Delos is the sacred island of Ancient Greeks which, according to mythology, was revealed to Leto – who was chased by Hera – through the waves of the Aegean sea in order to give birth to Apollo and Artemis. The ruins of one of the largest and most impressive organized settlements of the Hellenic-Roman era are preserved in good condition on the island of Delos.
The island was first inhabited in the 3rd millennium BC probably by the Carians. Later, in the beginning of 10th century BC it was transformed into a great worship center of Ancient Greece since it was the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis and later on hosted the great alliance of the Aegean islands.
At the end of 6th century BC the Athenians tried to dominate the sacred island.
In 540 BC, Peisistratus decided the island’s first purification. During the second purification though, in 426 BC, the remains and contents of all Delos’ graves were transferred to the neighboring island of Rhenia. Moreover, at that time all births and deaths on the island of Apollo were forbidden so as not to desecrate his sanctuary.
With the advent of the Macedonians in 315 BC the island acquired its independence and the ability to grow commercially.
The establishment of the Romans later resulted in a massive turnout of Egyptians, Syrians, and Italians. The island continued to develop until 88 BC. After two dreadful attacks during the Mithridatic wars Delos began to decline until its final abandonment in 6th century AD.
After centuries, in 1873, the French Archaeological School began excavations in the archaeological site and Delos recovered from obscurity, revealing its rich history throughout the world.
The archaeological museum of Delos is today one of the most important in Greece, with rare exhibits such as sculptures, vessels, inscriptions, marvelous mosaics, etc.
Both Delos and Rhenia are under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture, thus the docking of boats as well as the overnight stay of persons without special permission are prohibited.
Delos, which was full of beautiful buildings and sanctuaries, has never been forgotten and there are many references to travelers about the ruins that are visible on the island. Many sculptures were transferred to museums all over Greece and abroad. Unfortunately marbles of ancient buildings were used as building material by the inhabitants of nearby islands.
The excavations in Delos began in 1873 by the French Archaeological School of Athens. During the period 1904 to 1914, under the supervision of M. Holleaux and thanks to the Duke de Loubat's brave grant, the most important parts of ancient Delos were revealed. Another period of intense excavation activity was 1958 to 1975. Excavation is still being carried out by the French Archaeological School besides the fact that the center of religious, political and commercial life as well as a large part of private residences has already been revealed.
Small scale excavations were carried out by Greek archaeologists, especially in the early 20th century.
Besides excavation, large-scale restoration work was carried out by the French Archaeological School, mainly in the private dwelling districts, while a smaller scale was carried out in recent years by the Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. Several columns were restored, while ancient residences were protected (The Triaena Residence, The Residence of the Masks, The Residence of Hermes) mainly in order to maintain the mosaic floors intact.
Since 1990 Delos has been included in the list of World Cultural Heritage monuments and protected by UNESCO.
Delos (Little Delos) was, according to mythology, the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. In this sense it was one of the most important sanctuaries in the Greek world and one of the largest religious and political centers.
According to the myth, Leto fled there, while she was being chased by the jealous Hera, in order to bring to life the son of Zeus who would be the most beautiful of all the immortals. The ancient Greeks believed that the "non-evident" Asteria, as the island was previously called, floated freely in the sea.
Upon the birth of god Apollo, the "obscure" (non-evident “Asteria”) became Delos, which was evident and flooded with light and flowers. In addition, as the legend has it, the island was then tied to the bottom of the sea with diamond chains.
Apollo's sanctuary can be accessed via various routes. One of them starts at the harbor (where there are ancient harbor facilities and a number of shops). The other is in the south via the sacred street between the gallery of Philip II of Macedonia and the southern arcade. There is also one in the north side which is bounded by the long gallery of the Macedonian king Antigonus Kenata with the Minoa fountain behind it. The center of worship is located in the area of Apollo's three temples with the large, idyllic altar housed in an arch, called Keraton. According to tradition Apollo himself created Keraton out of goats' horns.
