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Ancient Greece – Delos island – The Sanctuary of Apollo

Ancient Greece – Delos island – The Sanctuary of Apollo

The visitor takes just half an hour by boat from Mykonos to arrive at the same harbor that visitors used in ancient times, and on disembarking he immediately crosses the Agora of the Competaliasts, which is located directly in front of him. This is a large square, which housed one of the island’s markets. An association of Italians who worshiped Hermes (Hermaists) founded it in 166, but approximately 60 years later, circa 100, the Competaliasts, an association of Italian slaves and freedmen who celebrated annually the festivals of the Lares Compitales (Roman gods of the crossroads), appeared and used the same square for their activities. On its east and south sides there were a variety of shops, while most commercial trade took place out in the open. The holes in the flagstones are remaining evidence of the wooden pegs driven into the ground to support the awnings for those merchants without a permanent pitch. In the center of the square there are two monuments, a rectangular one that faces south that was dedicated to Hermes and his mother Maia, and a circular one with a conical marble roof, which faces north. On the north side of the square are the ruins of a small Ionic shrine to Hermes, in front of which there is a marble offertory box for the offerings of the devotees. Relief snakes guarded the treasure and traces of a bronze caduceus, the symbol of the god, can be seen on it. There were also several statues in the square, altars decorated with garlands and bullheads and a beautiful marble bench.

On turning left at the northeast side of the square, we follow an impressive paved wide road, which leads to the Propylaea of the sanctuary. On its west side, to the left of the visitor, once stood the Stoa of Philip (3), made of gray-blue marble with sixteen Doric columns, built around the year 210. On its architrave, which today can be seen lying on the ground, we can read the votive inscription of Philip V of Macedon: “KING OF THE MACEDONIANS, PHILIP, SON OF KING DEMETRIOS, TO APOLLO”. Later, roundabout the year 180, directly behind the Stoa of Philip and on the side facing the harbor, another stoa was added and both buildings acquired a common roof. This new stoa housed the port authorities, perhaps also the customs office, and certainly warehouses for the storage of timber and charcoal according to an inscription found there. On the east side of the street, and to the right of the visitor, there used to be another stoa conventionally known as the South Stoa, dating from the middle of the third century, probably founded by Attalus I, King of Pergamon. This stoa housed a number of shops, while a passage with steps through its center led to the Agora of the Delians. This agora (“market place”) was also called “Square Market” owing to its trapezoidal shape. There were two additional entrances on the south side and porticos on its south, east and north sides. The portico on the northeast side had a upper floor, which housed the Agoranomoi (“market inspectors”). Halfway along the north side there is a fine gray-blue marble bench with a dedication by the People of Delos. In the Imperial period Roman baths were installed in the middle of the agora, of which only the foundations remain today.

The large central walkway which led up to the sanctuary was lined with a great number of votive statues and also provided handsome marble benches for the pilgrims, of which the best preserved is to be found at the end of the way to the right. The Doric PropyIaea was the main entrance to the sanctuary of Apollo, and was built by the Athenians in the middle of the 2nd century, over an earlier propylon (“entrance gate”) of the fifth century. The gray-blue marble steps have been well worn by the innumerable feet which passed this way in the distant past. In front of the propylaea there is a replica of a Herm. This kind of monument, with a head of Hermes and a phallus below it found in abundance on Delos, was to protect against evil powers.

The building found after passing through the once imposing Propylaea immediately on the right is the oikos of the Naxians, a very interesting building of Naxian marble. It went through three different phases of construction and each time its entrance faced a different direction. What we see today is the third phase and must have been completed around the year 550, when an entrance porch of four Ionic columns was added in front of the east entrance. Inside there was a row of eight slender marble columns supporting the roof; they stood on cylindrical bases, which in turn rested on marble discs of approximately one meter in diameter. They must have reached a height of 4,5 meters. The thresholds, lintels and pilasters, floor, and roof were all of marble. It is the first building in the history of architecture with a roof built entirely of marble, a major achievement for that period which proves the talent of Naxian craftsmen. On its west entrance it had two columns in antis, while about halfway along the north side can be seen the marble threshold of the entrance of its first phase of construction (7th century). This was probably the first temple of Apollo, the one mentioned in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, but later, possibly in the fourth century, it was relegated to an oikos, in other words to a building which constituted part of the sanctuary, without being in itself a place of worship. In such places were stored the votive offerings to the deity and devotional assemblies and meals took place during religious rituals.

