Island of the Gods. Delos Greece
Greece is mostly inspired by mythology and I love it! It romanticizes history and adds a sense of wonderment to a traveler like me.
We get to the Delos harbour on this beautiful morning and settle down for a quick breakfast before departure.
Just about 20 minutes (by ferry) from Mykonos is a small island called Delos. We are dropped off and left to explore this 5km UNESCO Heritage Site.
It’s brown and barren. But look closely and it’s an open museum to the revival of the glory of Greek civilization.
Delos was considered birthplace of the god Apollo and so sacred that while humans could live there, no one could be born or die on its soil.
I found this article that describes Delos so beautifully. “It’s an ark of history, floating lazily on the waters of the Aegean Sea, just a few miles away from cosmopolitan Mykonos. It’s a chance to walk around the revival of the glory of the Greek civilization. It’s the head priest of the Cyclades, the birthplace of the immortals. It’s Delos.
Nowadays, Delos reserves its uniqueness to the know world: nowhere else in the Globe is there a natural insular archaeological site of this size and importance. No other island on Earth hosts so many monumental antiquities from the Archaic, the Classical, and the Hellenistic periods, i.e. the centuries of the great Greek art, on a territory used exclusively as an archaeological site. Delos is not a museum; Delos is not there to tell a story. Delos is history itself.”
It’s as if we have to whisper in case we disturb the sleeping gods. The island is a mass of ancient history, tales, and tourists. And I am trying to put down some of my experiences of today.
The mosaics of Delos are a significant part of ancient Greek mosaic art. Most of the 354 surviving mosaics from Delos date from the Hellenistic period and are considered to be the best preserved. While some mosaics have been unearthed from religious sanctuaries and public buildings, most of them were found in residential buildings and private homes. The composition of the mosaics include simple pebble constructions made of white marble, ceramic fragments, and pieces of tesserae tesserae.
The House of Dionysos
Dionysos was the god of wine and theatre in ancient Greek religion and myth.
The mosaics in the House of Dionysos depicts the god Dionysos as a winged spirit riding on a tiger. This mosaic dates from the late 2nd century BC and was used as an interior floor decoration made of small, flat, roughly square, pieces of stone or glass of different colours.
House of Cleopatra
This is not the Cleopatra. Here are two headless statues of the former owners of this villa, a rich Athenian couple called Cleopatra and Dioskourides, along with some Doric columns. They were erected in 138BC by Cleopatra after the death of her husband; French archaeologists chose to name the house after her, a decision probably to increase the number of visitors. There is no link or connection to Cleopatra VII, the famous Egyptian queen. Cleopatra is a Greek name meaning “glory of her father”.
Terrace of the Lions
The Terrace of the Lions, also dedicated to Apollo by the people of Naxos shortly before 600 BCE. It originally had nine to twelve squatting, snarling marble guardian lions along the Sacred Way. The lions create a monumental avenue like Egypt’s Avenue of the Sphinxes. Today only seven of the original lions remain.
House of the Dolphins
The House of Dolphins is named from its mosaics, where Erotes, a collective of winged gods associated with love and sexual intercourse in Greek mythology, ride dolphins. This is a large rosette with floral motifs decorating the center of the floor, surrounded by concentric decorated circles. The designs on the four corners of the floor meshes are of dolphin couples, ridden by Cupid with the symbols of Hermes (caduceus), Neptune (trident), Dionysus (thyrsus), while the symbol of the fourth Cupid is not distinct.
Maison de Trident
The House of the Trident was probably the home of a wealthy Syrian merchant or captain, because the decorative elements of the columns (the “protomes”), lions on the left and bulls on the right, were symbols of the Syrian gods Hadad and Atargatis.
Temple of Isis
The area between the Theatre’s Quarter and the top of Mt. Cynthus was regarded as a holy place and temples were erected there by the cosmopolitan population of Delos on the so-called Terrace of the Foreign Gods. Archaeologists have reconstructed the façade of a small temple to Isis.
I didn’t have time to make this climb but my cousin did. Mt. Cynthus lies behind the Theatre’s Quarter and today it is a barren rock; according to the Greek myth, Leto bore Apollo on this site between an olive-tree and a date-palm. A sacred cave near the top of the hill was probably where oracles were delivered and eventually the cave was dedicated to Hercules, who similar to Dionysus, was a rising star in the religious firmament in the Hellenistic period.
Four hours later, I have (almost) walked the length and breadth of this enchanting landscape. A landscape that is home to nobody yet a place where history was made. History is thus repeating itself: in a place of such importance, no person is ever born or dies.