I’ve wanted to go to Delphi ever since I saw a picture of the Temple of Athena when I was in sixth grade.
So last September, I spent three glorious days on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, and hour after hour traversing the ancient sanctuaries.
The horseshoe shape is the theater. Below that is the Temple of Apollo. Below that is a treasury. (Everyone who was anyone had a treasury at Delphi.) Above this sweeping vision is the gymnasium.
This is holy land, and the ancients made it more so with their sacred architecture.
This is in fact where the Oracle of Delphi, or the Pythia, gave prophesies from the divine. Nowadays it’s believed that the high priestess’s oracles were gibberish induced by vapors emanating from a chasm below her tripod. Some even say that the priests translated the gibberish into false prophesies for political gain.
I believe it could have eventually come to that. But soaking up the heart of the place, I could feel that the oracles began as poetic trance-connections with the divine. I suspect that even their translations began as authentic.
I was wearing a thin white cotton shirt, a thin light-colored skirt, and sandals, and I was sweating bullets as I basically did interval cardio up the slope, stopping from time to time to absorb the atmosphere. I found it staggering that other people were wearing long-sleeved black shirts and tight jeans and socks with tennis shoes as they climbed up—and they didn’t seem to feel the heat or break a sweat.
One thing that people did do, though, really impressed me. See the pert buttocks on this sarcophagus? (Look left)
A group was walking by this sarcophagus and a lady said, “Nice ass.”
A gentleman said, “Thank you.”
Oh, those magnificent days of delight and discovery.
There’s nothing like good, hot, dry weather and a landscape like this.
A short walk from the ruins, the village was built around 1891. It had been called Kastri in its previous incarnation, when it occupied the site of the ruins. French archeologists relocated it to its current locale at the end of the 19th century, a move that allowed them to excavate the sanctuary.
I stayed at the Kastalia Boutique Hotel, which I highly recommend to anyone journeying to Dephi. It is the embodiment of Greek hospitality. When I arrived, the owner said:
“Ask me anything you please, and your wish will be granted.”
And she meant it. Cheaply, I had chosen a street-facing room, and naturally it was a little loud. I didn’t sleep well my first night, so the next day I asked to switch rooms. It was no problem at all, and the owner even went so far as to not charge me the higher price for a room with a breathtaking view of the valley.
I wasn’t in my room often, but when I was, I revered the date palms and the quiet outside my window. The owner also gave me clear instructions on how to get to the ruins, and how to ensure blessings from Athena.
Here’s what the village looks like above the Kastalia. Years before I came here, I’d had strange dreams of riding a motorcycle down a street like this.
In real life, a little further up this street, I had a magnificent Greek salad and souvlaki. What I love about Greek food is that, everywhere I ate throughout nearly a month in the country, it was always fresh and never pompous.
This has particular significance now in December, with Persephone hanging out in Hades for the winter.
Remember the myth of Persephone and Demeter?
Persephone was off limits to the menfolk as far as her mother, Demeter, goddess of the harvest, was concerned. But all the gods wanted Persephone because she was a hot young slice who embodied beauty and fertility.
So Hades, god of the underworld, abducted Persephone and dragged her to his realm.
Demeter was so distraught that she forbade the earth to fruit, and winter came.
Eventually she got wind of Persephone’s whereabouts, and Zeus made Hades return Persephone to the earth, marking the season of spring and the rebirth of life.
But Persephone had tasted the fruit of the underworld in the form of pomegranate seeds, so she was fated to return to Hades every winter.
I longed to pick a pomegranate, but they weren’t mine to pick, so I headed back to my room for a nap.
He knew how much I loved their hummus, their salads, their wine, their view.
When I was done with dinner, he said to me, “What is your little name?”
“My what?” I said. (I’m crass.)
“Your little name.”
“‘My little name? Erin.”
“Erin, do you like chocolate cake?” he asked.
“I do,” I said, even though I’ve been gluten-free for 17 years.
He said, “Erin, because I like you, I will bring you chocolate cake.”
I had missed Athena because she’s a bit further from Apollo than I’d thought. In ancient times, she was actually the gateway to the main sanctuary, about half a mile east.
The owner at the Kastalia had told me that for millennia it’s been customary to first make a stop at the Castalian Spring.
In ancient times, travelers purified themselves here, taking rest on benches that lined a beautiful fountain house carved into the rock. The priestess and the priests also used to bathe here in preparation for divination.
Nowadays, you’re supposed to cleanse your feet under the modern fountain next to the ruins of the old bath. The water is said to be high in minerals and deeply healing, so I soaked my toes and filled my bottle up. From time to time, locals stopped by to fill 5-gallon jugs.
As you can see, the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia is magnificent. There was a tour group wrapping up when I got there, and then I had the place to myself. I asked Athena for healing, and my trip to Greece only got better from there.
was a peaceful moment while I was waiting for the bus back to Athens. There was a lusty breeze blowing between what I believe are chestnut trees, enormous and ancient, soaring above wrought-iron balconies with painted wooden shutters.
It was then that I noticed a restaurant sign that had the most wonderful typo I’ve ever seen. It said lamp chops. I’m an editor as well as a writer, so you might think I’m a spelling snob. But this filled me with as much happiness as drinking an Alfa under the hot Grecian sun.
When we arrived in Athens, I grabbed a taxi and was off to the ferry port. But that’s another story for when it’s 28 degrees Fahrenheit.
Have you been to Delphi? Or are you headed there? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
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