Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mikonos – Delos – Ermoupolis

Left Mikonos in the usual high wind (but very small waves) and breakfasted on the short sail to the sacred island of Delos.  Arriving at 8:00AM, we anchored and took a tender in to shore where our guide met us at the ticket office.

First settled about 2500BC, Delos became a sacred island under the Athenians late in the Archaic Era.  About 600BC, they decided to purify the island and forbade all births, deaths and burials on the island, moving the contents of the existing cemeteries (grave goods and all) to a pit on a nearby island, much to the later delight of archaeologists. 

The prestige of the island became so great, that traders from as far away as Israel and Egypt set up shop here to be near the ancient world’s first tourist (pilgrimage) site, and the waterless island prospered accordingly, growing to a population of 30,000.  Kings vied for favour and renown by bestowing temples and stoas on the island as well as innumerable statues.  Anything visible was of course later stolen by Venetians and the British among others.  The Turks though, in all their years of struggles with Greece, always respected the sanctity of the island and left it undisturbed.  Only 25% of the island has been excavated to date and much remains to be found.  More or less abandoned after Roman times in the first century (it was built as a sacred place and had no defences, so was unsafe during those parlous times), the island slumbered until recently.

Our guided tour took us up from the waterfront commercial district, full of the remains of small shops and factories, to the higher ground where the rich traders built their mansions and eventually to the 4,000 seat theatre.  Then down through the market to the Sacred Way, lined by the remains of shaded porticos donated by kings (Philip V of Macedon, for example) to the temple area.  With a quick peek at the lions of Delos (replicas of 6 of the original 15 remain, though one has been found in Venice) we straggled over to the cafe/museum for a much needed fresh orange juice.  There is no shade or water on the island and only one café.  It is a World Heritage site and is still under excavation.  No houses are permitted on the island and visitors cannot stay overnight.

View of the Sacred Way

Theater seating with backrests for the rich

Near the Agora or Marketplace

Dolphin and anchor mosaic

Ruins, ruins, ruins as far as the eye can see

Finally, we tendered back to the boat for lunch and a short sail to the nearby town of  Ermoupolis on another of the Cycladic islands (so named because they form a ring around sacred Delos).  A brief walk through the sweltering town persuaded me that the shady, breezy boat was better, but Reggie soldiered on to browse the shops.

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