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The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites


  Situated in the center of the Cyclades, Delos is one of the smallest islands of the group, measuring some 5 km N-S and 1.3 km E-W at the widest. The highest point on the island is Mt. Kynthos, which measures 112 m and down which flows the Inopos.
  Famous in antiquity as the birthplace of Apollo, Delos is mentioned with great frequency in ancient texts. The most important ones which refer to it are the Homeric Hymn to Apollo and Kallimachos Hymn to Delos. The oldest habitation site that has been found on the island is on the summit of Kynthos (end of the 3d millennium B.C.). The island seems to have been abandoned in the first half of the 2d millennium. Then a Mycenaean settlement was established at the future site of the Sanctuary of Apollo, which was itself founded at the beginning of the 7th c. B.C. The number of offerings between 700 and 550 indicates domination by Naxos at this period, but in the second half of the 6th c., it was Athens which attempted to control the sanctuary. Pisistratos, tyrant of Athens, intervened in the religious life of the island by purifying it, that is, by removing the tombs which surrounded the sanctuary. The Athenian supremacy became increasingly apparent in the 5th and 4th c., despite a short interruption from 404 to 394: Delos, then the headquarters of the maritime league directed by Athens, was administered by Athenian magistrates known as amphictyons. In 426 it was again purified, with all the remaining tombs removed and the bones and funerary furnishings deposited at Rheneia. In 314, Delos again became independent, remaining so until 166. The administrative accounts for the sanctuary and the inventories of offerings give us a rather good idea of the civil and religious institutions of this time. In 166, by Roman decree, Delos became an Athenian possession and was administered by an Athenian epimelete. It was declared a free port, and consequently attracted a great deal of maritime traffic and many merchants from Greece, Italy, and the East. This cosmopolitanism led first to the installation of foreign deities for whom sanctuaries of a non-Greek type were built; secondly, given the influx of immigrants, the town grew considerably. Delos was partially ravaged in 88 by the troops of Mithridates Eupator, and again in 69 by pirates of Athenodoros. These devastations together with the shift of commercial traffic to Italy as a result of the Roman conquest, led to the rapid decline of Delos. It remained a small town until the coming of Christianity, and was finally abandoned in the 7th c. A.D.
  Excavations since 1873 have uncovered a very great part of ancient Delos. The ruins can be divided into seven groups: the region of the Sanctuary of Apollo, which is situated on a small plain behind the main port; the lake quarter and the theater quarter, which border on the sanctuary to the N and S respectively; the quarter of the Inopos; the Terrace of the Foreign Gods and Mt. Kynthos; finally two outlying groups, the stadium quarter, to the NE of the island, and the S region.
  The sanctuary, which was established on the site of a Mycenaean settlement, began to take its present form towards the 6th c. B.C. It is reached by an avenue leading to a propylon, the avenue being flanked by two Hellenistic porticos, one of which was built by Philip V of Macedon. The propylon is contiguous with a 6th c. B.C. edifice called Oikos of the Naxians, which consists of a rather narrow room with an axial colonnade, and a four-column prostoon which was added later. Immediately to the N on the Sacred Way is to be found the base of the Naxian Colossos. Near it are three Temples of Apollo, constructed side by side and all facing W. The temple farthest N, which the inscriptions call Porinos Naos, dates to the 6th c. B.C., and appears to have consisted of a cella and a prodoinos. The second building is the Athenian Temple or Temple of the Seven Statues, which was built by the Athenians ca. 425-420. It was an ainphiprostyle hexastyle Doric temple which had in addition four pillars in antis. The interior of the cella was occupied by a horseshoe-shaped base which supported the statues of seven divinities whose identity is conjectural. The third Temple to Apollo, which was Doric, was the only peripteral temple on Delos. It was begun around 475-450 B.C., but not finished until the first half of the 3d c. To the N and the E of the temples are five buildings arranged in a semicircle. They are referred to as treasuries, but their actual purpose is unknown. They date from the archaic to the Classical period. To the E of the Temples of Apollo are a 6th c. B.C. edifice which may have been the bouleuterion, and the prytaneion, which was constructed in the 5th and 4th c. B.C. The latter is divided into several small rooms which inscriptions tell us included, among other things, a prodomos, a courtyard, and an archives room. Parallel to these two edifices is the Edifice of the Bulls, which is formed by a six-column prodomos, a long gallery flanked by benches, and a sort of cella