Island of Delos in Ancient Greece

  The island of Delos in Ancient Greece is the centre of the Cyclades group of islands and it is one of the most important mythological, historical and archaeological sites in Greece. Dicover all Greece throught that stunning

Where is Delos ? How to go to Delos ? Where to sleep at Delos ?



My experience on Delos island : I first discovered Delos 10 years ago. My family and I get there with morning ferry from Mykonos island (voyage duration: 30 mns). Actually, we stayed in Mykonos in Agios Ioannis village in Casa del Mar Mykonos Seaside Resort and we discovered Delos island in just one day as Delos island is quite small (3,5 km2) and not far away from where we were staying. But of course, you can stay there much longer (accomodation in rent houses) as it’s a wonderful island with its nice village and beaches and crystalline waters…

Everywhere your eyes go, you will see ancient sites and actually I went there to see Greek island Delos history and the places I visited are the following :

Let’s talk first of all about the mythology…. Leto who represented motherhood in ancient Greece. Because of her relationship with Zeus, jealous Hera cursed Leto not to find any stable place on Earth to have her children. That is how Delos emerged, which was believed to be a floating island. Leto gave birth to Artemis and Apollo there and since then Delos became the sacred place of god Apollo. Between 900 BC and AD 100, sacred Delos was already major cult centre. Acquiring Panhellenic religious significance by the Ionians.

 Heraion (temple of Hera) near Kythnos hill. Adoration site (5th cent BC)

Ancient Delos town had narrow streets, stairs… not appropriate to animals and coaches


Temples on Apollo’s sacred area in Delos which are not exisiting anymore

ΑΙ  - First temple of Apollon (530-510 BC.).
ΑΙΙ – Second temple of Apollon (5th-4th cent BC).
ΑΙΙΙ – Third temple of Apollon, also called temple of the Athinaion (425-417 BC).
Γ – Myceanean geometric temple probably
Ν – House of Naxion (1st quarter 6th cent. BC).
Β – Apollon of Naxion (600 BC)
Π – Entrance

  Second temple of Apollon (5th-4th cent BC). 19th-century pen-and-wash restoration. Dorian order temple.

and then about Delos island history ….Thucydides and archaeological excavations identify the original inhabitants as Carians (very ancient pirates from Asia Minor). More glorious period on the island started with Mycenaeans (1400-1200 BC) and Ionians, according to Homer (Odyssey). The Ionian strong and powerful Naxos in the 7th BC and then Paros island brang many offerings to Delos temples. The Delia festivals and games were celebrated every 4 year :  The members of the amphictyony were assembled on these occasions in Delos, in long garments, with their wives and children, to worship the god with gymnastic and musical contests, choruses, and dances.


Delos lions (original lions are in museum)        Ruins at Delos port : Free Roman Commerce area 167 AC

The Terrace of the Lions were dedicated to Apollo by the people of Naxos island (9 till probably 16 squatting, snarling marble guardian lions along the Sacred Way (There is a Greek sphinx in the Delos Museum.) Today only seven of the original lions remain.

Athenian tyrant Pisistratus purifications : Athens always considered that Delos was its property and Under instruction from a Oracle from Delphi sanctuary, Pisitratus tried to render the island fit for the proper worship of the gods : Apollon hates death and there is no place for Delian graves. He ordered that all graves within sight of the temple be dug up and the bodies moved to another nearby island. Athenian influence stopped with Pisistratus death and with the Persians Wars (war against Persian imminent occupation).

The Delian League : However, after the successful Persian Wars, the island became the natural meeting point for the Delian League created in 478 BC. It was the first Greek 150 cities association under the leadership of Athens whose purpose was to continue fighting the Persians. Congresses were taking place in the temple and greek cities treasury, money and ships stood in Delos till 454 BC, year of cities conflicts and Athens Hegemony. Enemy of Athens, the celebration of this ancient panegyris or festvals in Delos stopped, and it was not about to revive given that Athens ordered that no one should be allowed to either die or give birth on the island and expiated Delos island, removing all the contents of their graves to Rheneia small island.  But after this purification, the first quinquennial festival of the Delian games were about to be celebrated.

Macedonian and Roman occupancy : With the Macedonian domination in Greece, in 314 BC, Demetrius I Poliorcetes (king of Macedonia), son of Antigonus I Monophthalmus ans satrat or Alexander the Great let Delos free city and independant till 166 AC. In this way, Delos island could flourish : commerce with 4 harbours (750.000 tons of goods, grains, wine etc) brought wealth to the whole island. The Greek philosopher and historian Strabo states that in 166 BC, the Romans recently arrived converted Delos into a miserable free port with slaves trade. Religious greek temple had disappeared… Athens having Delos temple area deported the rest of the Delian people to Peloponnese.


Columns from slaves (Competaliasts) trade center  Marble building in the Agora of the Competaliasts                                                                                             dedicated to Hermes, the god of commerce.


House called « House of the Dolphins » where you can see God Eros on 2 dolphins

 Theatre of Delos (280 BC). Stage building with colonnades on all sides, may have had 3 stories. Lower section of seats had 26 rows, upper section 17.


The House of Dionysus’ is a luxurious 2nd century private house with floor mosaic of Dionysus riding a panther on the left. On the right, photo of the giant penis from House of Dionysos dedicated by Karystios, inhabitant of Delos who won 1st time at Theatrical games


Mithriates VI, king of Pontus (black sea) enemy of Rome attacked in 88 BC Delos . He killed some 20,000 of the resident Romans, Italians etc. Another devastating attack was by pirates in 69 BC. Before the end of the 1st century BC, the island was all destructed and trade routes changed. The glorious religious area of Delos knew sharp decline from then on and forever

 Agora of the Italians (1st cent AD) The Agora was built by Roman and other Italian merchants who used it for conducting business.

It the end for Delos : After the 2nd century AC, Athens let Delos, having conquered new harbours in the Mediterranean sea. They even thought of saling the island. Christianism maintained the island empty. In 727, Lei III the Isaurian, Byzantine emperor destroyed the island and then the Slaves and the Saracen coming from Crete did the same. Delos passed in the hands of Venetians, of the Knights of St John of Malta in 1329 and of Ottomans turks in the 16th century AC

 Temple of Isis (not Greek Godness) from people of Orient

Sunray in Delos : Since 1872, the French School of Athens has been excavating the island, the complex of buildings and In 1990, UNESCO inscribed Delos on the World Heritage List, citing it as the « exceptionally extensive and rich » archaeological site which « conveys the image of a great cosmopolitan Mediterranean port » I recommend you to see Delos lovely museum



Magistrate of Delos and his wife Cleopatra 138 AC     Ruins of Lake’s house with mosaic on patio


The island had no productive capacity for food and water was exploited with big cistern and remarkeable aquaduc system.


Photos of Delos museum. Absolutely amazing !

For more information about Delos island history and places to visit, I recommend you to buy the 120 pages « Delos A complete guide » created 2 years ago by Nikolaos Vrisimtzis. This book exists in Kindle Edition : if you have the e-book reader Kindle, it will be quite practical.

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