Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Greece: Visit to Ancient Delos

When planning our trip to Greece we knew we wanted to see at least one archaeological site tied into Greek mythology. Lucky for us the island of Delos was an easy 1/2 hour ferry ride from Mykonos. We had never heard of Delos and were surprised to find it was a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most important sites of ancient Greece.

History of Delos (according to Dave): Back in ancient times Greece had a tourism problem. Everyone wanted to go to Athens to see the Parthenon or Delphi to see the impressive temples and Oracle, but hardly anyone was visiting the islands. One day some scholars were chatting at their version of Starbucks and realized the birthplace of Apollo, son of Zeus, wasn't mentioned anywhere in their lore. They told their friends in the tourist board and the government. In need of a new tourist attraction, the government revealed to the public that Apollo was born on Delos - an island that was originally held underwater by Poseidon using a big chain. He cut the chain so it would rise to the surface to give Apollo's mom a safe place to give birth. To make the story more plausible the government purified the island by removing all bodies, building a massive temple, and banning death on the island. This created much buzz and many people visited Delos from all over the world and then decided to live on the small island with no water supply or natural resources.

Eventually Delos became a major center of commerce. Many multi-storied homes with fancy frescos and mosaics were found. Shops lined the streets everywhere. Temples honoring all sorts of gods were built and free worship was allowed (provided that all citizens participated in the annual Apollo Festival). In the last of the BC centuries the island kept getting hit by pirates and Romans. Eventually the whole population was wiped out. Folks came to their senses and realized Delos was not a great place to live without all the urban amenities. The island remained uninhabited, which helped to preserve the ruins for the French archaeologists that started their excavation work in 1873. For more information check out Wikipedia.

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Our trip to Delos had some problems. We bought a tour package which meant once we arrived on the island we would have a guided tour. Our guide coordinator had to have been on her first day of the job based on how clueless she was. We disembarked the ferry at 10:30 and were told the boat leaves at 1:30. Our tour would be slightly delayed because they were very busy due to the cruise ship traffic that day. "Go to the museum and your guide will meet you there at 11:15". We trekked to the museum, which occupied us for about 15 minutes. Our guide eventually showed up at 11:45. Instead of getting right into it and heading to the ruins, she pulled us to the side of the building to give us a 20 minute history lecture. Now we had less than 90 minutes to tour the site. Details were glossed over, she told us to read the brochure and look up things on our own in the map. Horrible.

The island itself was great. There were lots of well preserved ruins and mosaics still intact on building floors. Portions of statues were still standing and the words on buildings could still be read (if you know Greek). We weren't able to see everything thanks to the poor handling of our group, but we got the idea of what the place was about.

Dave forgot to pack a hat so he picked up this beauty in town

On the boat ride back we had the cheapest beers of the trip - 2.5 Euros.

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