The ancient Greeks called Delphi "the navel of the world"...
High in the mountains of central Greece, forty miles from Athens, lies the ruins of one of the most mysterious places in the ancient world.
Delphi was where you communicated with a 'divine presence'. The presence showed itself through the presence of a rock chasm where strange vapours rose. And anyone who inhaled them entered a trance and muttered strange prophecies for those who chose to hear them. A priestess used to sit in a seat above the chasm known as "the pythoness". She was consulted by king and emperor alike, wars were declared and kingdoms sacked on the advice of the oracle of Delphi.
Kings and Emperors may have got to see her but I only got to see the ruins from the outside and was unable to venture in and explore. A shame because I would have loved to have seen one of the most famous sites in Greece. If you do get the chance then go! Delphi is a nice little town high up in the mountains with amazing views of valleys and plains rolling down to the Gulf of Corinth. And it is an interesting place, thick pine woods cover the mountains looking as if they hide creatures from Greek mythology. And try and take a tour - what can seem a piece of rubble or crumbling wall can be brought to life by a talented tour guide.
I got to Delphi town as part of my CHAT tour. For about £100 I got an overnight trip up to the Meteora and part of the journey up there was a stop at Delphi. Unfortunately it didn't work out like that. As anyone who has been on a tour knows often the tour company connects you with several of their other tours. We were to connect with a tour up from the Peloponnese. So while most of the bus were on day trips from Athens could begin their tour of Delphi - we had to wait at a hotel for our connecting bus up to Kalambaka. We had precisely one hour in Delphi, and we realised it was half an hour walk from our rondezvous point to the site gates. That would leave us with precisely five minutes to see the site..
We decided to give it a go!
The village of Delphi is beautifully situated. It's on a ledge high up in the mountains overlooking a valley tens of miles long. A balaustrade and walkway gave good views of the pine covered slopes opposite and it was a good place to pose against a vertiginous backdrop. The town survives on tourists and has enough hotels, cats, tavernas and souvenir shops to keep them happy. There are buses direct to Athens but from what I hear they get very packed - a journey standing up is not uncommon. Livadhia is not far away and that has a train station. So perhaps get off there and do the rest of the journey by train. For Delphi is worth a look, it can be done as a day trip but you get to see the town when the tourists have gone if you stay overnight.
Unfortunately the nearest I got to the sacred precinct was the entrance where I could see a number of scrubby ruins hidden by pines up a slope before I had to head back to meet the bus. A real shame, because like all great ruins the story behind Delphi is mesmerising. There has been a temple on this site since pagan times. The earth goddess, Gaia, resided here. Her son, "the python" was ensconced in an adjoining cave. But everyone from the Myceneans onwards knew of the oracle of Delphi - the Dorians, Persians and Egyptians. The "pythoness" had a reputation for being truthful. Pilgrims from all over the ancient world would make the dangerous mountain trek up to Mt Parnassus. On arrival they would sacrifice a sheep or goat and submit their questions on a clay tablet. Her replies would then be interpreted by priests and scribbled down in hexameter verse. The answers were notoriously unambiguous.
I wish I had questioned the oracle before taking the tour. Still, its a good reason to come back to Greece. Next time I'll consult a entrails of a goat. That always does the trick...