reached by way of a bay framed by two supports, the pilasters of which are decorated with bull protoinas. The building, which was constructed at the end of the 4th c. or the beginning of the 3d, appears to have contained a ship which was probably a votive offering. To the W of the Temples of Apollo, on the other side of the Sacred Way, are various structures grouped around the Artemision. A first Temple of Artemis was built in the 7th c. B.C. on top of a Mycenaean edifice near which a hoard of gold and ivory Mycenaean objects has been found. This first temple was replaced in the 2d c. B.C. by a new one which incorporated it. To the E of the Arteinision the Sema of the Hyperborean Maidens Laodike and Hyperoche which was mentioned by Herodotos (4.34) has been identified by some. Nearby there is an apsidal structure of uncertain purpose. Contiguous with the S face of the Artemision are the foundations in poros of a large edifice which according to an account of the hieropoipoi was built by the Athenians in the 4th c. B.C. Blocks from the frieze represent the episodes of an epic of Theseus. Some have identified the structure, though without compelling reasons, with the Keraton mentioned in the accounts of the hieropoipoi. Parallel to its W face is the Edifice with the Hexagons, which is from the archaic period and had honeycomb decoration on at least two sides. To the N of the Artemision were the ekklesiasterion, which was remodeled several times from the 5th c. B.C. to the Imperial period, and a 5th c. building of very unusual plan which some have incorrectly identified as the Thesmophorion. It consisted of a courtyard with a Doric peristyle flanked by two symmetrical rooms whose roofs were supported by four Ionic columns. This building, along one side, borders an agora built ca. 126-125 by Theophrastos, epiineletes of Delos. A hypostyle hall built in the last years of the 3d c. B.C. opens onto this agora. Inside, 24 Doric columns and 20 Ionic columns supported a roof with a skylight.
  To the N the Sanctuary of Apollo is closed by a portico constructed by Antigonos Gonatas. The gallery, with a Doric exterior colonnade and an Ionic interior one, was flanked by two projecting wings. The triglyphs of the intercolumniation were each decorated with a bull's head in high relief. In front of the facade of the portico, a Mycenaean tomb surrounded by a semicircular wall corresponds to the Theke of the Hyperborean Maidens Opis and Arge which was mentioned by Herodotos (4.35). Behind the Portico of Antigonos, the fountain Minoe consists of a square well into which one could descend by means of a wide staircase of 11 steps.
  To the E the Sanctuary of Apollo is closed by a wall behind which was a residential district which has so far hardly been excavated and the Shrine of Dionysos, the latter flanked on either side by a cippa surmounted by the stump of a phallus. To the S of the Sanctuary of Apollo was the agora, a trapezoidal area surrounded by porticos built from the 3d to the 2d c. B.C. Baths were built on the agora in the Imperial period. Nearby, the basilica of St. Cyriacus is the only well-preserved Early Christian monument on Delos.
  The lake quarter extends to the N of the Sanctuary of Apollo around the trochoidal lake mentioned by several ancient writers as one of the most notable features of Delos' scenery. In the archaic period, this region formed the Temenos of Leto, of which the lion terrace offered by the Naxians towards the end of the 3d c. B.C., and the mid 6th c. Temple of Leto, still remain. To the SW of the Letoon, the dodekatheon contained only the altars and probably the statues of the twelve gods. In the 3d c. B.C. an amphiprostyle Doric temple was added to it. To the E of the dodekatheon and the Letoon, the agora of the Italians testifies to the prosperity of Delos' Italian colony. The agora, which was paid for by the donations of various benefactors in the last years of the 2d c. B.C., consists of a large trapezoidal area surrounded by a two-story portico on which opened exedrae and niches. Except for two palaestrae, the N part of the district is formed essentially of private houses, including some of the most opulent dwellings on Delos: the House on the Hill, the House of Diaduinenos, The House on the Lake, and several recently excavated insulae, in particular that of the House of the Comedians, which included a two-story tower crowned with pediments. In addition to these private buildings mention should be made of the establishment of the Poseidoniastes of Berytos. Constructed in the first half of the 2d c. B.C. by the Association of the Poseidoniastes of Berytos at Delos, Merchants, Shippers and Warehousemen, it consists of two courtyards, living quarters, and four shrines dedicated to Roina, Poseidon of Berytos, and two other national divinities of the Berytians, probably Astarte and Echmoun. The establishment of the Poseidoniastes and the neighboring insulae are oriented N-S and E-W and stand on straight, right-angled streets. This district, which appears to have been constructed in the second half of the 2d c. B.C. must have been laid out according to a predetermined plan.
