Delphi and Galaxidi

Today, I drove from my hotel in Galaxidi to Delphi to view the archaeological wonders there. I had enough time when I came back to wander around and sit in Galaxidi for a while again late this afternoon.

Delphi

Delphi, and its archaeological site and museum, is an almost 40-minute drive from Galaxidi. The last part involves some twisting and turning, sometimes sharply, to get more than halfway up a mountain. Locals probably do the drive faster than I did.

Archaeological Site

The ruins at the Delphi Archaeological Site sit at various levels farther up the mountain. Getting from the entrance to the ruin at the highest elevation of the site, a stadium, requires a fair climb on foot. Or it might be a foul climb if you are in rough physical shape. I’ll leave it to an umpire to make the fair or foul call.

(I know next to nothing about sports. All sports. If someone told me I got the non sequitur, tenuous fair/foul reference to fair and foul balls in baseball wrong, or that it’s not even baseball, I’ll believe them.)

Centre of the World

Omphalos of Delphi
Omphalos of Delphi

In ancient times, people in these parts thought Delphi was the centre of the world. Of course, today, with our knowledge of the near-spherical shape of Earth, the possibility of global travel, and having pictures of Earth from space, we can rightly scoff at the thought that a spot on the surface of Earth could be the center of the world. The only place on the surface of the Earth that can claim to be even approximately at the centre of anything larger than its community, city, province or state, or, at the very most, country is Toronto. As everyone knows, Toronto is the centre of the known and unknown universe.

But, enough about that. It’s a settled argument.

Well, maybe not enough about that. One of the relics relatively in situ and intact at the archaeological site is an ancient omphalos of Delphi. According to the sign in front of the omphalos, this conical stone is identified with the stone Zeus threw from the heavens to mark the centre of the world. Zeus determined this point by sending two golden eagles in different directions. Zeus marked the point where they met as the world’s centre.

Strange, that. Zeus was a god. The god of gods, if you will. Why did he need eagles to help him find the center of the world? Couldn’t he do that without their help? And why did he, a god, get it so wrong even with their help? Then again, the Abrahamic god thought the sun revolved around the Earth. I guess all gods are allowed a big mistake or two.

It can’t be easy being a god. The expectations of believers are so high.

Other Archaeolgical Finds

The treasury building
The treasury building

The most intact building at the Delphi Archaeological Site is the Treasury. Athenian citizens dedicated this not very big, relatively cubic building to Apollo Pythios. Archaeologists believe it served as a treasury for the riches that Athenians offered to Apollo.

Interpretations of ancient inscriptions by whomever reads and interpret those things indicate that later, in the second and third centuries AD, pawnbrokers used the building as their offices. Huh. There’s a temple to the god Apollo at the Delphi site, but the building that best survived was a pawnbrokers’ office after having been a treasury of riches offered to Apollo. The old gods get no respect, I tell you.

Ruins of the Temple of Apollo
Ruins of the Temple of Apollo

I said the treasury is the best surviving “building.” The use of “building,” rather than “structure,” was intentional. The site also includes an amphitheater (semicircular rather than fully circular) with largely intact stone benches. And, as mentioned above, there is also a stadium. It has a large grass field and largely intact stone stands behind it.

The remainder of the buildings and structures, including The Temple of Apollo and the Roman Agora (forum), are mere shadows of their former selves. A few, but only a few, columns and other architectural elements remain standing. The ruins are, nevertheless, deeply evocative of the antiquity of which they’re a part. Or rather, perhaps for us non-archaeologists (I assume you, dear reader, are not an archaeologist either), they are even more evocative of antiquity for not surviving whole.

The theatre
The theatre
The stadium
The stadium

Signage

In front of many of the archaeological elements sit small, flat-faced rocks with engravings on them. The engravings say in three languages, Greek, French and English, “DO NOT TOUCH PLEASE.” At least I know that’s what it says in English. And I know enough French to know that’s the English translation of the French line of the sign. But, for all I know, the Greek line might say, “Please laugh at the gawking tourists. They are incredibly stupid.” Although, the line of Greek looked too short for all that. Maybe the sign shortens it to just “please laugh at the stupid tourists.”

I don’t know why they need the do-not-touch signs at all. Doesn’t everyone know that none of the thousands upon thousands of tourists who visit should touch the ancient ruins with their sweaty, oily fingers? I mean, really. Delphi is a very important archaeological site. Heck, it is so significant that UNESCO designated it one of only I don’t know how many million World Heritage Sites. Many, many centuries ago—more than a couple of millennia ago for some of the structures—untold numbers of people worshipped at the religious sites, competed in the stadium, performed in the theatre, traded in the forum, and I don’t know what else. Who knows what germs existed back then for which humans lost immunity over the years? Therefore, for health reasons, don’t touch stuff they touched.

