There in the middle of the Aegean lies the small island called Delos.
The Apparent, so to say, because it appeared or emerged from the bottom of the sea and became the birthplace of two gods: Artemis and Apollo.
Arriving at Delos the small boat anchors at the ancient commercial port, and you find yourself walking in the Agora of the Competaliasts. All around there are little shops and in the middle two altars. One is Hermes’s and the other Maia’s, his mother’s. The Competaliasts were merchants, who took their name from the Roman divinities known as Lares Compitales. The agoras, on the other hand, were some kind of trade syndicates, commercial associations often based on common origin. As a result, there were the Poseidoniasts of Beyrut, the Italians from Southern Italy and Sicily and the Delians who also founded an agora. Merchants from Alexandria and Tyre and a remarkable Jewish community, that founded the first Synagogue of the Diaspora on the eastern coast of the island, inhabited Delos as well.
Delos burst with life during the 3rd and 2nd century BC with thousands of inhabitants (20.000–30.000) from all the East Mediterranean countries. It is amazing that on this tiny island, of a length of hardly 5 km and a width of 1.3 km, that produced nothing, you could buy almost everything: slaves and perfumes, wheat and oil, wine and Tyrian purple.
Besides its strategic position Delos came to know such an impressive development because it had been an important religious centre since the 7th century BC.
Let’s not forget that here were born Artemis and Apollo, children of Zeus and Leto who found refuge here pursued from every land at the order of Hera. After suffering for nine days under the palm tree on the bank of the Sacred Lake, Leto delivered the beautiful twins and gave the island its reputation and sacred character. This is the lake that the famous marble lions of Delos still guard. The island was an important sanctuary for the Ionians, initially under the surveillance of the Naxians, later of the Parians and finally of the Athenians who treated the inhabitants with cruelty. They forbade them to give birth or die on Delos and banished them during the so-called “purifications” of 422 BC, while in 166 BC they brought Athenians settlers on the island.
Therefore Delos became initially a holy pilgrimage, as the place where Artemis and Apollo were born, then a political centre, as the seat of the Delian League and successively a cosmopolitan, commercial port with luxurious houses and markets. The end came with two attacks-massacres in 88 BC and 69 BC by Mithridates, king of Pontus and his ally, the pirate Athenodoros. Not one sword was found on the island. The poor inhabitants could never imagine that there would be an army that would attack the sacred island of Apollo and massacre them.
A few hundreds of people continued to live on Delos until the island was abandoned in the 7th century AD. It fell into ruins and was ravaged by Venitians and travelers until the French Archaeological School started excavations at the end of the 19th century. Greek and French archaeologists have excavated and studied Delos, a magical site that takes you straight back to the past.
Visit the ruined sanctuary and the museum, the agoras, the gymnasiums and the palaestras, the houses with the fine mosaics, the temples of the foreign gods and climb on the summit of Kynthos (112 m) to admire the view of the Cyclades and inhale the light of Delos, the light of the Aegean.
You have just discovered the island of the god of light! The sacred island of Apollo.
Author: Avgi Kalogianni
Licensed Tourist Guide