A Trip to the Remarkable Oracle of Delphi in Greece

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Delphi Athina Pronaia Temple

The Oracle of Delphi, a UNESCO monument today, was a large, rich, and powerful religious establishment in Ancient Greece. The Oracle was offering prophecies made by the god Apollo through his female priest, named Pythia, to the powerful leaders, kings, or any rich family and city-state that was seeking valuable advice.

Reconstruction of the Sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi by Albert Tournaire, 1894, in Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Art

In this post, we will explore the Oracle of Delphi and its main monuments, the in-house Delphi Archaeological Museum, the 10-km far picturesque Arachova village, where best to stay, how to get to Delphi, and when is best to travel to the site. Yοu will also find brief information on the UNESCO monument of Osios Loukas Monastery, a Byzantine masterpiece of the 11th century AD.

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You can go by public bus to Delphi but I would suggest you either rent a car and drive to the Oracle of Delphi or book a private tour from Athens with pick-up and drop-off services. Check the tour to Delphi here.

Interactive Map to Delphi

Get your interactive map of Delphi here, to drive to any of the places listed on sites to visit in Delphi.

Delphi oracle Greece interactive map
Delphi Map

Where exactly is the Oracle of Delphi Greece?

The olive-tree valley in Delphi

The Oracle of Delphi, the Delphi museum, and the adjacent modern small village of Delphi are located 185 km northwest from Athens, about a 2,5-hour drive in a region called Fokida. The road to Delphi is a large national road, easy to navigate. The national road becomes much more interesting and beautiful as soon as you reach the slopes of Parnassos mountain, set in a rare natural environment.

Me and a friend hiking in olive trees towards Delphi

The area between Delphi and the Corinthian Gulf, where seaside resort Galaxidi is, is covered by over a million olive trees, making it a favorable and stunningly beautiful hiking area.

How many Sanctuaries with Oracles were in Ancient Greece?

Map of Ancient Greek Sanctuaries, Credit Marsyas

There were many sanctuaries in ancient Greece dedicated to various Greek gods.

Five of the sanctuaries were the sacred cities in Ancient Greece: Delphi, Athens, Eleusina, Olympia in Peloponnese, and Delos island in Mykonos. Those five Greek cities were called sacred because the ancient greek gods would appear and communicate with the humans usually through their priests either to express a prophecy like in Delphi or participate in a ritual like in Eleusina.

Why was Delphi a Sacred City?

Delphi oracle pillars
Oracle of Delphi

According to the Ancient Greeks, Delphi was the center or else ‘the naval of the world’. One myth stories how Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, released two eagles, one from each end of the Earth. At the point where the eagles met, Zeus threw down a stone to determine the center of the Earth. That point was Delphi.

The position of Delphi was also on a strategic area from Ancient Corinth, a powerful trading Greek city, transporting its goods to the north of Greece. We know from history that Delphi was a small settlement in the 8th century BC, but by the 5th century, it was already the most well-known sacred site and oracle in Greece.

After Byzantine Emperor Theodosios banned all pagan rituals in Greece in 398 AD, Delphi was abandoned.

How did Pythia Speak the Prophecies?

Pythia with the sacrificial lamb

The Oracle of Delphi was not working during winter. Apollo disliked cold weather and Delphi is built on Parnassos mountain which is usually snowclad during the winter, so traveling back then was difficult.

The other 9 months that Pythia was consulting, only the 7th day per month she was accessible. That meant that the visitors often had to spend weeks in Delphi premises, waiting for Pythia to communicate with Apollo.

Pythia was always a woman in her 50’s from Delphi village, served for life as a priest, and lived permanently within the Oracle. Before the consultation, she would bathe in the Castalian Spring.

The Oracle, by Biacca Camillo Miola, 1880, via the J. Paul Getty Museum

Pythia would then go under the nave of the Temple of Apollo to Adyton (sanctuary in ancient Greek). In Adyton she was seated on top of a bronze tripod, the room was scented with burning laurel leaves and she would hear the question from the priests.

Then Pythia would fall into a trance, start raving and her words were translated by the priests of the temple. The oracle was usually given succinctly, difficult and enigmatic. Everyone could interpret the oracle as they wished.