(When I say claptrap like that on the worldwide web, I always worry that someone will stumble on it and not realize I’m joking. Hence this parenthetical comment.)

The site also provides descriptive, historical narratives on signs in front of or beside the important ruins. (Many isolated archaeological relics scattered throughout the site aren’t labeled.) Unlike elsewhere I’ve been in Greece, these signs, like the do-not-touch signs, all provide French descriptions in addition to the Greek and English that are standard everywhere else I’ve been in Greece so far.

That triggers a thought for me. I heard a lot of French spoken at the Delphi archaeological site, museum, and town, as well as on the streets of Galaxidi. The restaurant I ate at in Galaxidi tonight offered the choice of Greek, English and French language menus. I haven’t seen that elsewhere in Greece so far.

I know correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation. But if causation is at play here, did the French tourists (I assume they are tourists) cause the French on signs in this region or did the French on signs draw the French tourists?

Time wasted pondering worthless questions like that keep me from doing more useful things in my life. But somebody has to do it.

Views to Die For

A view from the Delphi Archaeological Site
A view from the Delphi Archaeological Site

Being high up on a mountain, the Delphi Archaeological Site offers views to die for, particularly if you accidentally slip over the edge of a high cliff. Don’t do that.

The deep valley as seen from the site appears verdant. And from the stadium, I got a somewhat closer view of the grey and orange bare rock climbing the rest of the way to the summit of the mountain.


Aside: Why Delphi?

From the instant I thought of a trip to Greece, I resolutely decided to place Delphi near the top of the list of places to visit here. “Why,” you ask.

I’m glad you asked. I wanted to go to Delphi because I have questions. Lots of questions. I hoped the oracle of Delphi, aka Pythia, aka the high priestess of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi could answer them through her connections with Apollo, one of Zeus’s kids and a deity in his own right, Or, rather, I hoped the present-day’s incarnation of the long string of oracles of Delphi could do that.

“What kind of questions,” you enquire. You’re nosy, aren’t you? But, again, I’m glad you asked. It gives me an excuse to elucidate.

Consequential questions. Eternal questions. Even some existential questions. That’s what type of questions.

“But, specifically what questions,” you persist. Now you’re getting tiresome. But, okay.

Questions like:

  • What is the Darwinian (or theistic if you are of that mindset) explanation for all of the brutality—wars, murders, rapes, muggings, domestic violence, boxing, professional hockey fights, overly enthusiastic games of tag, and so on—in the world?
  • Why do so many people in the world endure much of their lives on the border of starvation, with some slipping over that border, while others couldn’t spend all of their wealth in a thousand lifetimes?
  • Why do telemarketers keep calling me a couple of times a day, and sometimes more, despite me never picking up their calls?
  • Is there an afterlife and if so will wine and bar snacks be provided for free or is it a cash bar?

My questions went unanswered. It seems the last oracle of Delphi retired a great many centuries ago. (Isn’t it always the way? There’s never a Grecian priestess around when you need one.) I don’t know why she retired. I think she moved to Silicon Valley to start a database company. It is possible I am wrong about that.

Not that she would have answered my questions even if she was still working. It’s my understanding that she gave prophesies, rather than answering questions of what’s what now. So, sigh, my questions would have remained unanswered even if she hadn’t taken down her shingle. Then again, I would have appreciated prophesies on stocks about to shoot up in price. She could have at least done that for me.


Lunch in Delphi

A view from the town of Delphi
A view from the town of Delphi

Delphi isn’t just an archaeological site. About a 10 minute walk away is the small, almost quaint, much more modern town of Delphi. Like the archaeological site, the town hugs the mountain.

After visiting the archaeological site and before visiting its nextdoor museum, I walked into town for lunch.

The buildings in town are uninspiring. Although, just as I got into town I saw what would probably be a fantastic hotel if it underwent renovations. It stands right on the side of the mountain. Rooms on the valley side of the hotel have balconies with what must be spectacular views. However, it was closed when I walked by. And i don’t just mean closed for the season. I mean closed, period. Some of its windows were smashed and the rooms behind the windows were empty of all furnishings.

Those amazing views are also visible from a number of points in town. 

