Placed in the center of Greece, north of the Gulf of Corinth, the sanctuary of Apollo in Delphi represented, for centuries, the most sought and famous oracle of the ancient world. The spiritual influence and the magic connotations the oracle caused in the mind of the people made the city located at the base of the Parnassos Mountain to be considered an "omphalos" (center of the world) of the antiquity. The Greek mythology says that Zeus released two eagles to fly into the heights from the both ends of the Universe. The meeting place of the eagles, over the rocks called Phadriade (the Shinning Ones), Rose and Hot, on the Parnassus Mountain, was considered the central point of the world.
Even if the oracle is often
associated to Apollo's name, the sanctuary of Delphi was recorded to be
raised over the ruins of a temple of the goddess Geea, Mother of the
Earth, place that had been defended by a snake called Python. Apollo,
Zeus' son, killed the snake with his arrows, ensuring his dominance over
the region. The transfer of power from Geea to Apollo symbolizes the
triumph of the patriarchal conception, brought by the Dorian tribes, who replaced the matriarchal organization, specific to the
early Mediterranean pre-Indo-European society. Apollo's
sanctuary imposed gradually in the religious life of the antiquity, and
therefore, during the 8th century BC, it turned into the most influent
and prestigious spiritual center of the ancient Greece.
595-586 BC, during the so-called "Sacred War", the region of Delphi was
part of a federation of 12 tribes from northeastern Greece, administered
by the Amphictyonic League. In 595 BC, the league intervened, helped by
Athens and Sicyon, to defend Delphi against the ambitious plans of the
rival city of Chrisso that wanted to have the absolute control of the
area. To commemorate the victory, the league instituted the
first Pythic Games, similar to the Olympic Games, organized every four
years, and comprising athletic and musical probes. The name of the games
came from the name of the priestess of the oracle, Pythia. Over a
millennium, until the 4th century AD, people from whole Greece and other
areas came to Delphi to ask the oracle about businesses, marriages,
land cultivating or journeys. Amongst the most famous visits to the
oracle are those of Jason, the leader of the Argonaut trip into the
Black Sea, in the search for the Golden Wool, or that of Cressus, the
king of Lydia, before the war with the Persians.
priestess, must have been a village woman, aged over 50, who had an
immaculate life. The priestess and the petitioners had to purify into
the waters of the Castalla Spring at the base of the Parnassus Mountain,
and then, to see if the god was in the mood for talking through the
mouth of Pythia, a white goat was splashed with cold water. If the
animal trembled with all its body, it was a good sign and the question
was addressed to the oracle. After that, the priestess continued
with the petitioners into the inner sanctuary, passing in front of
Dionysus' tomb, to drink from the holly water of Cassotis Spring. With
the head backwards, mounted on a bronze tripod and chewing laurel
leaves, Pythia would enter in trance and transmit Apollo's answer
through unarticulated sounds, decoded by the priests. At the
beginning of the first century BC, the oracle entered into a decline.
The last documentary mentioned answer was in 362 AD, when Roman emperor
Julian the Apostate sent messengers to consult Pythia, who pronounced
her last oracle: "Go and tell the king that the good times are gone,
that Apollo does not have a shelter, nor laurel to pronounce his oracles
and the water of the talky spring has gone dry." The oracle was closed
in 381 AD, when emperor Theodosius forbade the pagan cults. In time, the
sanctuary turned into a field of ruins.
In 1892, the Greek
government allowed a French team to excavate the site of the oracle. The
village of Castri, built during medieval times over the temple of
Delphi, was moved stone by stone, against the will of its inhabitants.
19 centuries of debris were removed. Today, the ruins of the temple are
also accompanied by a well preserved amphitheater and a stadium in the
upper part, where Pythic Games took place.