Achilleas and the most Famous Pythia Prophecy

Achilles, struck with the arrow, dying.

The most famous oracle by Pythia was ‘Ixis afixis ou en polemo thnixis’ translated as ‘You will go you will return not you will die in the war’. Pythia offered this prophecy to Achilleas when he asked her whether he should participate in the Trojan war or not.

The oracle was a clever and highly ambiguous reply because the word ‘not’ in ancient Greek could go either to the first part of the sentence – you will go, you will return, you will not die in the war – or the second part – you will go, you will not return, you will die in the war.

And as we all know, Achilleas died in the Trojan War.

What remains at Delphi today?

Beautiful Ionic Column in Delphi Site

The Oracle of Delphi, just like Epidaurus Sanctuary, besides their main function (prophecies for Delphi, healing for Epidaurus) provided also additional operations on their grounds.

Delphi was attracting visitors from all over Greece, Asia Minor, and Egypt and the donations to the oracle were legendary like Croesus of Lydia, who gave a solid gold lion statue and large mixing bowls in gold and silver. The donations were primarily offerings to ensure, the favor of the Apollo god.

The highlights of the remaining monuments of Delphi Oracle are:

The Temple of Apollo

Temple of Apollo in Delphi

The Temple of Apollo, the most important building in the Oracle of Delphi was first built in the 7th century BC. It was destroyed by a fire in the 6th century BC and was rebuilt in the same Doric column form. The Temple of Apollo was again destroyed in 373 B.C. by an earthquake this time but was rebuilt for the third time in 330 B.C.

Today, only the Temple’s foundations and some of its Doric columns survive and it is the same temple that was constructed in 330 BC. Made of soft porous limestone – and not marble- had significantly contributed to its advanced decay.

You can see some of its pediments that decorated the Temple, in the nearby Delphi Archaeological Museum.

The Athenian Treasury to Delphi

The Athenian Treasury in Delphi

The treasury was built by the Athenians to house their dedications and offerings to Delphi Oracle. It was made between 510 to 480 BC with Parian (from Paros island) marble. According to Pausanias, the treasure was built in memory of defeating the vast Persian army in the battle of Marathon in 490 BC.

There is an exact copy of the small Doric building in Marathon in Athens.

The Theater

The theater is where the musical contests of the Pythian Games took place, which made this theatre the artistic equivalent to the athletic stadium at Olympia.

Delphi Theater-lover Cat!

The theater lies right above the Apollo Temple and is not in very good condition as it is also made of limestone.

Tholos Athinas Pronaias

The Τholos of Athena Pronaia

The tholos of Athena Pronaia is of unknown purpose and a masterpiece of Classical architecture. The impressive Doric building was raised in 380 BC by the architect Theodoros of Phocea.

The columns have multiple colors an effect that was achieved by the variety of materials used: Parian and Pentelic marble, and blue Eleusinian limestone for the structural details, the base of the cella wall, and the floor.

The Stadium

The Stadium on the bottom left and the Gymnasium on the top right

Around 590 BC the first Pythian Games were held at Delphi in honor of Apollo.

Ancient Greeks organized four Athletic Games in different time zones so that everyone could participate in all four if he wanted to: The Olympic Games in Ancient Olympia, The Nemean Games in Nemea Peloponnese, the Isthmian Games, and the Pythian Games.

The Pythian Games took place in the stadium of Delphi and the stadium is one of the best-preserved monuments of its kind, situated in the highest part of the ancient city.

Other Significant monuments in Delphi are:

  • The Polygonal wall
  • The Stoa of the Athenians
  • The Castalian fountain 

Delphi Archaeological Museum

Charioteer of Delphi

100 meters far from the Delphi entrance stands the 2-story Archaeological Museum of Delphi, one of the most important museums in Greece.

The exquisite exhibits come from the Delphic sanctuary and oracle, covering the long time span from prehistory to late antiquity. 

Some of its masterpieces include the Charioteer of Delphi, the sacred symbol of Delphi, the Omphalos (Navel), and the Naxos Spinx. The museum is open every day between 8.30 am – 3.30 pm.