  Such is not the case, however, with the area of the theater, which extends to the S of the Sanctuary of Apollo on the side of a hill. It is the oldest residential district of Delos. It continued to grow throughout the 3d c. B.C., and appears to be without prearranged plan. Its principal axis was the narrow Street of The Theater, which begins in a large flagged square called the Agora of the Herinaistes or Agora of the Coinpetaliastes on account of the numerous votive monuments erected there by these two Italian associations. The street, completely flagged, follows a twisting course as it rises to the theater, which was constructed in white marble in the 3d c. B.C. and could hold some 5500 spectators. The metopes of the frieze of the proskenion were decorated alternately with tripods and bucrania. The water which drained from the theater collected in a large cistern whose cover was supported by eight marble arches, which are still intact. On both sides of the Street of The Theater are houses dating in their present form from the 2d or the beginning of the 1st c. B.C. Most of them are two-story affairs. The most luxurious among them have a courtyard with marble peristyle and are decorated with mosaics. Some of them are well known: the House of Dionysos, which owes its name to a mosaic in opus vermiculatum representing a winged Dionysos (?) astride a tiger; the House of Cleopatra, in which the statues of its owners, the Athenian woman Cleopatra and her husband Dioskourides, are still to be found; the House of the Trident, whose peristyle of Rhodian type includes consoles decorated with two bull protomes and two lion protoines (probably symbols of Atargatis and Hadad), and which possesses several pictorial mosaics.
  Behind the theater is a residential district which has only been partially excavated. The House of the Masks there is famous for the mosaics which decorate four contiguous rooms and which include a Dionysos on the cheetah and a series of ten theatrical masks. Almost directly across from it is the House of the Dolphins, which is almost equally famous on account of the vestibule mosaic with the symbol of Tanit and the mosaic in the iinpluvium, which is signed by [Askle]piades of Arados.
  To the E of the theater precinct is the area of the Inopos, which is made up of public buildings and private houses along the banks of the Inopos. The waters of the stream were caught at this point in a reservoir constructed in the 3d c. B.C. The most noteworthy house in the area is the House of Hermes, which backs into a hill, and for this reason are preserved the remains of four stories. The sector includes two sanctuaries. The first is the Samothrakeion, consecrated to the Great Gods of Samothrace, Dioskouroi-Kabeiroi, and including both a temple built in the 4th c. B.C. which was enlarged in the 2d c. B.C. and the Monument of Mithridates, which Helianax, priest of Poseidon Aisios and the Great Gods, consecrated in 102-101 to the gods of whom he is priest and to King Mithridates Eupator Dionysos. The latter building consists of a square chamber with a statue of the king, and a facade with two Ionic columns in antis. Along the top of the walls ran a frieze composed of twelve medallions with half-length portraits of Mithridates' officers and allies. A little lower down is the Sarapeion A, the oldest of the Egyptian sanctuaries of Delos. It was built in 220 B.C. by the grandson of a priest of Memphis in obedience to a dream which is recounted in a long inscription carved on a colonnette found in the sanctuary. The sanctuary itself consists of a portico, two rooms, and a courtyard, at the far end of which stands a small temple. Some distance from the House of Hermes is the Aphrodision of Stesileos, a private organization of the 4th c. It consists of a marble temple, an altar, and five oikoi.
  At the foot of the Kynthos massif extends a long terrace sometimes called the Terrace of the Foreign Gods because standing on it are the Sanctuary of the Syrian Gods and a Sarapeion. The sanctuary, consecrated essentially to Atargatis and Hadad, occupies the N half of the terrace. Built in stages during the second half of the 2d c. B.C., it was administered at first by hieropolitan priests and then as an official right by Athenian priests. It consists of a square courtyard surrounded by small rooms and shrines, and a long terrace onto which a small theater opens. Here the faithful sat during the ceremonies, as is indicated by the absence of a stage and the presence of a portico which surrounds the cavea and hid the spectacle from profane eyes. To the S is the Sarapeion C, which was under official administration from the beginning of the 2d c. B.C. A dromos bordered by porticos and small sphinxes alternating with square altars leads to a large flagged courtyard. This is surrounded by several small buildings of cultic purpose, in particular the little bluish marble Temple of Serapis and the Doric distyle in antis Temple of Isis. The facade of the latter has been reconstructed and its cella still contains the big statue of Isis. The dromos of the Sarapeion C is dominated by the Heraion. This temple, Doric distyle in antis, dates from the end of the 6th c. B.C. Its foundations enclose the remains of a much smaller, earlier temple which appears to date from the beginning of the 7th c. B.C.
  The summit of Mt. Kynthos was reached by three roads which ran up the N and W sides. It was originally the site of a post-Neolithic settlement dating from the last centuries of the 3d millennium B.C. The remains of huts with generally curvilinear walls, as well as various stone and earthenware artifacts, have been found under the Sanctuary of Zeus and Athena Kynthia. This Kynthion was erected in Hellenistic times, for the most part in the 3d c. B.C. Its main structures are an oikos of Zeus Kynthios and an oikos of Athena Kynthia, both Ionic distyle in antis.