On the street between the town and the archaeological site, on the part closest in town to the archaeological site, small stores and restaurants line the street. I assume they are designed to siphon euros out of the pockets and off the credit cards of tourists. I had lunch at a restaurant on the street above that one.

The restaurant I ate at has a patio with an amazing view of the valley, including a bit of a body of water that is a bay off one gulf or another. Unfortunately, all of the tables on the patio were taken. I ate inside. But picture windows gave me some of the view.

I’ve had a lot of seafood on this trip and Delphi is a little inland. So I decided to order a lamb dish. Lamb is the primary meat in Greek cuisine, isn’t it? Let’s just say that lunch wasn’t the high point of my trip.

One expects a little fat on lamb. I seem to recall hearing somewhere that it’s necessary to leave some fat on to keep in the flavour. However, my lamb was about eighty percent fat, ten percent bone, and only ten percent edible meat. Although, the edible portion being small wasn’t all that disappointing because the taste wasn’t great.

Oh, well. The meal was quite reasonably priced. The bit of a view I had was beautiful. After the meal, the server brought a nice piece of baklava that comes with every meal. And, most importantly, there will be more lunches on this trip.

Delphi Archaeological Museum

The twins, Cleobis and Bison
The twins, Cleobis and Bison

The Delphi Archaeological Museum is the right size for me. Not so small that I think it was not worth the effort of going there. And not so large that my eyes glaze over before leaving.

Inside, there are displays of relics large and small, mostly Delphic I think, donated by archaeological sites. The exhibits include two larger than life marble sculptures of twins, Cleobis and Biton from Argos. Those sculptures date from circa 610 BC.

The museum also displays a large sculpture of a sphinx, circa 580 BC.

A sphinx sculpture
A sphinx sculpture

The other items exhibited aren’t as large. They include, among other things I’ve forgotten, architectural elements, decorative items, more sculptures, and figurines. I don’t think any of the figurines were Cycladic.

According to a sign in the museum, at least one of the pieces in the museum (I’ve already forgotten what it was) survived in comparatively good condition not despite the earthquake in 373 BC that severely damaged or destroyed many of the buildings standing in Delphi at the time, but because of it. The earth and debris thrown on the relic by the earthquake buried it. Consequently, it was not found and stolen by plunderers, as happened to many other relics. Instead, it waited patiently for archaeologists to dig it up.

Galaxidi Again

A handsome church on a hill
A handsome church on a hill

After coming back from Delphi, I had some time to wander around Galaxidi again and sit on one of the benches by the cove, staring at the cove, the gulf beyond that, and mountains on the Peloponnese peninsula beyond that. Not surprisingly, the town was as charming today as it was yesterday. Towns rarely lose their charm within twenty-four hours.

Mountains surround Galaxidi on the three sides away from the water. But most of the hills in town are fairly low, with gentle slopes. There is one hill near the centre of town that is slightly taller and slightly steeper than the others. I hope I didn’t insult it by calling it a hill rather than a mountain, but it doesn’t come close to the height or steepness required for a mountain designation. Not even a fraction of close. If pointing out that fact hurts the hill’s feelings, I’m sorry. But we must face reality, anti-vaxxers notwithstanding.

A view of a part of Galaxidi from atop the hill
A view of a part of Galaxidi from atop the hill

I walked up that gentle, if self-conscious hill today. Homes cover most of it. At the top there’s a handsome church. Handsome from the outside, that is. It was closed so I don’t know what it looks like inside.

Near the top, there’s also a small, barren-but-for-a-statue park. From it, I looked down and, through a gap created by a small street, saw a section of the town below. If I were a better photographer, the accompanying picture of it would give you a better feel for the charm of the town. Unfortunately, you’ll have to make do with what’s here.

More Cats

Yesterday, I forgot to mention that, like in Hydra, a lot of cats roam the Monastery of Osios Loukas and here in Galaxidi. Today, I can add that they also hang out at the Delphi Archaeological Site, in front of the museum, and in the town of Delphi.

Again like in Hydra, they mostly walk or sit solo. However, I saw my first clowder of cats yesterday. It was a fairly large one. The clowder was on the road I needed to drive along to get to my hotel. When I arrived near the clowder, a woman was already trying to herd them across the street. I don’t think she had any affiliation with the cats. When she got them out of my path, she waved me through to let me know that I wouldn’t hit any if I proceeded. At least, I think that’s what she tried to indicate. It occurred to me afterward that maybe she wanted some roadkill to happen. There were a lot of cats.

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