Lunch in Arachova Town

arachova village in delphi sunset
Arachova

After your visit to the archaeological site of Delphi which usually takes about 3 hours, you can have lunch in modern Delphi village. You can try ‘To Patriko mas,’ a fantastic traditional tavern with stunning views of the olive tree valley or you can drive to picturesque Arachova which is 10 km far from the Delphi Archaeological site.

Archontiko Tavern in Arachova

Arachova has a large choice of taverns and restaurants and one of the best things to taste is the local cheese, formaela.

Parnassos Ski with sea view – Photo: Klaus Listl

If you visit Arachova in winter, you will see many visitors dressed in ski clothes. Parnassos ski resort, the largest and most organized of the 19 ski resorts in Greece, is 25 km up towards the mountain top.

Where Best to Stay in Arachova

AlmondHouse Suites with Fireplace

The AlmondHouse Suites, located on the slopes of Parnassos Mountain in Arachova, is a traditional stone mansion with freshly decorated rooms and a jacuzzi that overlooks the Delphi Valley! Imagine yourself in the crisp air in winter Arachova inside the warm jacuzzi and looking at the 1.000.000 olive trees, all the way to the sea!

Check availability and prices in Booking

Byzantine Monastery of Osios Loukas

Osios Loukas Monastery
Monastery of Osios Loukas

25 km from Arachova stands the UNESCO Byzantine masterpiece of the 11th century, Osios Loukas Monastery. The Monastery is comprised of two large churches with unique frescoes and religious artifacts. Daily open between 8.30 am – 3.30 pm

When is Best to go to Delphi

Delphi might be very warm to walk around in July and August, some older visitors from colder climates can’t walk the whole uphill area. If you think this might also be you, you better choose a different time of the year to visit Delphi and Arachova, perhaps spring, early in June, or October.

If you love cold weather, snow, and wood in the fireplace, you should come over in January – February a very popular and busy time to be in Arachova.

How to Get to Delphi

Air-conditioned and new public buses from Athens go to Delphi a few times per day (KTEL buses).

However, I always go to Delphi by private car because I want to make as many stops as I want, for as long as I want without stress about bus timetables. I use Rentalcars.com as they have the best deals with the most reliable reps in Greece. Check them out and see for yourself.

ORGANIZED TOUR: Delphi is often combined as a 2-day trip from Athens to Meteora.

Check out this amazing 2-Day Delphi and Meteora Tour from Athens

Where to Stay in Athens

Athens Hotel Ava Acropolis balcony view
Hotel with Acropolis View

Looking for the Best Hotels near old Athens Plaka and Acropolis Parthenon?

Or you would like to stay at a beachfront hotel?

Perhaps you are more in-budget hotels interested?

Whichever your preferences I have collected the best options for your staying in Athens below:

Message from Evgenia

I hope you have enjoyed my post on Delphi! If you need local help with organizing your visit, please send me an email at  info@travelthegreekway.com, and I will get back to you with ideas.  Until then stay safe and travel the world!
Evgenia 
Travel the Greek Way

Some of my Favorite Travel Resources for Greece

  • Airflights: Cheap/Fast/Best Worldwide Flights from KAYAK or SkyScanner search engine site
  • Map of Athens Metro
  • Booking.com: I use Booking.com because I can get the best deals, have info on hotels and Airbnb’s alike, with breakfast or not, free cancellations, and great prices!
  • Ferries to the Greek Islands: Book your ferry transfer with FerryScanner or FerryHopper, and get the best prices in the market with no hidden fees
  • World Nomads Insurance: I feel insecure traveling to another country without having even the most basic of insurances. Insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft and cancellations
  • Best car rental prices – Guaranteed. RentalCars.com
  • Get Your Guide: For all your day or multi-day tours and city guide needs, I use Get Your Guide
  • iVisa: For any questions, you may have about your documents, passport if you need a visa, a new photo, or any visa-related matter, iVisa is your man (or woman!)
  • Emergency Numbers Anywhere in Greece: AMBULANCE 166 – FIRE 199 – POLICE 100EMERGENCY NUMBER 112

More Ancient Greece Destinations

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Ramnous

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Epidaurus

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Corinth

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