Delos, a rocky island 5km/3mi long and only 1300 m/1420yd wide, lies 10km/6mi southwest of Mykonos. Although it is one of the smallest of the Cyclades, and the smallest of the group formed by Mykonos, Delos and Rinía, Delos, as the birthplace of Apollo, was a place of such importance in ancient times that the surrounding islands were known as the Cyclades since they lay in a circle (kyklos) round the sacred island. The extensive area of remains (excavated by French archeologists from 1873 onwards) is one of the most important archeological sites in Greece.
Delos is an island that appeals particularly to those who are interested in Greek antiquity; it has none of the usual tourist facilities.
According to myth, it was on Delos where Leto gave birth to Apollo and Artemis, attended by two maidens from the hyperborean regions of the north; and the history of the island was determined by its importance as a pan-Hellenic shrine.
The first settlers, in the third millennium B.C., were Phoenicians and Carians. In the first millennium, after the original inhabitants had been driven out by Ionians, the island became the center of the cult of Apollo. Here the Ionians held splendid annual games, the foundation of which was attributed to Theseus. In 543 B.C. Peisistratos carried out a "purification" (katharsis) of the island, with the removal of all tombs from the vicinity of the temples. Under a second purification in 426/425 B.C. births, deaths and burials were prohibited on Delos, and the existing tombs were transferred to the neighboring island of Rheneia (Rínia). When the Ionian League was founded after the Persian wars, its treasury was deposited in the temple of Apollo; but in 454 B.C. the Athenians carried it off to Athens, and thereafter Delos and the other islands remained dependants of Athens until the time of Alexander the Great. After breaking away from Athens, Delos developed a flourishing trade which made it the economic center of the archipelago, and foreign trading corporations like the Hermaists (Romans) and Poseidoniasts (Syrians from Berytos/Beirut) had agencies on the island. The Romans, who had established a protectorate over the island in 166 B.C., returned it to Athens. As a result - particularly after the destruction of Corinth - Delos enjoyed its greatest period of prosperity, which lasted until the devastation of the island by Mithridates in 88 B.C. initiated its decline. Complete destruction followed in 69 B.C., when the island was sacked by pirates. Thereafter Delos was practically uninhabited. When Pausanias visited it in the second century A.D. he saw only the custodians of the sanctuary. A fresh settlement was established in Christian times, but this did not last.