My trip to the Centre of the World: The Oracle of Delphi

This short trip to Greece has so far been awesome, and the country is very high on the list of places I want to return to. The Greek Islands will likely be my priority on my next trip to Greece, but I felt like having just a little taste of what they were about, so I did a day trip to the nearest one, Aegina. The port city of Pirraeus is at the end of one of Athens’ subway line. You could easily mistake it for a suburb but, administratively speaking, it is an autonomous city.

The port of Pirraeus is absolutely packed with ferries. From little fast boats that ply the short routes to massive ships that bring hundreds of vehicles and passengers to distant islands like Crete or Rhodes. I booked a fast boat, which failed to show up. The company’s desk had no one working there, the signs were confusing, but the helpful Coast Guard man informed me that the weather was too rough for fast ferries, and that it had never left Aegina. I was very impressed that the ticket agent had sold it to me AFTER it had already been cancelled. I had the ticket replaced for a later, slower ferry, which would not be disturbed by the high winds.

When the ferry departed, I climbed on the top deck to take some pictures. The wind was impressively strong. It’s hard to take a picture of the wind, but here’s my best effort. I think the effect on my pants is pretty obvious.

The procedure to dock this big ferry on Aegina’s small quay is quite impressive. They turn the ship around, drop two anchors at different spots, back up and bring the whole ship in using two large ropes. It was impossible to embark or disembark without getting your feet wet, as the waves were going over the quay.

Just a few tens of meters inland, the wind died down considerably, and I spent a couple of hours walking around the small town, which is a picture perfect little seaside Greek harbour town. After having lunch, like the Greeks do, around 14h00, I went to the nearby ruins, where I learned the hard way that archeological sites in Greece close at 15h00 (for lunch – and they don’t re-open). Honestly, from the pictures, I didn’t miss that much.

I did have a good laugh during lunch when the owner invited four young French girls walking by for a free drink. His English was not very good, and neither was that of the girls. I nearly choked on my seafood pasta when he explained why he was inviting them to the one who spoke the better English. He said it was because he spent some of the best moments of his life in France. She translated to the other ones that it was in France he had the best sex of his life!

Speaking of French, an inside joke for my Québec friends: in Greece they are not afraid of “Stop” signs 😉

And after a few hours, it was time to leave again, on a sea that had only gotten stormier. The next day, I departed by bus for the small town of Delphi.

Sometimes I am amazed at how much or how little value you can get for your money in different parts of the world. This $40 hotel was excellent value. I rarely get this kind of view from the hotels I stay in. A concrete wall 2 metres from the window is more typical.

Delphi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and visiting the ruins is the main thing to do. Although I did the opposite, I would recommend visiting the museum before the archeological site, unless you are there when it opens, in low season, in which case you should take advantage of having the site to yourself. Anyways, the museum has this model, which gives you a good idea of what the site must have looked like. Today, the amphitheatre is still quite intact, but the large Temple of Apollo, right below it, is reduced to the foundations and a few standing columns.

The museum also features some of the marbles from the temples, moved indoors for their protection (or because the walls they were on have long collapsed). You would be forgiven for thinking that the scene depicts some city attacking another and using lions to eat the population, but in fact, it is much more grandiose. This is the Goddess Cybele, riding on a chariot pulled by lions, in a fight, along her fellow Gods, against the Giants (from Olympus, not San Francisco). What I don’t understand is why it is so difficult for the Gods to defeat the Giants, given that they are actually smaller than lions? I mean that guy about to become a cat lunch can’t be more then 5 feet tall.

On the topic of Greek history, it is also a fact that Zeus set free two eagles, at opposite ends of the Universe. They flew towards one another and, somehow surviving prolonged exposure to cosmic radiation and the severe shortage of rodents to eat in the void of intergalactic space, they met at Delphi, the Centre of the World. It’s a chance they didn’t meet 100,000 km to the left, as putting marble temples into orbit is very, very expensive.

Jokes aside, I must say I was very impressed. There is a bit of a magical feel to the place, and being there late in the early evening, off season, I literally had the place to myself. I know that because as I left, an old man locked a gate behind me and drove away! I rarely take pictures of “me-in-front-of”, but I was genuinely impressed. Compared to important sites elsewhere in the world, this one holds so much more meaning, because these are the stories and legends I read as a kid in high school. Perhaps if I had read up more on stories and legends of Asia or the Middle East their monuments would have the same effect, but I didn’t.

I wondered what stories the ancients would have come up with had they seen these two planes flying across the dusk sky over the Temple of Athena.

The next day I visited the main site, which was closed when I arrived the day before (since 15h00, of course). By any historical measure, this temple is the most important on the site and is probably where the Oracle was actually, euh… Read? Pronounced? Oracled? However, I found it much less impressive than the Temple of Athena, which is located away from the main archeological site.

Unfortunately, only the foundations and a half dozen columns remain today.

Climbing further up, one gets an amazing view of the entire site. As is generally the case, the amphitheatre is in much better condition, simply because many temples have been destroyed by powerful earthquakes over the course of millennia, while amphitheatres, already resting on the ground, can’t really be knocked down.

While nowhere as impressive as the one in Athens, the stadium is beautifully set and in good condition. Unfortunately, for conservation or safety reasons, you cannot walk around it, and therefore it is not possible to get a good view either of the stadium itself, or of the stadium as part of the entire site. It is actually a little far from the rest of the site, which is why it doesn’t appear in the museum’s model.

The only well conserved building is the Treasury of the Athenians, which commemorates either the establishment of democracy in Athens (510 BC), or the Battle of Marathon (490 BC). While the contents have long been plundered, the building is still up and its more important carvings are held in the museum.

The older a text appears, and the less I can understand it, the more important it seems. I think the same feeling caused people to be more in awe of the Catholic Church when the priests spoke Latin. Of course, this 2,500 year old text looks very important to me, but for all I know it reads: “For a good time, ask for Charalambos’ sister”!

And finally, another temple, within the town. It is very well preserved, but I don’t know which God it is meant to honour. Given the look of the worshippers, I’m going to guess the God of Little Old Ladies.

I miss that balcony.


6 thoughts on “My trip to the Centre of the World: The Oracle of Delphi

  1. Ah, Greece. One of the few places I’d be willing to make the flight for. Thanks for the mini tour Colin! Great commentary – you always make me LOL. :)

    • Thanks Amanda! Can’t wait to tell you travel stories in person. I think you would prefer Greece off season. Just a little chilly in the evenings, but so wonderful to have some of the sites to yourself.

  2. Indeed, I think we may need to take the kids there last week of oct when they are on vacation :) Nothing the kids enjoy more than old stone.. :)

    • At Delphi, I saw a family with two kids, about the same age as yours. Honestly, they looked bored beyond words.

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