Moreover, separately stand the sanctuaries of Artemis in the South and that of Leto and the Twelve Gods in the North. In the area of the sanctuary of Apollo there are the ancient worshiping remains (the tombstone of Mycenaean times and the "sign" of the Hyperborean Virgins) and outside the sanctuary there is the Archegesio.
Within the sanctuary stand the ruins of the Sanctuary of the Bulls, the Hellenistic ship-shaped offering referring to a royal naval victory, the so-called "treasures" (perhaps houses for devotional meals) and the Prytaneion. The Hellenistic Agora (market) of the Competaliasts (both enslaved and free), The Agora of Theofrastos as well as that of Delia (commercial and political market) and various public buildings are scattered around the area of Apollo’s sanctuary.
Further, one can find the sanctuaries of Aphrodite and Hera (7th - 6th century BC), sanctuaries of native deities and a cave used for worshiping in the mountain of Kynthos. In the Northeast and the North there are the buildings of a high school, pavilions, a stadium, and a horse track.
Around the sanctuary of Apollo, the evergreen city developed evolving into a cosmopolitan center in the last pre-Christian centuries. In this sophisticated shape the city encircled the sanctuary, in a formation of isles with centers of topographic or structural poles (theater, river Inopos) and with uncovered areas.
It is the best preserved ancient city in Greece.
In the 7th century B.C. the Naxians presence on the island became evident. Examples of that are the House of the Naxians, the lions in the sacred lake - the birthplace of Apollo and his sister Artemis - and the Littoon, a colossal statue of Apollo, from which only parts and its base are preserved.
Since the time of Peisistratos (540-528 BC), the Athenian domination on the island (the Ionic temple of Apollo) is evident. After the Persian war, (478 BC) Delos hosted the 1st Athenian Alliance. Between 314 BC and 167 BC., Delos was independent and participated in the "Common Islanders" under the leadership of the Ptolemaic. The construction of the large Doric temple of Apollo continued.
In 167 BC., and following the decision of the Roman senate, Delos was declared a free port and went to the power of the Athenians. In 88 BC the island was ravaged by Mithridates and in 69 BC. by the pirates of Athenadoros. There is evidence that during the 2nd and the 1stcenturies BC foreign deities were worshipped along with the native ones (three sanctuaries of Egyptian deities, a sanctuary of Syrian deities, a religious association of Beirut Posidonians and an Israeli synagogue, the oldest of the diaspora). Luxurious residences of these times, with a peristyle, often two-storey, with frescoes and famous mosaic floors, are preserved in the theater district (the theater was built around 250 BC).
In 4th century A.D. Delos was promoted to a diocese. In 7th century A.D. the island was abandoned. An excavation in the Southeast of the Agora of Delia revealed a single-aisle basilica built during the 6th c. dedicated to St. Kiricus.
At the local Museum, there are a number of sculptures and mosaic floors that certify the artistic flourishing in the Hellenistic era.
Agora of Hermaists or Competaliasts
It is an open square next to the Sacred Harbor. It is one of the most important markets of the Hellenistic city, paved with large granite slabs, many of which have holes for fixing piles that supported shelters. On the north side one can find the Gallery of Philip and a small Ionic temple dedicated to Hermes, while the east and south are bounded by shops and workshops. In the center of the square there are remnants of a rectangular and a circular monument dedicated to Hermes, the God of Commerce, and around it there are bases of offerings by bankers, captains and merchants. It dates back to the last quarter of the 2nd century BC.
Temple of Delia
The Temple of Delia or the Great Temple is the last and largest of the three temples of Apollo. It is a pilgrimage Doric temple with six columns in each narrow and 13 columns in each long side. Its construction began in 478 BC and it was interrupted around the middle of 5th century BC., when the Athenian Alliance fund was transferred to Athens. Then it continued in the short period of Delian Independence without ever being completed.
The Minoa Fountain, mentioned in the inscriptions and identified by an inscription dedicated to the Minoan Nymphs, is a public tank dug into the natural rock formation during the second half of 6th century BC. It was sheltered by a square building, open on the south side, where there was a Doric arcade. On the south side there are stairs which were used in order to descend to reach the water level. The fountain was in use until the late Hellenistic times, when it was converted into a residence.