  The W face of Mt. Kynthos supports two sanctuaries, that of Agathe Tyche and the Den of Kynthos; the nature of the latter has long been a matter of dispute. It consists of a natural cleft in the rock covered by a ridge-roof formed by 10 enormous blocks of granite leaning against and supporting each other in pairs. Inside is a base which bore a statue of Herakles. Although the Den was long considered to have been the original Sanctuary of Apollo, it would appear in reality to have been a Hellenistic Sanctuary of Herakles. The N face of Kynthos is occupied by several sanctuaries of oriental type, such as that of the gods of Iamneia and that of the gods of Ascalon.
  The stadium area is in the NE part of Delos, running along the E coast. The stadium is bordered with tiers of seats on the W and has a tribunal on the E. It is next to a gymnasium, established there in the early 3d c. B.C. and rebuilt during the Athenian period, whose central courtyard with an Ionic peristyle is flanked by rooms on two sides only. The stadium dominates a partially explored residential quarter. Nearby on the shore was the synagogue, identified by its ground-plan and dedications to Theos Hypsistos. It was in use until the 2d c. A.D. Halfway between the stadium area and the Sanctuary of Apollo is the Archegesion or Sanctuary of Anios, mythical archegetes and king of Delos. It dates from the 6th c. B.C. but was remodeled during the Hellenistic period.
  To the S of the Sanctuary of Apollo along the W shore are various ruins which have been only partially excavated. After a group of warehouses opening on the port comes a sanctuary which might be the Dioskourion. It contains various archaic and Hellenistic structures. More to the S the Asklepieion was built between the end of the 4th and the middle of the 3d c. B.C. Among other things, a propylon, an oikos, and the Doric tetrastyle temple have been found there. To the E of this sanctuary, on the side of the hill, is the exceptionally large House of Fourni.
  In 69, Delos was fortified by the legate Triarios; remains of the Wall of Triarios are to be found in various places, particularly to the E of the lake area.
  Most objects found on the island are preserved in the Delos museum, with the exceptions of some exceptional pieces in the National Museum of Athens. The former thus possesses a considerable collection of archaic kouroi and korai, some pieces of Classical sculpture, and a vast quantity of Hellenistic statues and reliefs. In addition it contains fragments of murals from the houses and the altars of the Compitalia; gold and ivory Mycenaean objects; ceramics from all periods, but especially from the 1st and 2d c. B.C.; Hellenistic figurines and furnishings; and hundreds of marble inscriptions.
  Rheneia, to the W of Delos, has been only summarily explored. The E coast, which is that closest to Delos, contains the necropolis of the Delians. In addition to numerous tombs and funerary stelai, there have been found a columbarium from the Hellenistic period and the mass grave where the bones and funerary offerings exhumed in the purification of 426 were placed. A small Sanctuary of Herakles, dating from the 2d or the 1st c. B.C. has been found near the W bank.

P. Bruneau, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Nov 2002 from Perseus Project URL below, which contains 131 image(s), bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.

Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)


  Delos or Delus (Delos: Eth. and Adj. Delios, Delia, Delias, Deliakos), the smallest of the islands called the Cyclades in the Aegaean sea, lying in the strait between Rheneia and Myconus. It appears in the earliest times as one of the holiest spots in Hellas. According to the most generally received tradition, it was called out of the deep by the trident of Poseidon, but was a floating island, until Zeus fastened it by adamantine chains to the bottom of the sea, that it might be a secure restingplace to Leto, for the birth of Apollo and Artemis. (Pind. ap. Strab. x. p. 485; Callim. Hymn. in Del. passim; Virg. Aen. iii. 76; Plin. iv. 12. s. 22; Dict. of Ant. art. Leto.) As the birthplace of Apollo, it became one of the chief seats of his worship, and the god is said to have obtained exclusive possession of the island by giving Calaureia to Poseidon in exchange for it. (Strab. viii. p. 373.) In the same way the Delphians related that Apollo gave Calaureia to Poseidon in order to obtain possession of Delphi. (Paus. x. 5. § 6.) Delos was called by various other names by the poets and mythographers. Pliny mentions the names of Asteria, Ortygia, Lagia, Chlamydia, Cynthus, Pyrpile; and Stephanus B. those of Asteria, Pelasgia, and Chlamydia. Its name of Asteria is alluded to by Poseidon, who speaks of Delos as the unshaken prodigy of the earth, which mortals call Delos, but the gods in Olympus the farfamed star (astron) of the dark earth. (Pind. Frag. 57, 58, ed. Bergk.) Callimachus also says that it was called Asteria, when Leto found refuge upon it. (Ibid. 40.) It received the name of Ortygia because according to one version of the legend Leto was changed by Zeus into a quail (ortux), in order to escape from Hera, and in this form arrived at the floating island. (Serv. ad Virg. Aen. iii. 72; Strabo also mentions the name Ortygia, x. p. 486.) The name of Delos was supposed by the ancient writers to have been given to the island from its becoming clear or plain (delos) after floating about in the sea. (Aristot. ap. Plin. iv. 12. s. 22; Serv. ad Virg. Aen.) In consequence of its having been fastened by Zeus to the bottom of the sea, it was supposed to be immovable even by earthquakes, to which the surrounding islands were frequently subject. Hence Pindar, in the passage already quoted, calls Delos the unshaken prodigy of the earth (chthonos akineton teras). Down to the time of Pliny it was only twice shaken by earthquakes, and on each occasion the phenomenon was regarded with alarm by the whole of Greece. The first occurred just before the Persian invasion (Herod. vi. 98), and the second shortly before the Peloponnesian War (Thuc, ii. 8). It is a curious circumstance that Herodotus speaks of the former earthquake, and Thucydides of the latter as the only one which had ever taken place; and accordingly some commentators suppose that Thucydides actually refers to the same earthquake as the one mentioned by Herodotus.
