Spiritual Retreats: Delphi, Greece

Located amidst breathtaking scenery in central Greece is ancient Delphi, the site of the Sanctuary and Oracle of Apollo, the most important oracle in the classical Greek world and religion.Delphi was not only the site of the oracle, but was also a major site for the worship of the god Apollo after he slew the Python, a divine being who lived there and protected the navel of the earth.

His sacred precinct in Delphi was a Panhellenic sanctuary where every four years athletes from all over the Greek world competed in the Pythian Games, one of the four panhellenic games, the origin of the modern Olympics.

Delphi was honored throughout the Greek world as the site of the centre of the earth and the universe. In part of the Temple of Apollo, an eternal flame burned and in the foundation stories of several Greek colonies the founding colonists were first dedicated at Delphi.

For ancient Greeks, Delphi was literally the center of the world and according to Greek myth, Zeus released two eagles from opposite ends of the earth and they met in the sky above Delphi. Spearing one another with their beaks, they fell to the ground on the very center of the world, marked by the Omphalos, or 'navel" stone.

Regarded as the center of the world and the dwelling place of Apollo, Delphi attracted pilgrims from across the ancient world. Generals, kings, and individuals of all ranks came to the Oracle of Delphi to ask Apollo's advice on the best course to take in war, politics, love and family. After the inquirer made a sacrifice, a woman known as the Pythia uttered cryptic pronouncements which were then translated by a priest, known as an Oracle. However, the oracle of Delphi was abolished in 393 AD by Emperor Theodosius, who made Christianity the official religion of the Byzantine Empire.

The most ancient sacred site at Delphi, and perhaps the reason the site was chosen as the abode of Apollo, is the sacred Castalian Spring that wells up in a ravine in the mountains. It is connected with the chemical vapors that arise from the earth to inspire the Pythia's oracles. Two fountains fed by the sacred spring survive: The first being an ancient, early 6th century BC, fountain house with a marble-lined basin surrounded by benches. The second is a Roman fountain with niches for votive gifts. In classical times, all pilgrims to Delphi stopped here to ritually bathe before entering the sacred precinct.

Most visitors to Delphi follow the exact path along the 'Sacred Way" that was followed by ancient pilgrims and visitors to the site. The path begins at the southeast corner of the site and winds its way up the hillside, past ancient treasuries and monuments, to the Temple of Apollo.

At its peak, every available space along the Sacred Way at Delphi was filled with treasury buildings, statues and votive offerings. These were donated by important cities to thank the Oracle for helpful advice that led to victories and to establish a presence at the important site of Delphi.

The Temple of Apollo seen today at Delphi dates from the 4th century BC. There were two earlier temples on the site but the first was burned in 548, and the second was destroyed by an earthquake. Some archaic capitals and wall blocks are preserved from the first temple and many of wall blocks and some pediment sculptures are extant from the second.

In 1900 archaeological excavations began and exciting new studies of the site and its geology were carried out in the late 1990s. It was during this time that Delphi was designated a World Heritage site in terms of not only its historical significance but its scared rituals and idealist destination.