Avenue of the Lions
The marble lions, a tribute to the Naxians, was built around the end of7th century BC. They are placed in a series, looking east, towards the Sacred Lake. These lions are replicas. The prototypes are kept in the museum. It is estimated that originally there were 16, but only five and parts of three are still preserved in the area, while the headless body of another one adorns the Naval Station of Venice.
Located on the west side of the street, leading from the archaic harbor of Skardana to the temples, the Lions were the eternal guardians of the sanctuary.
The Institute of Beirut Posidonians
The Beirut Institute was housing a Union of ship-owners, bankers and agents who worshiped their own gods. Moreover, they used the institute to effectively protect their common commercial interests. It consists of a central courtyard with a peristyle around which there are several rooms and chapels dedicated to Poseidon, Hercules and Rome. It dates back to the last quarter of the 2nd century BC.
Rectangular platform in the northeast of the Sanctuary, in which there was found a statue of Dionysus, framed by the statues of two actors - Papossillinon (located in the Museum). Two rectangular columns on the left and right of the platform support oversized phalluses. The column on the south was the offering of the inhabitant of Delos Karystios who won as a sponsor in a theatrical competition around 300 BC. This column has carved scenes from the circle of Dionysus.
The original wooden theater was replaced in the early 3rd century BC., by the one standing there until today and is made out of stone. The amphitheater and the lower part of the theater, which are not concentric, are separated by a frieze. Behind the first row of seats, which were kept for the guests of honour, there are 26 rows of desks in the lower section and another 17 rows in the platoon, separated by eight scales in seven sections. They could host about 5,500 spectators. In front of the circular orchestra, the foundations of the stage are still preserved.
Temple of Isis
The small Doric temple of Isis is located in the Sanctuary of the Foreign Gods, at the foot of Mt.Kynthos. It was built in the early 2nd century BC. and was repaired by the Athenians in 135 BC. The statue of the goddess, which was worshiped with various names and was the patron saint of the sailors and the one that gave good health and luck is still preserved inside the temple.
Temple of Hera
The Doric temple of Hera was built around 500 BC. However, under the vault there were found ruins of an earlier temple of the early 7th century BC. Beneath the altar were also found many pottery of the Archaic period (located in the Museum), several of which have engraved inscriptions. The altar of the goddess is in the south of the temple.
The Residence of Dionysus
"The Residence of Dionysus" is a very good example of a private residence in Delos which was built around the last quarter of the 2nd century BC. It was named after the famous mosaic of the atrium that depicts Dionysus on a panther. A covered walkway leads from the street to the main courtyard, surrounded by a peristyle which opens to the ground floor rooms. In the center of the courtyard there is an underground tank covered with a great mosaic floor, in which rain water was gathered. A stone staircase leads to the elegant rooms of the upper floor.
The Museum of Delos was built in 1904 at the expense of the 'Archaeological Society of Athens'. The original building included the five western halls to which several more were added in 1931 as well as in 1972.
At the same time, changes were made to the exterior of the building because the archaeologists wished to defy any "industrial" elements of the original building and make it more distinctive as it is located among antiquities. These changes were massive but unfortunate.
Nowadays, the exhibition of the Museum includes nine halls: six of them include the sculptures and reliefs found in Delos. This collection is one of the most important archaeological collections in the world.
Two chambers include prehistoric and late Hellenic pottery. The last one includes an exhibition of several small items found in the private residences of Delos. This exhibition has not yet been finalized.