A few meters in front of the east entrance to the Oikos of the Naxians there is a building aligned along the north-south axis, which is conventionally named TempIe F. It dates back to the Geometric period and may have been the original temple of Apollo. Behind the south side of the House of the Naxians is a rectangular building now identified as the Workshops of the Theandridai. The Theandridai were one of the ancient clans of Delos. Finally, against the north wall of the Oikos of the Naxians is the huge rectangular marble base (5,15 x 3,47 x 0,82 m., and 32 tons in weight) of the colossal statue of Apollo, the renowned Colossus of the Naxians, the remains of which can be seen today in the area of the Artemision. On the east side of the base, there is the original dedicatory inscription in archaic letters: “I am of the same stone statue and pedestal”. Unfortunately the inscription is incomplete as the entire first line is missing and the phrase which remains is open to many interpretations, the most likely of which is that the statue and its base originated from the same seam of marble, of the same quarry. On the opposite side of the base is a dedication added at a later date: “The Naxians to Apollo”. The statue, which stood about four times bigger than life-size (6-7 meters) represented Apollo as a Kouros, in the characteristic posture of the Archaic period, naked, wearing a bronze belt and holding in one hand a bow and in the other an arrow, or a phiale (“recipient for libations”). It probably dates to the end of the seventh century as this type of kouros with a belt disappears at the end of that century. However, according to a more recent theory when, in the beginning of the 4th century, a storm brought down the nearby bronze PaIm Tree of Nikias, it fell onto the Colossus causing it considerable damage, and it was then either repaired as best they could and re-erected, or an exact as possible replica of the original was made to replace it. In the Middle Ages an attempt was made to take it away. It was sawn into smaller pieces and carried approximately eighty meters away from its base but the attempt was then abandoned, obviously due to its enormous weight.

