DELPHI............the Navel of The World.
It wasn't yet winter. But there was a definite nip in the air. Driving up from the merry little town of Arachova situated at an altitude of 1100 mts., in the heart of the looming mountains of the Parnassos range, we could see the splendid vales and folds of the mountain covered with fir, olive and other alpine vegetation, the straggly peaks poking into veils of clouds . (The summit is 2500mts. high. )
The Parnassos, ( 180 Kms. from Athens) is the most beautiful mountain range in Central Greece with a cool climate year round. The limestone mountains have enjoyed popularity since time immemorial thanks to its place in the Cult of Apollo ; in modern times ,its a much sought after National Park with two Ski Centres.
Our destination was DELPHI. The principal sanctuary of Apollo.
Tucked midway into the southern slopes just under two cliffs named the Phaedriadhes ( "The Glowing Ones "), Delphi sits in a dramatic and artistic setting.
The first intimation of the ancient holy site came from the sighting of three majestic marble pillars of Doric design, standing in an apparently inaccessible ledge beyond the road. The Tholos of Athena Pronoia, ruins of a temple built in 4th. Cent. BC.
About 2 kms. further, we arrived at The Sanctuary of Apollo , the very place where the Oracles of Delphi , delivered by the Pythian Priestesses, read omens and forecast the fate for the warlords of Classical Greece.
The various structures of the ancient city , scattered across many natural ledges and plateaus, have to be accessed by foot only. We started from the Roman Agora, fully ruined, and walked along the Sacred Way. It was a pleasant enough walk as there were many boulders to sit upon and contemplate the vista or admire the walls and coloumns of various "Treasuries" scattered along the Way. It must have been an impressive avenue once, but now all the statues and ornamental friezes have been removed to the safety of a museum.
At The Temple of Ap0llo , all we could see was the plinth and a few remnants of wall and pillar. But we learnt the mythology associated with this temple.
The Mighty Zeus once wished to know which point was the Centre of The World. So he set two eagles from Mt. Olympus, in two opposite direction. The point where the eagles met was marked by him with a stone called The Ompholos ( "the Navel ") and he declared that place - Delphi - as the most sacred on earth.
Later, Apollo arrived here, defeated the Snake God Pythos in an episode very much like the Kaaliyamardana legend of Krishna, and established his Sanctuary as he found the Castalian Springs ( 3 kms away) to be Magical and Holy. His priestesses were named Pythian in honour of Pythos, who was the son of Mother Earth.
The Oracles of Delphi were the most famous and trusted of all oracles in the ancient world. Wonderfully elaborate and dazzling rituals were attached to this cult. Standing by the ruined alter, i could not help wondering if some beautiful priestess of yore, purified by the water of the Castalian Spring and 'enlightened' by the juice of holy Laurel leaves and the fumes of burnt offerings, had ever foreseen that the mighty Temple of Delphi would be reduced to such a rubble one day or that busloads of visitors would pour in , not only from Greece and Rome, but from countries far far away, to ogle in wonder, trample all over the Sanctum and click away with glee at this holiest of holy places !
Just above the temple is the Theatre, the best preserved in Greece. It is said that 5000 people sat there to enjoy the magnificent works of famous Greek playwrights. We too sat on those steps and enjoyed the wonderful panoramic view spreading in layer upon enchanting layer, up to the horizon.
A short walk up through the pines took us to the huge Stadium where the Pythian Games, rivalling the Olympian games, used to be held. Seating capacity : 7000 !
Winding down from the stadium, we headed for The Museum. We passed some very interesting walls and paved courtyards, composed of polygonal stone slabs. And some decorated pillar heads. And some boulders covered with amazingly bright purple flowers. My shutterbug son clicked away like a machine gun !
The Museum is where the magnificence of Delphi really hits one. All the marble sculptures, bronze artefacts and inscriptions found during excavation are kept here safely. We did some mental photoshop job, trying to superimpose those exquisite things onto the ruins we had just seen ; imagining ourselves in the kind of clothing the statues wore and dreaming of classical Greece !......Actually it was not very hard for me to dream of myself as an old Grecian, because, as we and some other visitors discovered ( and remarked in surprise), the sartorial fashion of the statues were the same as what i was wearing : Saree ! Only, they called it a Toga !
The most famous, most popular with photographers and the most admired exhibit is undoubtedly The Bronze Charioteer. All the fame and hoopla is well deserved. His eyes ! So alive ! the light of life continuing to glow through the centuries, taking in gods and priestesses, emperors and excavators, ancient philosophers and modern tourists in a serene, all knowing gaze.
As we walked towards our car, the firs were rustling in a whizzing early evening breeze. I looked up at the Sanctuary and thought i heard some faint , sighing sing-song coming from the alters. Did I hear the Oracles of Delphi ?
Of course, it was just the sound visitors made, bouncing off the cliffs and walls ! But there's no ban on fantasy !!!