Greek island of Delos, be forewarned: you cannot purchase bottled water or even use a bathroom from the snack bar.
Known as “The Island of the Gods,” for its ancient association with the creation myths of Greek mythology, the island is completely uninhabited save for the few archaeologists who are allowed to stay there while they carry out their research.
However, it is also known for stifling heat and a punishing sun, as there is very little in the way of shade anywhere on the island. Every guide book and web site offering tips on visiting Delos, the Island of Apollo, the God of Light, will tell you to hydrate.
Located just a 30-minute ride by boat from glamorous Mykonos, the island incredibly receives about 100,000 visitors annually.
Unfortunately the canteen which once operated on the island, which has 3000 years of recorded human habitation and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, has been shuttered since 2019.
Along with the snack bar, the public bathrooms in the canteen are also shuttered on Delos, meaning there is no water available there.
The concession is leased via public auction through the Ephorate of Antiquities, as are all the on-site snack bars at archaeological sites across Greece.
Although there is now no functioning canteen or bathroom on the island, Delos Tours, the company that has three ships that ferry people across from Mykonos, does have snack bars on board every ship, offering coffee, treats and of course the essential bottled water. And on each deck they have public bathrooms.
The ships dock in the harbor of Delos from the morning run at 9 AM until the final ship casts off at 1:30 PM — and in the height of the summer season, at 7:30 PM. So although technically there are no amenities available on the island, visitors can use the resources of the docked ships for a bathroom or to get water on Delos.
Last year in 2020, it was a summer of not knowing what would happen, as the country cautiously opened to tourists on July 1. The archaeological site saw very few visitors. In 2021, however, the government promoted the slogan that Greece was ready and open for tourism — just perhaps not on Delos.
Private initiatives fill in where the government fails to provide basic services to one of the largest archaeological sites in Europe. Locals have been shamed by bureaucrats who fail to support the places that first began to attract the attention of foreigners to Greece.
A guard on the island, who spoke to Greek Reporter on the condition of anonymity, said “The canteen doesn’t just service visitors to the island. It also provides both meals and connectivity for the guards and archaeologists that live on the island.
“In the evening we would gather there on a regular basis to have a meal or a drink. Now we do that at the cottages we are assigned as our homes on the island. But some days, I am just too tired or too hot and I don’t want to make something to eat. The canteen gave me the option to have a ready meal.”
The situation also means a loss of income for the government. The concession is auctioned off in a closed bidding process at thousands of Euros for a set number years. But it appears the bidding process has been stalled. Concessions on archaeological sites are subject to pricing and product regulations in Greece.
The canteen is not the only facility that is not operating at present on Delos, as the museum is also closed to visitors this year as well. Since the Spring, the museum has been undergoing renovations.
One of the guides told Greek Reporter that he has had many disappointed visitors as the original Naxian Lions and the original mosaics from the great homes on the island are on display there.
But tragically, they cannot be viewed by any visitors at present.
In early September, the Minister of Culture, Lina Mendoni, visited the island along with Aspasia Leventis, who has organized fundraising projects to benefit Delos.
Mykonos mayor Konstantinos Koukas stated following the visit, “Delos and Rhenia constitute a unique cultural heritage that is our debt and our historical duty to preserve it, to promote it and to pass it on to the next generations. In this effort we have found strong allies the Ephorate of Antiquities of Cyclades, the Prefecture, the Ministry of Culture and Sports, but also organizations such as the International Foundation for Greece of Aspasia Leventis, whom I thank warmly on behalf of all the people of Mykonos.”
According to Koukas “We feel special satisfaction as the cultural treasure of our islands emerges in the center of interest of the State, justifying the timeless effort, but also the relevant infrastructure projects of our Municipal Authority. It is clear that Mykonos, apart from being a top international tourist destination, can also evolve into a top cultural destination by upgrading the relevant infrastructure and highlighting the archeological sites.”
The Ephorate of Antiquity of the Cyclades could not comment on when the bidding process would be opened for the canteen on Delos.
Archaeological sites on the island
There are extensive excavations on the island, revealing ruins that portray Delos as a holy sanctuary dating back to a period even before Greek mythology named it as the birthplace of the Greek gods Apollo and his twin sister Artemis.
Amazingly, some ruins of ancient stone huts on Delos date back to the 3rd millennium BC.
Delos was pilgrimage site in antiquity
From 900 BC to 100 AD, the island served as a cult center for the god Apollo. Eventually, it became a religious pilgrimage site for the Ionians after undergoing a number of “purifications” at the command of the city-state of Athens around the 6th century BC.
Along with the beautiful ruins on Delos, the tales that go along with this enchanting island are captivating.
The island, often referred to as “the sacred island of Delos,” is where, as Greek mythology tells it, Leto gave birth to Zeus’ twins Artemis and Apollo.
The story goes that because of Hera’s jealousy of Zeus and Leto, she ordered all lands to shun Leto, making it difficult for her to find a place to give birth.
However, Zeus asked Poseidon to find a secret, safe place for Leto to give birth. She ended up on the island of Delos, and, since the island is not connected to any land, she was able to safely give birth to her twins, Artemis and Apollo.
From that moment onward, the small, rocky island was declared “the most sacred of all islands” by Callimachus in the third century BC in all of ancient Greece and was ever after devoted to the worship of Apollo. It was said to be “bathed in the unique light” of Zeus’ son.