  Respecting the origin of the worship of Apollo at Delos, we have no trustworthy information. K. O. Muller supposes that it was introduced by the Dorians on their voyage to Crete (Muller, Dor. vol. i. p. 238); but this is only an hypothesis, unsupported by evidence. In the earliest historical times the island was inhabited by Ionians, and is represented as the centre of a great periodical festival in honour of Apollo, celebrated by all the Ionic cities on the mainland as well as in the islands. In this character it is represented in the Homeric hymn to Apollo, which cannot probably be later than 600 B.C. (Hom. Hymn. in Apoll. 146, seq.; Grote, Hist of Greece, vol. iii. p. 222.) The festival was conducted with great splendour; and, as at Delphi, there were musical, as well as gymnastic contests. Like the Olympic and other great festivals of Hellas, it doubtless grew out of one of a more limited character; and we are expressly informed that Delos was originally the centre of an Amphictyony, to which the Cyclades and the neighbouring islands belonged. (Thuc. iii. 104; Strab. x. p. 485; comp. Bockh, Inscr. vol. i. p. 252, seq.) The Athenians took part in this festival at an early period, as is evident from the mention of the Deliastae in one of Solon's laws (Athen. vi. p. 234). It was related at a later period that the Athenians instituted the festival to commemorate the safe return of Theseus from Crete, and that the vessel in which the sacred embassy sailed to the festival was the identical one which had carried Theseus and his companions. (Plut. Thes. 21; Plat. Phaed. sub init.) The two Ionic despots, Peisistratus of Athens and Polycrates of Samos, both took a warm interest in the festival: Peisistratus purified the island by removing all the tombs which were within view of the temple; and Polycrates dedicated the neighbouring island of Rheneia to the Delian Apollo, by fastening it with a chain to Delos. But owing to various causes, among which undoubtedly was the conquest of the Ionic cities in Asia Minor by the Persians, the festival had fallen into decay at the commencement of the Peloponnesian War. In the sixth year of this war, B.C. 426, the Athenians purified Delos. They removed all the tombs from the island, and declared it to be unlawful henceforth for any living being to be born or die within it, and that every pregnant woman should be carried over to the island of Rheneia in order to be delivered. (Thuc. l. c.; Strab. x. p. 486.) On this occasion the Athenians restored the ancient festival under the name of the Delia, of which an account is given elsewhere. (Dict. of Ant. art. Delia.)
  The sanctity of Delos was respected by Datis and Artaphernes, who would not anchor here, but passed on to Rheneia. They also sent a herald to recall the Delians, who had fled to Tenos, and they burnt upon the altar of the god 300 talents of frankincense. (Herod. vi. 97.) On the formation of the confederacy in B.C. 477, for the purpose of carrying on the war against Persia, Delos was chosen as the common treasury (Thuc. i. 96); but subsequently the transference of the treasury to Athens, and the altered character of the confederacy, reduced the island to a condition of absolute political dependence upon Athens. The purification of Delos by the Athenians in B.C. 426 has been already mentioned; but four years afterwards (B.C. 422) the Athenians thinking the removal of the Delians themselves essential to the complete purification of the island, banished all the inhabitants, who obtained a settlement at Atramyttium (Adramyttium), which was given to them by the satrap Pharnaces. (Thuc. v. 1; Paus. iv. 27. § 90) Here, some years afterwards (B.C. 411), several of them were murdered by Arsaces, a general of Tissaphernes (Thuc. viii. 108).
