We spent the morning exploring Delos Island, a small island 30 minutes by boat from Mykonos. According to Greek myth, this was the birthplace of the twin deities Apollo (God of the Sun) and Artemis (Goddess of the Moon), making it was one of the ancient world’s most important religious sites. This synagogue is said to date to the second half of the second century B.C. which would make it the oldest synagogue yet discovered. Delos Island has no residents- only a handful of archaeologists who patiently excavate the ruins and a humble museum.
Legend says, Zeus, the king of the Gods had an affair with the beautiful young goddess Leto. Fleeing the jealous wrath of Zeus’ wife, Hera barred every place in the world from giving the pregnant Leto a place to give birth. The whole Greek world followed Hera’s order – with the single exception of Delos, a floating and rocky island that thought it had little to lose by giving sanctuary to Leto. Under a stately palm tree, Leto gave birth first to Artemis and then Apollo. It’s interesting to know that after this story, there was a law in the island that forbade births and deaths. No mortals were allowed to be born or die here. So back in the ancient days, pregnant women and people who were gravely sick were transported to the adjacent island of Rheneia to avoid breaking this sacred law.
Delos used to be the commercial trading center for the ancient world. It was a free port leading to a congregation of all eastern Mediterranean commercialism. Many rich bankers and merchants chose to settle on Delos, which in turn attracted tradesmen and craftsmen employed to construct the wonderful houses, statues, frescoes and mosaic floors to adorn those luxury mansions. Delos was a thriving Greek city until it was burned by mercenaries in 88BC. Then it was forgotten until modern times. In 1990, UNESCO inscribed the island on the World Heritage List, citing it as the “exceptionally extensive and rich” archaeological site which “conveys the image of a great cosmopolitan Mediterranean port”.
Like all ancient ruins, it does take a bit of active imagination to really visualize what it once must have been like living a thousand years ago. Walking in the island really made me feel like I’d been transported back in time.There were enough ruins to paint a good picture of life on a busy trading island. The outlines of houses, crumbling walls, grand statues, intricate mosaic floors and towering columns are still present. It’s still interesting to look at them even in their eroded and replica state. I was not expecting to see such a vast site and was surprised how free we could walk along the ruins. Delos is not there to tell a story. Delos is history itself.
If you have chance to visit here, you’ll see the much-photographed Lions of the Naxians — a row of seven sphinx-like lion statues. Only five of the original nine remain (some experts claim that there may have been more) and these are replicas; the originals are protected inside the museum.
From the practical side, make sure to be on the first boat in the morning and wear comfortable shoes. Remember to bring bottled water, sunscreen and hat as well, there isn’t much shade on Delos you can hide in.