The Sacred island of Delos in the Cyclades Greece


The island of Delos, in the heart of the Cyclades in Greece, is a tiny, rocky island of approximately 5km long and 1300m wide. For the ancient Greeks it was the most sacred place of Ancient Greece. Indeed, one theory states that the very name given to the Cyclades group of islands in the Aegean sea comes from the word, circle or ‘kyklos’ that they formed around the island of Delos. The ancient city that stretched here was a center of commerce as well as a place of worship. However, it takes imagination to understand that this immense collection of ruins was once a prosperous city. While many objects discovered in Delos, most off them are on display at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, the island museum still has an interesting collection of statues , mosaics and vases.



mythologyThe legend tell us that it was on Delos that the god and goddess Apollo and Artemis were born. This Homer’s legend tells how Leto, after her association with the father of all gods, Zeus, became pregnant and, fleeing the jealous wrath of Zeus’ wife, Hera, ended up in Delos which was the only island that was not fearful of Hera and allowed Leto to stay to give birth to Apollo.

In return for this sanctuary, Leto promised that the god she was about to give birth to would turn this dry and barren island into a place of great pilgrimage and bring prosperity to its land. Other myths tell of how, after the birth of Apollo, the island, which prior to this event had floated aimlessly in the Aegean, became fixed in its position by four columns which rose out of the sea to anchor it firmly in its present place. This is why the island came to be called Delos, which means ‘visible’, as opposed to A-Delos, referring to the time when it was ‘invisible’ due to its wanderings in the Aegean sea.


delosEvidence of the first inhabitants of the island is thought to have occurred around 2,800-2,500 BC. Excavations have discovered the ruins of this pre-historic settlement on the top of the low hill of Mount Kynthos. It is suggested that this site formed the perfect location for these early settlers, perhaps Lelegians and/or Carians, as from this site they obtained panoramic views of the sea surrounding the island to alert them to the presence of any possible invaders. It was the Ionians, who came in the 10th-9th centuries, who established Delos as a sanctuary to worship Apollo, their protector.

It reached the epitome of its glory in the archaic (7th-8th century BC) and classical (5th -4th centuries BC) period after Hellenes from all over the ancient Greek world gathered there to worship the twin god and goddess Apollo and Artemis. Brilliant festivals were held every year that included competitions involving dancing, singing and athletics. With the annual influx of mass populations, the island quickly developed into a centre for trade and business with the surrounding eastern Mediterranean regions.

What to see

lions of delosWorth seeing is the temple of the Naxians with the basements where was standing the huge statue of Apollo and the three temples of the Apollo, the famous Lions of Delos (unfortunatelly only the replicas are there now) and through the lake where Apollo was born, the temple of Dionysus is very close to the museum. After the museum you can take the road that leads up hill, through that road you will visit the ancient theatre and the famous villas with the amazing mosaics, like the Trident house, the Dionysus house etc.

The ruins of the town that can be seen today developed in around 167 BC. This development came about as a result of Delos being declared a free port leading to a congregation of all eastern Mediterranean commercial activity on the island. Many rich bankers, merchants and ship-owners from the ancient world chose to settle on Delos, which in turn attracted tradesmen and craftsmen employed to construct the wonderful houses, statues, frescoes and mosaic floors to adorn these luxury mansions. Estimations suggest that by the early 1st century BC the population of the tiny island of Delos was around 30,000 and approximately 750,000 tons of merchandise was moved through its ports every year. It is no wonder then that it earned the reputation as the world’s greatest commercial centre.

Getting there

A day trip to Delos is a must when you are in Mykonos. It takes less then 40 minutes with the local boats that departing daily from Mykonos. The best time to go is at 10 am so you can return with the boat of 1.15. The time is plenty to go around the Ancient city and see all the amazing ruins of this sacred island. Just before the museum there is a small snack bar where you can eat something and have some refreshments.

On the boat you will get a free map and a guide for the ancient city, very useful if you are not going there with a guided group. But there is no problem to follow a guided group and hear the tour guide. As you enter the area you will go through the several temples that where build by many Greek city states.