To the north of the House of the Naxians there are the ruins of three later temples of Apollo, one parallel to the other and all unusually oriented to the west. Sadly all that remains today are their foundations. The first was the Great Temple of Apollo. It was a Doric, peripteral temple (i.e. it had a colonnade on all four sides), with six columns on each narrow side and thirteen on each long one, and its construction was inaugurated with funds of the Confederacy in 476. Work was halted when the Athenians transferred the treasury of the Confederacy to Athens but was resumed in the period of Delian independence, sometime after 314. Nevertheless, it seems that it was never wholly completed. The second was the Temple o f the Athenians, known also as “Temple of the Seven Statues”, which was built of Pentelic marble and had six Doric columns on each narrow side. At the far end of the cella there was a semicircular pedestal on which seven statues rested, one of which was of Apollo, the work of the sculptors Teuktaios and Angelion. The pediments had fine acroteria (“corner ornaments”) with scenes from mythology (Delos museum). The oldest temple was the third, the Porinos Naos (i.e. Poros temple), and it was here that the funds of the Delian Confederacy were kept up until 454 when the Athenians transferred the money to the Parthenon in Athens. This Ionic temple was built of porous stone on a granite base, with columns only across the west front and it most probably dates to the times of Peisistratos or a little later. In the hall of the island’s museum there is a fine marble Ionic capital that may have come from this temple. All three of the above temples faced west, and as none of them had its own altar, it is likely that they were oriented towards some other sacred place, perhaps the primitive cult site of the Horn Altar. In front of the middle temple there is the large PedestaI of PhiIetairos in blue marble; the monument was erected in honor of Philetairos and of other members of the dynasty of Pergamon, in the middle of the 3rd century. Next to this is another pedestal of white-pink marble, the frieze of which has rosettes and bullheads alternating with metopes. Directly beyond the three temples are the remains of five Treasuries, which are arranged in an arc to the north. The treasuries were small buildings, which belonged to various city-states and were used to safeguard precious votive offerings to the god. The first was the Oikos of Karystos, while the fourth was perhaps the Hestiatoreion of the Keans. However, their true use is not known and although they seem to form a group this does not necessarily mean that they served the same purpose. On passing the last treasury and proceeding south, one finds the Bouleuterion (i.e. the Parliament) and next to that a large building, the Prytaneion, which housed the council, in other words a body of councilors, which was renewed every month. The rooms of this building housed the city archives and also the dishes for the meals of the councilors, while another room served as the dining hall. Within the inner court of the Prytaneion there is a replica of a large Herm. Behind this building, to the east, there is an oblong building (69,40 x 10,40 m.) conventionally called the Monument of the Bulls. It is divided into three sections: an entrance hall on the south side, a long central gallery with a marble floor and the north room where a large trapezoidal granite base was found. The building once housed a trireme (“a ship having three banks of oars”), the votive offering of a monarch, probably Demetrios Poliorketes, for his naval victory at SalamisCyprus, in 306. However, the ship may have been an offering by Antigonus Gonatas, son of Demetrios Poliorketes, for his naval victory off the coast of Kos in about the year 250. This is, however, undoubtedly the Neorion mentioned in inscriptions. The building derives its name from the decoration with bullheads, which adorned the north room. Among the numerous decorative sculptures that have been found here are sea monsters, dolphins and Nymphs. To the southeast of this building there is an altar, perhaps dedicated to Zeus Polieus, and behind this there is the well-preserved granite wall, which marked the east boundary of the sanctuary.

We return now to the Propylaea and walk again along the Sacred Way northwards. On our left are the ruins of the Stoa of the Naxians, an L-shaped Ionic stoa, today in a poor state of preservation, which marked the southwest boundary of the sanctuary. Built at the end of the sixth century, on a base of granite, it had two wings at an almost right angle to each other, ten Ionic columns on the south wing and seventeen on the west one. Where the two wings met there is a round marble base on top of another one of granite with a cylindrical hole through the center of both, which once held in place the famous bronze PaIm Tree of Nikias. The Athenian general Nikias erected this palm tree in 417; his name can be read on the marble base. According to the historian Plutarch, when this huge monument was blown over in a storm, it knocked down the Colossus of the Naxians. Although the distance between the two monuments is just over twenty-five meters, it is quite likely that this is what in fact actually happened when the enormous canopy of branches of the tree, which must have weighed approximately half a ton, fell with great force onto the other statue. To the north of the base of the Palm Tree and at a distance of twenty-five meters from it there is the high marble pedestal of the votive statue of Antiochus III, King of Syria (223-187) as the inscription on its north side reads. Directly to the north again are the few fragmented remains of an apsidal monument, which some scholars associate with the mythical Horn AItar, which according to the myth was built by Apollo himself with the horns of the goats his sister Artemis had slain while hunting on Kynthos. It is quite possible that it was the altar common to the three aforementioned temples of Apollo, thus justifying their orientation towards the west, which was unusual in archaic Greek religious architecture. It was around this altar that Theseus danced the geranos (“the Crane-Dance”), to thank Apollo after slaying the Minotaur in Crete. This dance imitated the flight of the crane, called geranos in Greek, or according to others, it represented the twists and turns of the Cretan labyrinth. It was here also that sailors, on safely reaching Delos, would flagellate themselves in thanksgiving to the god for their salvation, in accordance with a most ancient custom the origin of which is unknown.

To the west of the Horn Altar are the ruins of a square building which some also associate with the Horn Altar, while others associate with the Pythion, the sanctuary of Apollo Pythios. To the east of this building there is an area known as the Sema, which some scholars associate with the tomb of two of the Hyperborean Maidens, Laodike and Hyperoche, two characters from the mythology linked with the worship of Apollo.