The museum includes the following collections:
- tombstones and columns of the 7th - 1st century BC
- Vessels of the 3rd millennium - 1st century BC
- Figurines of the 2nd - 1st century BC
- Jewelry and small items of the 2nd - 1st century BC
- Mosaics of the 2nd - 1st century BC
The most important exhibits are:
- an ivory tile with a relief representation of a Mycenaean warrior found in Artemisio,
- the torso of a Kouros statue found in the sanctuary of Apollo,
- a marble complex depicting Vorreas grabbing the Princess of Attica, Oreithia and was found in the temple of Athenians,
- statues of Dioskouridis and his wife Cleopatra - Athenians who lived in Delos - found in the couple's home, in the theater district,
- a statue of Apollo - the god rests on the trunk of a tree and steps on Gallic shields – found in the theater district,
- a bronze facade of bearded Dionysos that wears a diadem and ivy wreath and was found south of the Competialists Market,
- a Corinthian alabaster vase for aromatic oil with a representation of Potnias Thira among two swans - found in Heraion,
- an inscribed triangular statue of a kouro - with embossed head of a ram in one corner and gorgoneia in the other two – found in the sanctuary of Apollo,
- an archaic statue of a kore, which has a veil tied around her waist and is adorned in the front with a vertical tape of double meander engraving – it was found in the Sanctuary of Apollo and is considered as one of the oldest surviving works of great plasticity,
- fresco from the exterior wall of a house located in the district of Skardana, which depicts Hercules, two fighters and a male figure playing the flute or the trumpet.
Archaeological site – Museum of Delos, tel.: +30 22890 22259
Full 12€ - Reduced 6€
The entrance to the museum is free to all on the following days:
March 6 - Memory of Melina Merkouri
April 18 - International Monument Day
May 18 - International Museum Day
The last weekend of September each year (European Cultural Heritage Days)
Official Bank / State Holidays
Persons entitled to reduced entrance fee are:
- Parents who escort children of Primary Schools during educational visits
- Citizens of EU Member States who are older than 65, by showing a police ID or passport
- Students from countries outside the EU with the demonstration of their student card
- Holders of a Free Entrance Bulletin
Persons entitled to free entrance are:
- Holders of a free entrance card
- ICOM - ICOMOS membership ID holders
- Members of associations and clubs of Friends of Museums and Archaeological Sites all over Greece, with the demonstration of their certified membership card
- Young people up to the age of 18, demonstrating their identity card
- Official guests of the Greek State, after the approval of the General Director of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage
- Employees of the Ministry of Culture, with the demonstration of their identity card
- Students of higher education in Greece or equal schools in EU countries, by demonstrating their student identity
Winter season: 08: 30-15: 00 (Single shift)
Summer season: Monday to Sunday, 08:00 - 20:00
How to get there
There are daily trips from Mykonos to Delos, as long as the weather permits it (especially during winter or some summer days when there are strong winds, access becomes impossible, not only to visitors but also to employees). During the high season trips to Delos are available from other islands of Cyclades as well (mainly from Paros and Naxos).
Visitors should ask information regarding the weather conditions and the trips to Delos.
Port Authority of Mykonos
Call Center: +30 22890 22218
Mykonos Shipping Agencies
'Delos travel', M. Hajioannou, Drafaki, Mykonos, tel: +30 22890 28603
'Likouris Travel International', Aghios Artemis, Fabrika, tel: +30 22890 24439
'Sea & Sky Travel', Dimitris Manesis, Manto square, tel .: +30 22890 22853, +30 22890 23130, +30 22890 27799
Rates - Departure Point
Ticket prices for a trip to Delos begin at 10 € (for children 6-12 years old). The ticket for adults costs 20 €, while for children up to 6 years old the transit is free of charge. Departures are daily from the small harbor opposite the chapel of Saint Nicholas at the beachside of Mykonos Town (Chora). Tickets can be purchased from the ticket office which is located right in front of the ferries 15 minutes before departure.
Tuesday - Sunday: Departure Time: 9:00 - 10:00 - 11:30 - 17:00
Return to Mykonos: 12:00 - 13:30 - 15:00 - 19:30
Monday: Departure Time: 10:00 to 17:00
Return to Mykonos: 13:30 - 19:30
Many book titles can be found about Delos, both recent and older publications (available in bookstores or libraries), which could be used in order to provide someone with more information about this great island.
We should note that some very important publications regarding Delos come from the 'French School of Athens' ('Ecole Francaise d'Athenes') and that is why they are in French, but there is certainly enough to be read in Greek and English too.