  After the fall of Corinth (B.C. 146) Delos became the centre of an extensive commerce. The sanctity of the spot and its consequent security, its festival which was a kind of fair, the excellence of its harbour, and its convenient situation on the highway from Italy and Greece to Asia, made it a favourite resort of merchants. (Strab. x. p. 486.) So extensive was the commerce carried on at Delos, that 10,000 slaves are said to have changed hands here in one day. (Strab. xiv. p. 668.) Delos was celebrated for its bronze, and before the invention of the Corinthian bronze the aes Deliacum had the greatest reputation in antiquity, and the vessels made of it were in very great request. (Plin. xxxiv. 2. s. 4; vasa Deliaca, Cic. pro Rosc. Am. 46, Verr. ii. 34; Dict. of Ant. p. 25, b., 2nd ed.) The Romans confirmed the Athenians in the possession of the island; but in the Mithridatic War the generals of Mithridates inflicted upon it a devastation, from which it never recovered. In the time of Strabo it still belonged to the Athenians. (Polyb. xxx. 18; Strab. l. c.; Appian, Mithr. 28; Paus. iii. 23. § § 3, 4.) Pausanias describes it as almost deserted in his time (viii. 33. § 2, comp. ix. 34. § 6).
  Delos is little more than a rock, being only 5 miles in circumference, according to Pliny. The town is described by Strabo (x. p. 485) as lying in a plain at the foot of Mount Cynthus, and the only buildings which he specifies in the island are the hieron of Apollo, and the temple of Leto. The town was situated on the western side of the island. Mount Cynthus, from which Apollo and Leto are so often called, is a bare granite rock not more than 400 or 500 feet high. It was probably the acropolis of the ancient town, and seems to have been surrounded by a wall. On its sides are many architectural fragments of white marble, and on its summit are the foundations and remains of a large building of the Ionic order. In antiquity two flights of steps led up to the summit of the mountain; the one on the northern, and the other on the western side. On the western side is an ancient gate, of which the roof is formed of two stones rudely shaped, and resting against each other at an angle so obtuse that the rise is only 4 feet 2 inches, above a breadth of 16 feet 2 inches. (Leake.)
  The ancient writers speak of a little river Inopus (Inopos) in the island. They compare its rising and falling with the same phaenomena of the Nile, and some even suppose there was a connection between it and the Aegyptian river. (Strab. vi. p. 271, x. p. 485; Callim. Hymn. in Del. 206, 263, in Dian. 171; Paus. ii. 5. § 3; Plin. ii. 103. s. 106.) We also find mention of a lake or tank, called limne trochoeides by Herodotus (ii. 170) and Theognis, trochoessa by Callimachus (in Del. 261), containing the water necessary for the service of the temple of Apollo. Its name, as well as the epithet perieges given it by Callimachus (in Apoll. 59), sufficiently proves that it was oval or circular; and there can be no doubt that it is the oval basin, 100 yards in length, situated in the northern half of the island, and a little inland east of the ancient harbour, which Tournefort and the earlier writers absurdly supposed to be a Naumachia. This lake is frequently mentioned by other ancient writers; and near it Leto is said to have brought forth her divine children. (Aesch. Eum. 9; Eurip. Ion, 169, Iphig. Taur. 1103.) Others again represent the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis as near the Inopus (Hom. in Apoll. 18; Callim. in Del. 206); and as the exact spot was pointed out in later times, the Inopus would appear to have been situated in the northern part of the island, near the oval basin mentioned above. Leake, however, identifies the Inopus with the small brook which flows down from Mount Cynthus and joins the sea at the port of Furni, since it is the only running stream in the island, and that only in winter. Leto is said to have grasped a palm-tree when she bore her children; and the palm, which does not grow in Greece Proper, was held in especial reverence in Delos. (Comp. Paus. viii. 48. § 3; Hom. Od. vi. 162; Aelian, V. H. v. 4; Hygin. Fab. 140.) The identical palm-tree of Leto was shown by the Delii in the time of Cicero (de Leg. i. 1).
