8 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions on Delos
Delos, a barren, rocky island five kilometers long and only 1300 meters wide, lies 10 kilometers southwest of Mykonos. Although it is one of the smallest of the islands in this chain, Delos, as the birthplace of Apollo (the god of light, harmony, and balance) 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) around the sacred island. From the ninth century BC onwards, Hellenes from all over the Greek world would make pilgrimages to Delos to pay tribute to Apollo. Then, when Delos was declared a free port in 167 BC, it became one of the main trading centers on the Eastern Mediterranean. A town developed around the sanctuary, with wealthy merchants, bankers, and shipowners from afar building luxurious houses decorated with statues, frescoes, and mosaic floors. By 90 BC, an estimated 30,000 inhabitants lived on Delos. The extensive area of remains (still under excavation) is one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and can be visited by excursion boat (journey time 30 minutes) from Mykonos.
1 Terrace of the Lions
Overlooking the Sacred Lake, the Terrace of the Lions (also known as the Avenue of the Lions) is probably the most-photographed tourist attraction in Delos. It is home to a row of magnificent white marble lions - originally there were nine, but only five remain (in fact even these are replicas, the originals being on show in the Delos Museum). One of the missing lions now overlooks the Arsenal in Venice, Italy, having been removed from Delos in the 17th century. The lions, which are in a crouching position and seem to be guarding the lake, date from the seventh century BC and were a gift to Apollo from the people of the island of Naxos.
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2 Sacred Precinct
The Sacred Precinct was approached from the south by a broad paved path, running between two Doric stoas, to arrive at the second-century-BC Propylaia, the main gateway into the sanctuary. From here, you reach three parallel temples of Apollo, and opposite them, in the center of the precinct, the Keraton, an Ionic temple surrounded by columns built on granite foundations. The Keraton, which was dedicated to Apollo and contained a famous altar with rams' horns set round it, was probably built on the site of an earlier temple from the seventh century BC.
3 Hall of the Bulls (Monument of the Bulls)
The Hall of the Bulls dates to the Hellenistic period (fourth century BC), and was probably designed to house a trireme (long, narrow ancient ship) to celebrate victory after an important naval battle. It measures approximately 67 meters by nine meters and stood on a granite platform approached by three marble steps, which are still partly preserved. The interior is a long gallery with a cavity in the center, forming a half-a-meter-deep basin. It takes its name from the bulls' heads carved into the capitals of the interior columns.
4 Sacred Lake
Swans once swam in the oval Sacred Lake, which has remained empty since 1925 when it was drained due to an outbreak of malaria. It was here, on the shores of the lake, that Leto was believed to have given birth to Apollo, under a palm tree. The lake, which is overlooked by the Terrace of the Lions, marks the end of the Sacred Precinct.
5 Archaeological Museum
The archaeological museum displays an impressive collection of finds from the site, although some of the finest items found here are now in the National Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens. In the two central rooms are works of Archaic art, including a marble tripod base with a ram's head and Gorgons (seventh century BC), a sphinx, several kouroi and korai (sixth century BC), a massive marble hand of the Naxian Apollo, and three seated figures of women (seventh century BC). Other notable exhibits include decorative fragments from the Temple of the Athenians and votive offerings from the Temple of Artemis. There is a small café-restaurant next to the museum.
6 Temple of Isis
South of the archaeological museum, a 10-minute walk along a new path leads to the restored Temple of Isis, built on a small hill. A Doric Temple dating from the second century BC, it houses the lower half of a statue (from the waist down) of the goddess Isis. Originally an Ancient Egyptian goddess representing the ideal mother and wife, Isis was later worshiped by both the Greeks and Romans. In front of the temple stands an altar to the goddess.
7 Theatre Quarter and the House of Dionysus
Lying between Mt. Kynthos and the commercial harbor, the so-called Theatre Quarter dates from the third to the second century BC. The narrow, winding streets are paved with slate slabs. The houses, many of which stand four to five meters high, had at least one upper story. Particularly notable is the House of the Trident, which probably belonged to a shipowner or merchant and centers on a courtyard with a fine mosaic floor depicting a dolphin swimming around an anchor. On the southeast side of the quarter is the theater - a Greek-style auditorium with 26 rows of seats, which could accommodate 5,500 spectators. It was originally made of marble but is now partly ruined and overgrown with weeds.
Also in the Theatre Quarter, the House of Dionysus is a fine example of a private dwelling from the second century BC. One of the larger houses, it was originally on two levels, and you can still see the remains of a stone staircase that would have led to an upper floor. The highlight here is the central courtyard, rimmed by elegant marble columns, with a mosaic floor depicting Dionysus riding a tiger.
8 Mt. Kynthos
It's well worth hiking to the rocky summit of Mt. Kynthos (113 meters) for panoramic views over the ruins. You follow an ancient path to the top, with stone steps in parts, which was once crowned by the third-century-BC Temple of Zeus and Athena. From here, you can see far and wide: to the south, the hills of Náxos; to the west, Syros with its chief town Ermoúpolis; to the north, the mountainous island of Tínos; and to the east, Mykonos with its numerous chapels. Note that it can be very windy at the top.