The tour from Athens to the sacred sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi actually consisted of two separate but closely related experiences combined into one. The first part consisted of viewing the ruins of the temples, treasuries, and other physical structures of the sanctuary. Next, we received a guided tour of the Delphi Archeological Museum, It contains sculptures, architectural elements, and votive offerings that were part of the ancient sanctuary. History museums usually house items that were brought from far off lands. This museum houses artifacts from long ago that were originally part of the sanctuary next door.
The museum is located adjacent to the archaeological site. It exhibits artifacts from over 1,000 years of worship at Del[phi covering the Mycenaean era to the Greco-Roman period. There are 14 large exhibition rooms, a cafeteria and gift shop. This post mostly covers items I photographed. Items may look familiar because I mentioned some them in Sculpture Saturday posts.
The current building is the third iteration of the original much smaller museum that opened in 1903. The most recent renovations were completed on the centenary in 2003. The museum (and this post) proceeds in chronological order from the earliest objects to the latest.
Delphi Archeological Museum
The first two rooms are mostly bronze votive offerings, dating to the 8th and 7th centuries BC. Below are votive offerings and a bronze tripod and cauldron with the feet of a griffin. Those Greeks really loved tripods.
The next room is dedicated to finds from the 6th century BC. Statues of the ill-fated twins, Kleobus and Biton, occupy a central location. These sculptures are two of the best examples of kouroi, free-standing statues of nude male Greek youth. Polymedes of Argos was the sculptor and dedicated these statues to Apollo on behalf of the people of Argos. These marble sculptures are just over two meters tall.
According to the myth, Kleobis and Biton, were the sons of a high priestess of the Sanctuary of Hera. When their mother was unable to find oxen to travel to the temple for a festival, her muscular and athletic sons carried the yoke on their own shoulders for the six-mile journey. Upon arriving at the sanctuary, their mother prayed to Hera to grant her wonderful sons the greatest gift a mortal could have (which apparently was death). Kleobis and Biton died in their sleep the same day.
The room displaying the Sphinx of Naxos was very impressive. The Sphinx was a gift from the Island of Naxos. It is just over two meters tall and is made of Naxian marble. It was placed next to the Temple of Apollo in 560 BC and stood atop a 10-meter Ionic column.
The Sphinx has the head of a woman, the chest and wings of a bird of prey, and the body of a lion. A sphinx was considered to have great strength and was often used as a guardian.
Also in the same room are elements of the Syphnian Treasury. Siphnos, a city-state in the Cyclades Islands, built the treasury around 525 BC to hold its offerings to the Oracle of Delphi.
Caryatids are sculptures of a female form that are used as a pillar. This work is about 5ft 9in (1.75m) tall. The caryatids of the Siphnian Treasury were precursors to the famous caryatids of the Porch of the Maidens on the Acropolis in Athens. The holes above the forehead are believed to be for ornaments and a wreath.
Room 11 holds pieces from the Late Classical and early Hellenistic periods. That’s where you’ll find the sculptures of Agias and the Dancers of Delphi.
Agias was a poet and athlete. He wrote an epic poem in five books about the return of the Greeks from the Trojan War. This sculpture, however, celebrates Agias athletic accomplishments in a sport known as pankration. Pankration was a submission sport that utilized wrestling and boxing techniques.
The Dancers of Delphi, also known as the Acanthus Column, is a sculpture standing nearly two meters (six feet) tall, that was fixed atop a column 12 meters (43 ft) in height that was composed of five drums and a capital decorated with acanthus leaves.
The next room contains Late Hellenistic and Roman objects, including a famous statue of Antinous. Antinous (110-130 CE) was a young Greek from Bithynia (present day northwest Turkey) who became the favorite lover of the Roman emperor Hadrian. When Antinous drowned mysteriously in the Nile, Hadrian declared him a god and ordered that statues of him be erected in all sanctuaries and cities.
As a god, Antinous had a strong cult following. However, after Roman Emperor Theodosius I declared Christianity the only legitimate imperial religion, followers of Antinous buried the statue, standing upright, to preserve it from being completely destroyed. The arms had been lost in a prior invasion. During excavations in 1893, the statue was discovered upright on its pedestal next to the wall of a brick chamber alongside the temple.
Among other items, this chamber contains the Sculpture of the Philosopher. The statue is about life sized and is made of marble. The subject may be Plutarch or Plato.
The sculpture dates from the third century BC. Facial details and clothing show the progress of sculpting since the days the Kouroi Kleobis and Biton.
Last but not least is the Charioteer. It exemplifies the style known as Early Classical and is believed to have been created around 470 BC to honor the victory of Polyzalus of Gela in Sicily and his chariot in the Pythian Games which were held every four years at Delphi.
The figure of the charioteer was part of an ensemble that included his four horses, one or two attendants, and the chariot upon which he stood. Small parts of the horses and the reins that were also recovered hint at the size and grandeur of the complete composition.
My post on the archeological site is here. Admission to the museum and archeological site are not costly. The most you’ll pay is 12 euros and some days are free. See this site for information on hours and fees.
The Excavation of Delphi
It is interesting that while the Sanctuary of Apollo and the Oracle of Delphi were no longer relevant after the rise of Christianity and the conversion of the Roman emperors, a small village on the site itself remained continuously occupied until the first excavations in the late 19th century.
Delphi was invaded and looted several times in ancient times, but it wasn’t wiped off the map by sacking. The structures seem to have kind of fallen apart over the centuries due to earthquakes, landslides and use of its materials for construction of buildings in the town the stood on the site’s remains. When first explored in 1880 by the French School at Athens, ancient Delphi was occupied by the village of Kastri, consisting of about 100 houses. The original structures were no longer visible.
A systematic excavation was impossible without relocating the village, but the residents resisted. Fortunately for the archeologists, an opportunity to relocate the village occurred shortly thereafter when a strong earthquake substantially damaged the village. Residents were offered a completely new village a few hundred meters to the west in exchange for the old site.
The village was renamed Delphi. It is located on the west side of the Delphi Archeological Museum. In 1893, the French Archaeological School removed vast quantities of soil from numerous landslides to reveal the remnants of the major buildings and structures of the Sanctuary of Apollo.
Visiting the Sanctuary of Apollo and the Delphi Archeological Museum was an awesome experience. Having many of the original artifacts displayed in a modern museum at the sanctuary makes it easy to envision how Delphi appeared in its heyday with temples and treasuries and lines of pilgrims seeking the wisdom of the Oracle. I highly recommend visiting when you are in Greece.