  Delos is now a heap of ruins. Whole shiploads of columns and other architectural remains were carried off, centuries ago, to Venice and Constantinople. Of the great temple of Apollo, of the stoa of Philip, of the theatre, and of numerous other buildings, there is scarcely the capital of a column or an architrave left uninjured. Not a single palm-tree is now found in the island, and the only inhabitants are a few shepherds, taking care of some flocks of sheep and goats brought over from Myconus. The chief buildings of Delos lay between the oval basin and the harbour on the western side of the island. The ruins of the great temple of Apollo and of the stoa of Philip III. of Macedon may here be distinctly traced. (Bockh, Inscr. n. 2274.) There are still remains of the colossal statue of Apollo dedicated by the Naxians, and in front of the basis we read Naxioi Apolloni. This statue was thrown down in antiquity. A brazen palm-tree, which had been dedicated by Nicias, according to Plutarch (Nic. 3), or by the Naxians themselves, according to Semus (Athen. xi. p. 502), having been blown down by the wind, carried with it the colossal statue. The theatre stood at the western foot of Mount Cynthus, facing Rheneia, and not far from the stoa of Philip. Its extremities were supported by walls of white marble of the finest masonry, but of a singular form, having had two projections adjacent to the orchestra, by which means the lower seats were in this part prolonged beyond the semicircle, and thus afforded additional accommodation to spectators in the situation most desirable. The diameter, including only the projections, is 187 feet. The marble seats have all been carried away, but many of the stones which formed their substruction remain. Immediately below the theatre, on the shore, are the ruins of a stoa, the columns of which were of granite. In a small valley which leads to the summit of Mount Cynthus, leaving the theatre on the left, many ruins of ancient houses are observable; and above them, in a level at the foot of the peak, there is a wall of white marble, which appears to have been the cell of a temple. Here lies an altar, which is inscribed with a dedication to Isis by one of her priests, Ctesippus, son of Ctesippus of Chius. Like many others, remaining both in this island and in Rheneia, it is adorned with bulls' heads and festoons. Another fragment of an inscription mentions Sarapis; and as both these were nearly in the same place where Spon and Wheler found another in which Isis; Anubis, Harpocrates, wand the Dioscuri were all named, it is very probable that the remains of white marble belonged to a temple of Isis. Among them is a portion of a large shaft pierced through the middle, 4 feet 5 inches in diameter; and there is another of the same kind, 5 feet 8 inches in diameter, half-way up the peak of Cynthus. (Leake.) After describing Mount Cynthus, of which we have already spoken, Leake continues: Ruins of private houses surround Mount Cynthus on every side. On the heights above the Trochoessa, which form the north-western promontory of the island, are many other similar ruins of ancient houses, neatly constructed with mortar. On the summit of the same hill, near the remains of a large house, are some shafts of white marble, a foot and a half in diameter, half polygonal and half plain. As this quarter was entirely separated from the town on Mount Cynthus by the valley containing the sacred buildings, there is great probability that it was the new Athenae Hadrianae, which was built at the expense of the emperor Hadrian, in a position called Olympieum (Phlegon, ap. Steph. B. s.v. Olumpieion), perhaps from a temple of Jupiter Olympius, to which the shafts just mentioned may have belonged. In the northern part of the island are the remains of the stadium and the gymnasium.
  The strait, which separates Delos and Rheneia, is 4 stadia, or about half a mile, in width. (Strab. x. p. 486.) In this strait are two rocks, called Rematiari, of which one is probably the ancient island of Hecate (Hekates nesos, Harpocrat. and Suid. s. v.; Semus, ap. Athen. xiv. p. 645.)
  Rheneia or Rhenaia (Rheneia, Rhenaia, both forms occur in writers and inscriptions) is much larger than Delos, being about 10 miles in circumference. The northern and southern halves are divided by a narrow isthmus. The southern half, which lies opposite Delos, was the burial-place of the latter, as has been already explained, and is now covered with remains of sepulchres. There are also ruins of many private houses, like those at Delos. (Thuc. i. 13, iii. 104; Herod. vi. 97; Strab. x. p. 486; Diod. xii. 58.)
  Both Delos and Rheneia are now called Dhiles. (Besides the earlier works of Spon, Wheler, Thevenot, and Tournefort, see Leake, Northern Greece, vol. iii. p. 95, seq.; Ross, Reisen auf den Griech. Inseln, vol. i. p. 30, seq., vol. ii. p. 167, seq.; Bronsted, Reisen, vol. i. p. 59; Fiedler, Reisen durch Griechenland, vol. ii. p. 269, seq.; Exped. Scientif. vol. iii. p. 3, seq.; Sallier, Hist. de l'Isle de Delos, in Mem. de l'Acad. des Inscr. vol. iii. p. 376; Dorville, Miscell. Observ. vol. vii. p. 1, seq.; Schwenck, Deliacorum Part. I., Francof. 1825; Schlager, Pauca quaedam de Rebus Deli, Mitav. 1840.)

This text is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited September 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks

Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities


   An island of the Aegean, situated nearly in the centre of the Cyclades. This island was called also Asteria, Pelasgia, Chlamydia, Lagia, Pyrpilis, Scythias, Mydia, and Ortygia. It was named Ortygia from ortux, "a quail," and Lagia from lagos, "a hare," the island formerly abounding with both these creatures. On this account, according to Strabo, it was not allowed to have dogs at Delos, because they destroyed the quails and hares. The name Delos was commonly derived from delos, "manifest," in allusion to the island having floated under the surface of the sea until made to appear and stand firm by order of Poseidon. This was done for the purpose of receiving Leto, who was on the eve of delivery, and could find no asylum on the earth, Here having bound it by an oath not to receive her; but as Delos at the time was floating beneath the waters, it was freed from the obligation. Once fixed in its place, it continued, according to popular belief, to remain so firm as even to be unmoved by the shocks of an earthquake. This, however, is contradicted by Thucydides and Herodotus, who report that a shock was felt there before the Peloponnesian War.
