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by Archaeology Newsroom

DELPHI. The history of excavations

Delphi represent a case study: a famous archaeological site which was brought to life during the Middle Ages when the village Kastri was founded there. Although in the beginning the existence of the village was rather an annoyance to the first excavators of the site, it gradually proved to be most useful since its inhabitants saved Delphi from antique-smugglers.They safeguarded mobile and immobile works of art and monuments- and created the possibilities, to a certain extent, for the achievement of the “Great Excavation” as this enterprise was named by the French from the very beginning. It is due to an inscription that in the fifteenth century the location was identified as Delphi by Kyriakos, a merchant from Ancona. In the eighteenth century French and English travelers visited the site and paved the way for the “crowds” of German travelers who would arrive there in the nineteenth century. It was in 1829, during the goverment of Capodistrias, that the first excavations began. From that time on a long debate over Delphi started on the issue of archaeological pre-eminence which terminated in 1891. Then the Greek-French contract was signed and the ‘Great Excavation” under Th. Homolle began. In 1903, when the Museum of Delphi opened and most archaeologists believed that the excavation was about to be completed, a new excavational phase began with the collaboration of the Greek Archaeological Service and the French Archaeological School of Athens. The sanctuary of Delphi owes its present monumental appearance to reconstructions carried out in the years 1938-1942. Today, after a century of excavational work this sacred site still holds many secrets to its self. There are many spots still to be excavated and as the technology and science of our time offer the possibility for a wide deciphering of and the extraction of information from the various finds, a more careful and time-consuming study and research is required. The excavation at Delphi will come to an end not when archaeological material becomes scarse but when our interest in classical times ceases to exist.

Topography

The sanctuary of Apollo, the temenos, is a trapezoid area of approximately five acres which is surrounded by a wall, the perivolos. To counterbalance the sloping ground formation terraces were created. On one of them two important monuments lie.The temple in which the oracles were delivered and the altar on which animals were sacrified in honour of Apollo.

The first inhabitants of the location were Myceneans, who already in 1500 BC had built a big town there as well as a fortification wall, part of which was discovered under the temple of Apollo in 1990. The destruction of the Mycenean world (1200-1100) caused the decline of the town, which however continued to be inhabited throughout the Dark Ages, as the excavations of 1991 -92 prove. The years after 825 BC come down to us in written sources in connection with the oracles regarding the correct choice of land for colonization, a fact that is most probably related to the numerous dedicatory offerings dating from the same period. In the early sixth century one of the first Doric temples of the ancient Greek world was built there, which was destroyed by fire in 548 BC. At that point in time Delphi and the Amphictyony called upon all Greeks to contribute to the erection of a new temple, the so-called temple of the Alcmeonides, that stands on a terrace dating from 525 BC. The numerous buildings beside the religious ones are divided in two categories: a. Monumental buildings offered by various cities, kings or wealthy individuals. Most impressive among them are the thesauroi, almost miniature temples, dedicated to Apollo by numerous cities and their inhabitants such as the thesaurus of the Corinthians (7th century), Siphnians (525 BC), Athenians (490 BC), etc.

b. Utilitarian architecture, such as the hippodrome, theatre, gymnasium, stadium, etc.

The Landscape

The sanctuary of Delphi was built in a landscape greatly affected by the menace of nature: floods, earthquakes, etc. Throughout the history of Delphi whenever the sanctuary was endangered by natural phenomena the god intervened miraculously and protected his sacred site. In antiquity the sanctuary suffered only few serious destructions, one of the major ones being its ruination by an earthquake in 373 BC. Quite a few recent damages have been recorded in photographs.