Delphi, an ancient site dedicated to the Greek gods, goddesses and home to the mysterious and enigmatic oracles since around the 11th century b.c. In the ancient times, travelling to Delphi took days if not weeks to cross the mountainous terrain carrying gifts for the oracles, thankfully for us, a relatively short 2 hour bus ride NW of Athens got us there with plenty of time to explore the ruins.
Delphi was significant for many reasons but I’ll only be able to recap what I remember. On the way we drove past the area where the battle of Marathon happened (490 BCE, the Persian King Darius lost to the Greeks) and arrived to the place where, before the battle of Salamis (480 BCE), the Oracle had advised the Greeks that “walls of wood” would help the Greeks be victorious in an epic battle against King Xerxes, son of Darius, of Persia.
The Oracles were known for being cryptic (maybe because of their gifts or maybe because of the hallucinogenic gasses they were on), with their visions and predictions being vague and their meaning having several different potential interpretations. In this case, the advice of “walls of wood” was interpreted to mean that the battle would be successful using the Greek naval fleet; their ships were made of wood.
After the Greek’s consulted the Oracle, they evacuated the women and children of Athens to the island of Salamis and arranged their fleet in the Saronic Gulf between Salamis and the mainland. History isn’t clear on the exact numbers but the general belief is that the Persian navy was about 1000 ships strong, each ship carrying around 125 men, the majority of whom were oarsmen. The Greek navy had, at best, half the number of ships and each of their vessels carried closer to 100 men, most of them oarsmen as well. So fewer fighting men and fewer ships by far on the Greeks side. If you want the full story you can visit ancient.eu/salamis but to cut to the end, the smaller Greek navy defeated the Persians once again after an epic naval battle.
What was so interesting to me was that, the day before, our guide had pointed out the Saronic Gulf from the Acropolis and explained that there were so many broken and sunk ships from the battle STILL IN THE GULF, that current-day ships have to go around to get to the port!
Besides the historical significance, the drive to Delphi and the site itself was scenic and made for great pictures. I appreciated the contrast too of these ancient structures sprouting with colorful wildflowers in the cracks of the stones. What is old can be new again. Our tour included lunch at a the local hotel where we had a tasty lunch and an engaging conversation with a couple from Dubai who were on the tour with us. On the way back, our bus stopped in a little ski-town where we got out for 30 minutes or so to look around and visit the shops. Since it was off-season, the town felt eerily empty and the shopkeepers were glad to see us. The day was a long one and gave us much to think about so we didn’t do much else after getting back.
Next up in Part 4, we take a sail off the coast, explore some of Athens on foot and have a Michelin two-star dinner experience!