Telluride Inside… and Out in Greece: Delphi

Telluride Inside… and Out in Greece: Delphi

IMGP2325 (Ed. note: Susan and Clint are back in the US and will be at our desks in Telluride starting November 7.)

It's Sunday. Since Sunday is the traditional day of worship in America, Telluride Inside… and Out thought it might be a good day to write about a place of worship.

The place is not one of Greece's many awe-inspiring monasteries, including the majestic sextet we viewed at Meteora. It is not a church, such as the 10th-century Church of Dormition in Kalabaka, a quick stop, thanks to our driver Nikolas Vogiatzakis' local knowledge about hidden gems. The little church was built on the back of a former temple to Apollo, which was  torched by the Nazis in revenge for Greece's very brave and stubborn resistance during WWII. (The Nazis' thumbprint remains in the blackened frescoes on the church walls.)

(Footnote: One argument we repeatedly heard on the street is that when Germany today demands Greece get its act together and pay off its debt, the Greeks respond by demanding reparation for the all the reconstruction required after the havoc of WWII, not to mention the loss of life. We stopped at a village where the Nazis murdered the entire male population. But that is a whole other story.)

IMGP2322 We are talking about another site dedicated to the god Apollo, much grander than Dormition's antecedent and far more renowned. We are talking about Delphi, which we visited on the last leg of our three-week adventure.

Of all the ancient sites we toured, the sacred precinct of Delphi is in a league of its own. According to the scholarly "Blue Guide," not generally inclined towards hyperbole, Delphi "is by common consent the most spectacularly beautiful ancient site in Greece and the one which, even to the uninitiated, most vividly evokes the Classical past."

In ancient times, Delphi was the head and heart of the world and not just because of Greece's status at the time Apollo got down to business, or the jaw-dropping natural setting below the slopes of Parnassos that lent heft to the mystery and magic. HIstory records that the oracle of Delphi tended to be spot on in her predictions, so savvy political leaders turned to her priestess for advice. To ensure a place at the head of the line, they sent treasures, once stored in the magnificent repositories or vaults that dot the site. Think of it as an early form of life insurance.

IMGP2334 Life in Delphi as a place of worship begins before Apollo shows up. Once upon a time, Delphi's inhabitants allegedly worshipped goddesses, evidence of which in the form of figurines is housed in Delphi's wonderful museum, a required first stop on the tour for orientation, just like the new museum at the Acropolis. Later, Delphi supposedly became sacred to Mother Earth (Gaia) and Poseidon, the powerful god of oceans and seas, who got trumped by Athena (wisdom) for dominion over the Acropolis and, well, Athens. According to the story, Apollo's arrival at Delphi is relatively late, coinciding with the cultural renaissance that took place in Greece around the 8th century B.C. right after the dark ages that followed the golden era of Mycenae (some time after the Minoans went under, around 1450 B.C.).

Homer spoke of Delphi and Apollo in the so-called Pythian suite in which the poet described how the young god came down to earth from Mount Olympus looking for place to park the first oracle. But first Apollo had to kill the enormous serpent that was wreaking havoc in the area. If memory serves, the creature was a giant python meant to have been a son of Gaia. Which is how the place became dedicated to Apollo Pythian. To find Delphi's first priests, Apollo morphed into a dolphin and lured a ship off course. The Cretan merchants on board suddenly had new job descriptions.

The link to Crete, where we had spent two unforgettable weeks, made Delphi a fitting grand finale to our Greek adventure.

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