Right after the end of the west wing of the Stoa of the Naxians there are the ruins of two almost square buildings, the use of which is not known. They could have been the administrative buildings of the sanctuary. The northernmost one is known as the Monument o f the Hexagons; the exterior walls of its west, north and east sides were decorated with beautifully worked marble blocks (in situ) on which we see hexagons in relief, one next to the other, reminiscent of a honeycomb. Further north, where today we see three gray-blue restored Ionic columns, once stood the Artemision, the temple of Artemis. It was built during the period of Delian independence on the site of an earlier temple also dedicated to Artemis, which in turn was built on the ruins of a building from the Mycenaean period. Its entrance was east facing where there was a pronaos with six Ionic columns. Inside, one can discern the earlier phases of the building’s construction. A rich repository was found here, with gold and ivory objects that date back to the Mycenaean period (Delos Museum). On this site were found statues of Kores (Delos Museum), as well as the earliest (around 630) statue in an upright position, perhaps of Artemis, and which was a dedication by a certain Nikandra from Naxos (National Archaeological Museum). Directly in front of the three remaining columns of the Artemision stands the 2,3 meters high torso of the Colossus of the Naxians, and next to it the hips (1,25 m.). His hair fell down his back in lines of eight locks. Small holes on the body (back, neck, waist and hips) show that the statue was ornamented with bronze accessories, such as a belt and hair locks. Neither the head, although surviving up until at least 1675, nor the legs and arms have ever been found, whereas four toes of the left foot, together with a section of the plinth of the statue, have resided in the British Museum since 1818. The attempt which was made to separate the feet of the statue from its base resulted in the tatter’s fragmentation. During the Middle Ages some people tried to carry the statue away and managed to move it as far as its present position, but the attempt was obviously abandoned due to its extreme weight.

The northwest corner of the Sanctuary of Apollo is defined first by the Ekklesiasterion, a building used for the meetings of the General Assembly of the people of Delos, within which four fine marble benches can be seen, and second by another building with two square halls, one on either side of a court with twelve Doric columns. This last building had earlier been identified with the Thesmophorion, dedicated to the goddesses Demeter and Kore, but also with the Hestiatorion of the Keans. However, its true use remains unknown.

The north side of the sanctuary of Apollo is defined by the 120 m. long and 20 m. wide Stoa of Antigonus with a salient wing at either end. The King of Macedonia Antigonus Gonatas built it in the mid 3rd century, as stated in the incomplete dedicatory inscription on the architrave. It had 47 Doric columns of gray-blue marble along its facade and Ionic columns inside. Its frieze was decorated with relief marble bulls’ heads, many of which have survived and can be seen today lying on the ground. This stoa was dedicated to the god and served no commercial purpose. In front of its south side there were various monuments, one of which bore the statues of the ancestors of Antigonus. In front of the middle of the stoa is the Theke, the monument of the two other Hyperborean Maidens, Arge and Opis; it is a virtually circular enclosure, inside of which are the remains of a Mycenaean tomb. At the east end of the stoa stands the large statue (2,07 m. in height) of the Roman legate Gaius BiIIienus, restored on its pedestal. He is portrayed in military attire in the Hellenistic style; his left hand must have once held a sword, while his right probably held a spear. According to the inscription on the pedestal a certain Midas, son of Zenon, an ally of the Romans, dedicated the statue in about the year 100. Adjacent to the southeast corner of the stoa are three marble benches, between two of which there is the base of a statue. Directly to the right of them is the east entrance to the sanctuary. Further to the right we see the enceinte wall, which runs south, marking the boundary of the sanctuary to the east and which is reasonably well preserved.

Almost attached to the west wall of the stoa of Antigonos was a small rectangular building called the Graphe (the Paintings) due to the fact that inside it was decorated with large paintings.