Read Your Indulgence

Destinations: Delos // Island of the Gods

March 20, 2017

by Dane Steele Green

So here is the myth: the island of Delos was never rooted to the seafloor. Rather, it floated. This transient existence lasted right up until the very heavily pregnant Titan Leto showed up and gave birth to Artemis, Goddess of the Moon and the hunt, and Apollo, God of the Sun and music. Then all sorts of stuff happened.

Not only did it become a fixed island, but Delos became so sacred that — get this — no one could be born there (Artemis and Apollo were hard acts to follow) or, because of the island’s association with birth, die there. Even as Delos became THE place for Sun and Moon worship, and an economic powerhouse for the region, Delian women about to give birth and people at death’s door were shipped off to the nearby islet of Rineia to let nature take its course. This went on for generations.

Things have relaxed a little bit in modern times — you can be born and die there now — but what remains the same is that this island is big into gods. A stone’s throw away from the gay paradise of Mykonos, Delos is end to end a UNESCO World Heritage site because of all the temples. Whatever the myths may say, it is clear the island was from the start a sacred site. In fact, such was the gravitas of the island that it became sacred to gods not from Greece; Phoenicians raised sanctuaries to Baal, Astarte, and Eshmun, Egyptians brought in Isis, Jews built a synagogue, and the Romans added a shrine to Roma, the holy personification of the empire. Most striking, perhaps, is the gigantic phallus in the complex of Dionysus, God of wine and frenzy. If you wanted to commune with the divine, you pretty much had your pick on Delos.

Regular ferry service from the islands of Mykonos, Tinos, and Naxos make a Delian day-trip easy. However, a day-trip is all it’s going to be: There is no place to stay on the island; Delos is, ironically, one of the most inhospitable places in the Aegean. It’s practically a desert. Even in its day, the inhabitants were more like a “professional populace” for the various temples and had to import just about everything, including their own ranks. Delos existed purely as a religious site, never a civilian one, which makes it all the more a standout among Greece’s islands. Not exactly expansive, get to Delos early and you can see just about everything during daylight hours, including the museum that houses some of the best treasures Delos has to offer.

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