In Ancient Greek mythology, the tiny Cycladean island of Delos was the birthplace of Apollo and his twin sister Artemis; in thanks for the safe delivery their mother vowed to make the island the richest community in Greece. And so it came to pass.
Delos was first colonized in around 1100 BC as a sanctuary to Apollo. By 456 BC the island was under Macedonian control and many of the surviving monuments of this vast, open-air museum date from that era, as its community of 25,000 people became a powerful trading port in the eastern Mediterranean. However, Delos lost its strategic importance in the first century BC and was gradually abandoned.
Excavations began there in 1873 and one of the wonders of the ancient world was unearthed from the UNESCO-listed site covering 235 acres (95 hectares) — only 62 acres (25 hectares) have been uncovered so far — of temples, sanctuaries, villas, palaces, amphitheaters and baths. The most famous of the Delos ruins is the Terrace of Lions, a row of marble lions that guarded Apollo’s sanctuary. Today nine replicas stand in their place, while five originals are found in Delos Archaeological Museum, which has nine galleries displaying finds from the archaeological excavations including mosaics, fragments of marble and stone torsos and heads as well as ivory and bronze reliefs, all dating from the seventh to the first century BC. As well as the marble lions, highlights of the collection include a bronze mask of Dionysos, wall paintings depicting boxing matches and great feasts, and a giant marble statue of Apollo. Considering this is one of the most important classical sites in the world, there is little interpretive information among the Delos ruins, so visit the museum first for an understanding of the history and importance of the island.
Delos, Mykonos. Open Apr–¬Oct 8am–8pm; Nov–Mar 8am–3pm. Admission adults €5, seniors, students & children younger than 19 €3. Delos is accessible by twice daily boats from Mykonos. Additional services run from Tinos and Naxos in summer.