It’s not hard to see why the Ancient Greeks believed that Delos, a small island opposite Mykonos, is where the god Apollo was born. The summer sun reflects off the marble and stones strewn across the island, just as it did in antiquity when it symbolised the light of inquiry, reason and harmony. It was a light that was seen to radiate throughout Greece, making Delos the centre of an archipelago of islands arranged, as if magically, in a circle around it. Hence the name of Greece’s most famous island group, the Cyclades, of which Delos lies at the centre.
What to do on Delos
A pilgrimage to the core of Greek civilisation
As you stand in the centre of this historic place, you can feel how the Delians felt about their sanctuary. Spread out around you are the island’s legendary monuments: the House of the Naxians, Temple of Artemis, Pythion, House of Dionysos and the ancient theatre, homes of the Delians and Temple of Isis.
There’s the Terrace of the Lions, with five of the marble lions that guarded the Sacred Palm that Leto, Apollo’s mother, held onto when she gave birth to the god of light. You are at the heart of the ancient cosmos.
The Archaeological Museum
One of the world’s finest collections of ancient Greek sculpture awaits you at Delos’ Archaeological Museum. Since its inauguration in 1904, it has been among the most important museums in Greece. Its nine rooms house sculptures, mosaics, pottery, inscriptions, jewellery, a funerary statuary and gravestones. Look for the torso of the Archaic kouros from the Sanctuary of Apollo, the statues of Dioskourides and Cleopatra, as well as Boreas, abducting the nymph Oreithia.
The Temple οf Isis
Within the Temple of Isis, you’ll find the statue of the goddess of sailors, and one of the most significant attractions on the island. The site stands out among temples to other foreign gods and can be found in the foothills of Mt Kynthos.
Originally made of wood, it was replaced by the stone structure seen today in the third century BC. It could hold 5,000 spectators and the entire area has archaeological remains, including private dwellings from the time of Cleopatra and Dioscorides.
Hidden gems of Delos
Ascent to the hub of the Cyclades
The climb up Mt Kythnos, the highest point on this small, flat island, at just 133m, takes a mere 20 minutes. Steps carved by the ancients will lead you to the often blustery top, where you can see the islands that form a circle around Delos.
The birth of Apollo on the invisible island
As mythology tells us, before the birth of Apollo, Delos was an invisible rock floating in the Aegean. The goddess Leto, pregnant by Zeus, was desperate to find a place to give birth but no one would take her in, fearing the wrath of Hera, Zeus’ jealous wife. Seeing her distress, Zeus sought help from his brother, Poseidon, the sea god, and asked him to anchor the floating invisible islet for Leto’s sake.
Poseidon obliged, tied it to the deep and named it Delos, “visible”. Leto leaned back against the slope of Mt Kythnos, holding onto the island’s single palm tree, and gave birth to her son, the god of light.
Very close to Delos and Mykonos, this 14 sq km island has a width of only 1km and is known for its many bays, inlets and deserted sandy beaches. There are five chapels and farmsteads scattered across the island. The chapel of Agia Triada overlooks a particularly stunning sandy beach.