Delos: Walking through ancient history

It isn't hard to find places of the ancients Greeks -- Athens offers its treasure to thousands of tourists daily. But the island of Delos is a complete archeological world. Not a few monuments thronged with visitors, but a 1.3 square mile island that was the whole world of the people who once lived there.

Inhabited since the third millennium the island offered few natural resources and fewer people who wanted to live there. That change in 167 BC when Delos was decreed a free port and people sought out the island making it a center of commerce. Merchants, bankers, ship-owners built houses. Artists and craftsmen adorned them with frescoes and mosaics. The island filled with temples, market squares, theaters, houses of wealthy merchants and even a Jewish synagogue.

But Delos was more than commerce. The island had a sacred side -- as the birth site of the twin gods Apollo and Artemis. As a holy place birth and death was considered profane and no one could be born or be buried on its rocky shores.

Its wealth proved its undoing -- the island was plundered twice and eventually left to crumble into ruins. There was no family to inherit land or property. Ironically, that saved its history. With no reason to live there once commerce was destroyed, no one razed its buildings for skyscrapers, or used its columns for paving stones. Visitors today can walk the same streets, seeing glimpses of the residents in their gates, mosaics, and temples.

Delos can be reached by ferry from Mykonos. There's a small museum and three routes marked by arrows of different colors to guide visitors through the excavated parts.

The Naxian Lions on the Blue trail is considered a highlight. On the Green trail, the House of Dionysus floor mosaic is hauntingly beautiful and up the hill is the Sanctuary of the Egyptian Gods. But those who prefer to roam are free explore using the map as a guide. And with few people to hinder one's imagination, it is almost possible to voyage back in time and walk with the Delosians.

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Neala McCarten



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