Thursday, 13 May 2010

Navel gazing

Written 13th May

We have found the belly button of the world. Its very centre. The point where the two eagles released by Zeus at the opposite ends of the universe met.

It's an outie, in case you are wondering.

Delphi sits in the foothills of Parnassus, overlooking the Gulf of Corinth. It is said that Apollo installed himself there, in the 9th century BC, after defeating the python which guarded the oracle of Ge (Earth), the deity worshipped there at the time. Apollo stablished his sanctuary there, and for more than 1000 years since, it was the home of the Delphic Oracle, the Prythian priestess, who, once a month would go in to a trance and spout words of wisdom direct from Apollo which were translated by the priests into riddles and rhymes for the queues of knowledge seekers who came from far and wide bringing their sacrifices, to find out what they should do in matters of trade, travel and war. In its heyday, the sacred way leading up to the temple of Apollo was lined with dedications, temples, treasuries and statues, erected by each of the major cities, powers and families throughout Greece and above the temple, the theatre and the stadium were used for the Pythian games and festival, which was held every four years to commemorate the victory of Apollo over the python.

We set of down there in the blazing midday sun - a mistake in terms of temperature but we were at least in there after the efficient Germans (including our Rotel friends) who get up early to avoid the heat, and the busloads of americans and french who start to arrive as it begins to cool down in the afternoon.

We also met Stefan from the hotel bus who enlightened us further about life on board. The cubby hole rooms are apparently only about 80cm by 80cm (!!) and there are no facilities on board as they stop at campsites overnight. He couldn't enthuse enough about the trip, he has been three times before on various trips - they apparently have a whole fleet across the world. Most people are in their 60's and 70's so older than him but they are usually interesting people (any 70 yr old who is up for travelling like that would be I should think!) and no single supplement! Just amazing.

Anyway. Back to matters in hand. There is the site and the museum to see at Delphi. We did museum first to try and avoid the worst of the heat, and as this is where most of the 'stuff' is (that which remains after centuries of abandonment, earthquake and pillaging). The actual site is largely square foundations of things which were once there, and is quite hard to decipher, even with the map, so if you go to the museum first, you do at least have some sense of what was there. And some of it is amazing.

From tiny intricate trinkets,

to massive statues like the twins of Argos,

the Naxian Sphinx,

the temple freizes (this one is apparently the Iliad, I know that one now!)

 extremely and surprisingly and detailed anatomically correct!)

and the famous charioteer,

to the mesotopes (i think that's what they were called anyway) which decorated the walls of the temples. These last depict some of the myths and legends but require a bit of a stretch of the imagination - I mean, how do you get from these few lumpsto the picture below and the story of Theseus and the Minotaur??

And although there isn't much left, the site is still pretty amazing, as a indication of the level of civilization which existed so long ago and had the ability and resources to dedicate such mammoth buildings to their gods.

Temple of Apollo



And this is more like the scorching, dusty, ruin-scattered country I was expecting!

On the otherside of the road, seemingly totally free, you can also visit the gymnasium

and the Temple of Athene, which is actually a much more interesting structure, being so much more complete.

All impressive stuff but, if I am totally honest, the structures are no where nears as impressive as the three nearly intact temples at Pasteum and the museum is not a patch on the one there. But you can't come all the way to the centre of the world and not see it!

Delphi town is nice enough, with views down into the valley, and a pretty church, and although you only need half a day for the site, it seems most people end up stopping one night, as it is so far away from the previous and next place on your itinerary. And all bar one, the cafes and bars are priced accordingly - ouch! - but we did have a nice comfy sofa on which to enjoy our rip off beer :)

We considered hiking up into the mountains and along a bit of the European Footpath 4 (apparently it runs from Greece to Spain!!) to somewhere temptingly called the Throne of Apollo, but we couldn't find any info on what it was or how far away it was so decided against and instead consulted the Delphi tourist oracle, who seemed to see Athens in our future. Well, can't argue with the oracle!

Finding a road to Athens which you don't have to pay for, even with two maps to hand, turned out to be harder than unravelling one of the oracle's famous prophesies. Not much fun.

By the time we got here, Jules was hot and bothered and stalling at every inconvenient moment. Will was hot and bothered and swearing at Jules. They are not friends right now! And I was hot and bothered and completely failing at any semblance of map reading which wasn't helping the other two as try as I might, I could not find a way round the edge so we ended up in the stinking traffic of the near centre. :(

But we are here. Stopped on a back road by a marina, by the tram into the centre - we are not doing that again! - with the sea on the other side of the wall, a cooling breeze and no sign of riots so far. And, randomly, some free wifi.

So all cooling and calming down and things are looking up...

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