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GreekReporter.comAncient GreeceThe Greek Island of Delos: Where Mythology and History Come Alive

The Greek Island of Delos: Where Mythology and History Come Alive

Ancient Greek
An ancient Greek theater on Delos island. Credit: Bernard Gagnon/ Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 3.0

When you want to escape to a Greek island which can transport you straight back to the times of the ancient Greek gods, look no further than Delos, in the Cyclades archipelago.

You can see Delos, which is in its entirety a UNESCO World Heritage site, from the shores of the island of Mykonos, and the beauty of the island and its surroundings inspire all who visit. But do you know the legendary myth of this sacred place?

Although it’s relatively unknown to many tourists, Delos is one of the most important mythological, historical, and archaeological sites in all of Greece.

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, certain ruins of ancient stone huts on Delos date back to the 3rd millennium BC.

Rare photographs of the excavations at the Greek Island of Delos from the nineteenth century have come to light in a new book written by a team of French archaeologists.

Photo from the excavations on Delos. Credit: Public Domain

The book Delos 1873-1913 sheds light on the challenges facing the scientists and other skilled and unskilled workers who unearthed ancient monuments and artifacts in one of most important mythological, historical, and archaeological sites of Greece.

The French School of Athens in 1873 sent archaeologist A. Lebègue to begin work on excavations on Delos.

Until the First World War, on the instigation of T. Homolle and then M. Holleaux, the emphasis was on the clearing of large areas in the Sanctuary zone and on the northern slopes of Cynthus although the rest of the island was not neglected.

Delos was a 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 for Ionians after undergoing a number of “purifications” at the command of the city-state of Athens around the 6th century BC.

Along with the ruins on Delos, the tales that accompany this enchanting island are captivating.

The island, referred to as “the sacred island of Delos,” is where, as Greek mythology tells it, Leto gave birth to Zeus’ twins Artemis and Apollo.

Mythology has it 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 the land, she was able to safely give birth to her twins, Artemis and Apollo.

From that moment onward, the small, rocky island was declared by Callimachus—in the third century BC—to be “the most sacred of all islands” of Ancient Greece and was devoted to Apollo. It was said to be “bathed in the unique light” of Zeus’ son.

Today, the island maintains its serenity all to itself, as no one is allowed to stay overnight on the island except for caretakers and archaeologists who continue to uncover its ancient secrets. Those who would like to explore the island and pay tribute to its magnificent history are allowed to do so, but only as part of day trips.

The Greek Island of the Gods is linked by ferry to the island of Mykonos, with the trip taking a mere 45 minutes.

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