    Delos was celebrated as the natal island of Apollo and Artemis, and the solemnities with which the festivals of these deities were observed there never failed to attract large crowds from the neighbouring islands and the continent. Among the seven wonders of the world was an altar at Delos which was made of the horns of animals. Tradition reported that it was constructed by Apollo with the horns of deer killed in hunting by his sister Artemis. Plutarch says he saw it, and he speaks of the wonderful interlacing of the horns of which it was made, no cement nor bond of any kind being employed to hold it together. Portions of this altar are identified by archaeologists in the scattered blocks of marble lately found in the so-called Hall of the Bulls, to the east of the great temple, and named from its “taurine” capitals representing recumbent bulls. The Athenians were commanded by an oracle, in the time of Pisistratus, to purify Delos, which they did by causing the dead bodies which had been buried there to be taken up and removed from all places within view of the temple. In the sixth year of the Peloponnesian War, they, by the advice of an oracle, purified it anew by carrying all the dead bodies to the neighbouring island of Rhenaea, where they were interred. After having done this, in order to prevent its being polluted in the time to come, they published an edict that for the future no person should be suffered to die, nor any woman to be brought to bed, in the island, but that, when death or parturition approached, they should be carried over into Rhenaea. In memory of this purification, it is said, the Athenians instituted a solemn quinquennial festival.
    When the Persian armament, under Datis and Artaphernes, was making its way through the Grecian islands, the inhabitants of Delos left their rich temple, with its treasures, to the protection of its tutelary deities, and fled to Tenos. The fame of the sanctuary, however, saved it from spoliation. The Persians had heard that Delos was the birthplace of two deities who corresponded to those who held the foremost rank in their own religious system--the sun and moon. This comparison was probably suggested to them by some Greek who wished to save the temple. If we may credit the tradition which was current in the days of Herodotus, Delos received the highest honours from Datis. He would not suffer his ships to touch the sacred shore, but kept them at the island of Rhenaea. He also sent a herald to recall the Delians who had fled to Tenos, and offered sacrifice to the god, in which 300 talents of frankincense are said to have been consumed After the Persian War, the Athenians established at Delos the treasury of the Greeks, and ordered that all meetings relative to the confederacy should be held there. In the tenth year of the Peloponnesian War, not being satisfied with the purifications which the island had hitherto undergone, they removed its entire population to Adramyttium, where they obtained a settlement from the Persian satrap Pharnaces. Here many of these unfortunate Delians were afterwards treacherously murdered by order of Arsaces, an officer of Tissaphernes. Finally, however, the Athenians restored those that survived to their country after the battle of Amphipolis, as they considered that their ill success in the war proceeded from the anger of the god on account of their conduct towards this unfortunate people. Strabo says that Delos became a place of great commercial importance after the destruction of Corinth, as the merchants who had frequented that city then withdrew to this island, which afforded great facilities for carrying on trade on account of the convenience of its port, and its advantageous situation with respect to the coasts of Greece and Asia Minor, as well as from the great concourse of people who resorted thither at stated times. It was also very famous for its bronze. The Romans especially favoured the interests of the Delians, though they had conceded to the Athenians the sovereignty of the island and the administration of the temple. But on the occupation of Athens by the generals of Mithridates, they landed troops in Delos and committed the greatest devastations there in consequence of the inhabitants refusing to espouse their cause (B.C. 87). After this calamity it remained in an impoverished and deserted state. The town of Delos was situated at the foot of Mount Cynthus, in a plain watered by the little river Inopus, and by a lake called Trochoeides by Theognis and Herodotus. Remains of the great temple of Apollo, of the temple of Leto, a theatre, a private house, and of several porticoes are among the antiquities that are now visible. Since 1877, M. Homolle and others, on behalf of the French Archaeological Institute, have prosecuted very extensive investigations on the site of the town.

This text is cited Oct 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks


The ancient name of Delos. Since Artemis and Apollo were born at Delos, the poets sometimes call the goddess Ortygia, and give the name of Ortygiae boves to the oxen of Apollo. The ancients connected the name with ortux, a quail.

After the destruction of Corinth, in the middle of the second century B.C., the island of Delos enjoyed a brief but brilliant period of prosperity.

Perseus Project

Originally Asteria, or Ortygia, a floating island, where Leto bore Apollo and Artemis.

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