Apr
18
2009

What is the temple of Delphi?

The Temple of Apollo, Delphi - courtesy Hyperfinch - CC-BY

The Temple of Apollo, Delphi - courtesy Hyperfinch - CC-BY

The sanctuary of Delphi, where the oracle of Apollo spoke, was the site of the omphalos, the ‘navel of the world’. Charged with sacred meaning, Delphi in the 6th century B.C. was the religious center and symbol of unity for the ancient Greek world. The sacred precinct in Delphi was a place, where every four years athletes from all over the Greek world would compete in the Pythian Games, one of the four panhellenic games, precursors to the modern Olympics.

Delphi in ancient times was believed to be the center of the known world, the place where heaven and earth met. This was the place on earth where man was closest to God. Delphi was the meeting place of two eagles, released by Zeus and sent in opposite directions. Where they met indicated the center of the earth. This legend may also indicate that the ancient Greeks already considered the world a sphere rather than flat.

The ruins of the Temple of Delphi visible today date from the 4th century BC and are Doric architecture. The monument was partly restored in 1938 to 1941. When one enters the site, one sees a large number of votive statues, and many treasuries. They are known as “treasuries” because they held offerings made to Apollo.  These offerings were very rich and were frequently a “tithe” or tenth of the spoils of a battle. The most impressive is the Athens Treasury. It was built to commemorate the Athenians’ victory at the Battle of Salamis. Because of these treasuries, Delphi came to function as the de-facto Central Bank of Ancient Greece. It was the abuse and later sacking of these treasuries that led to the eclipse of Greek Civilization and the eventual expansion of Rome. When Sulla, the Roman Dictator left Delphi, he carried the wealth of Greece back to Rome with him and that is what financed Rome’s expansion for some time.

There are still those who believe that the spirit of Apollo resides in Delphi and just as he was thousands of years ago, he is still available now, to answer questions and give personal advice or affairs of the state. One might keep in mind that a visit to Delphi is on the itinerary of  most visiting world leaders and dignitaries and the list of Greek politicians who have not visited the sacred oracle would be a very short one. Just food for thought, but visiting Delphi with an open mind may still be a spiritually enriching experience.

Modern Delphi is situated immediately west of the archaeological site and is thus a popular tourist destination.

For more information about ancient Greece

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