From The Oracle to Ski Slopes

When my sister Kate was visiting us on the boat she told us that we had to go to the archaeological site at Delphi. So here we are! Although there is evidence that the site was used to worship Ge the earth God during the Mycenaean period the Delphic sanctuary reached its Panhellenic importance (incorporation of all the individual Greek states) starting at the beginning of the 8th century BC and reaching its peak between 500-300BC. 

The shrine was dedicated to the cult of Apollo and was where the clairvoyant Pythia lived with her high priests. The Pythia was an old woman dressed as a young maiden who would enter a trance before pronouncing her oracles. These would often predict the fates of the various city-states. 

Delphi was so renowned that even foreign leaders visited the oracle and contributed significant sums to its building program – people such as Midas the Phrygian King (central Turkey) and other leaders even further east.

The site is built on levels cut into a steep and impressive valley and the view looking out is incredible. Naturally there is a theatre which sits at the very top of the site and which offers an amazing panoramic view of the gorge. 

The next level is where the huge temple of Apollo would have stood – occupying the most prominent position in the sanctury. A few of its epic columns still stand along with some noticeable foundations. Apollo was the God of music, harmony and light. 

Homer mentions the Delphic site as a place of great wealth. All the city-states built elaborate votives – statues, temples, treasuries and tripods – all offered as tributes and filled with treasures, often from the spoils of war. These were all built along the main causeway called the ‘Sacred Way’ which led up to the main Temple of Apollo.

So the site not only functioned as a place of worship and pilgrimage but also as a shared arena where the different city-states could showcase their battle victories, noble deeds and economic power to one another! The Athenians could show off to the Spartans, the Boetians to the Corinthians etc…

Temple foundations

Treasury of the Athenians
Many of the statues and buildings which, are in themselves the finest examples of Classical Greek art, were inscribed. So the site gives historians an incredibly complete and diverse picture of Panhellenic history and cultural practices. For example on the wall of the Treasury of the Athenians is inscribed the Delphic Hymns – some of the earliest known notated musical score. 

The tripod of the Plataeans was the sole common votive by all the Greeks following their victory over the Persians in the battle of Plataea in 479BC. The tripod was later transferred to Constantinople by Constantine the Great who found it in 330AD and placed it in the Hippodrome. There is still stands. 

Delphic Hymns

Reconstruction of tripod
There is also The Naval, or sacred omphalos; a naturally occurring conical shaped stone which was identified with the story of Zeus discovering the centre of the earth. He released two golden eagles to fly in opposite directions, and where the birds met he threw down a stone to mark the centre. It apparently landed in Delphi. That night we camped on a ridge overlooking the same valley and, not that we ever need much of an excuse, celebrated St Paddy’s day with a beer before climbing into the tent to start watching the documentary series on the BBC all about Greek history. It’s been a great addition to our time here even if we find the presenter a little OTT!

The Naval

The next morning we had to climb back up towards Arachova and over the two passes to reach the village of Eptalafos. It was a Saturday and there was a lot of cars with skis strapped to the roof. We presumed that the Pernassos ski resort would be closed so late in the year, but clearly not, and once we started to climb the next mountain we saw there was plenty of snow still left. The opportunity to do a day of skiing was too tempting to miss out on. Neither of us had been for three years, not since we went to visit P’s friend Harold in Switzerland. 

The ski resort is a 16km detour up the mountain and would be far too cold for us to camp. So we hatched a plan to get down to Eptalafos, find somewhere suitable to camp on its outskirts, check we could rent equipment at the resort and then hitch a lift early in the morning. 

We found a perfect camping spot in a little park next to a church and asked a lady in the house nearby if we could camp there. The colder weather that we experienced last week has gone and we were able to sit out under the trees until well past sunset.

The next morning we packed up and cycled down to the main square. The Sunday morning bells were ringing, blue skies were forming and we saw a lot of locals making their way down to morning mass. We simply left the loaded bike locked outside an open bakery tucked into a corner of the square. Inconspicuous but well in sight of the cafes and shops surrounding the square. Experience tells us it would be fine. 

It didn’t take us long to catch a lift. Dimitri and his young daughter Elektra were on their way up to the resort too and were kind enough to stop and give us a lift.

We had a brilliant day – Paddy snowboarding and me skiing. It was good to go and do something completely different despite it making a bit of a dent in our budget. Pernassos is quite a small resort with mainly blue runs interspersed with a few reds so perfect for our level. It wouldn’t be big enough for a week of skiing and by the end of the day we had done most of the runs. The weather was beautiful and the resort boasts incredible views all the way out to the Gulf of Corinth on one side and the Gulf of Malia on the other with spectacular snow capped mountain ranges sandwiched in the middle. 

Gulf of Corinth
It took a little longer to hitch a ride back as most people were heading back the other way towards Athens. We ended up doing the journey in three legs – the last guy driving us 5km out of his way to drop us off – and we were back at the bike by 5:30pm. We braved a (very needed!) cold water shower in the river when we got back which wasn’t as bad as we were expecting before setting up the tent back near the church. 

All in all a great couple of days! 

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