Deb and I have now been to two of the three most sacred sites in Greece. Not bad for two wandering travelers!!
I’m too lazy to type a long description of this amazing place, when there is so much info available online, so I’ve stolen everything below this line….
As the birthplace of Artemis and Apollo, the Greek island of Delos was a major sacred site for the ancient Greeks, second in importance only to Delphi. At its height, the sacred island was covered in a variety of temples and sanctuaries dedicated to a variety of gods. Today, it is a fascinating archaeological site located just two miles from Mykonos.
History of Delos
Remains of a settlement found on top of Mt. Kinthos show that Delos was inhabited since the 3rd millenium BC. It was a religious center and busy port from ancient times. Although a barren island with virtually no natural resources, its harbors are protected by the three islands that circle around it (the Cyclades) and it is conveniently located between the Greek mainland and the Asian coast.
According to Greek mythology, Delos was the birthplace of Artemis and Apollo, the twin offspring of Zeus by Leto. When Leto was discovered to be pregnant, Zeus’ jealous wife Hera banished her from the earth, but Poseidon took pity on her and provided Delos as a place for her to give birth in peace.
The Ionians colonized Delos around 1000 BC and made it their religious capital. The island was so sacred that, at one point, no one was allowed to be born or to die there – those about to do either were rushed off to the nearby islet of Rinia. A great festival, the Delia, was hosted here in honor of Apollo, Artemis and Leto, as described in Homeric Hymn 3.
By the 7th century, Delos was also the political capital of the Amphictionic League. The Athenians soon joined the league and assumed control, giving the Delians trouble on a regular basis until around 315 BC, when the Egyptians became the rulers of the Aegean Sea.
Delos was most prosperous in Late Hellenistic and Roman times, when it was declared a free port and became the financial and trading center of the Mediterranean. By 100 BC the island had a population of 30,000, which included foreigners from as far away as Rome, Syria, and Egypt. Each group built its own shrines and lived in relative harmony despite their differences. By Roman times, the island’s commercial role exceeded its previous religious importance.
But in 88 BC Mithridates, the king of Pontus, attack on the unfortified island as part of a revolt against Roman rule. The entire population of 20,000 was killed or sold into slavery, the sanctuary treasures were looted, and the city was razed to the ground. The Romans partially rebuilt the city, but revival was prevented by continous pirate raids.
A Roman legate built defensive walls around the city in 66 BC, but by then Delos was on its way out. It was gradually abandoned in the centuries that followed. In the 2nd century AD, Pausanius recorded that it was inhabited only by the temple guards.
Delos was never forgotten, however, which meant further destruction and looting by the successive rulers of the area – pirates, Knights of St. John, Venetians, Turks – as well as its neighbors Mykonos and Tinos. In the 17th century, Sir Kenelm Digby removed some marbles from Delos for the collection of Charles I.
Formal excavation work began in 1872 by the French School of Archaeology, which still continues today. The island is still uninhabited except for the French archaeologists and site guardians.