Voyage to the Center of the World

The peaks of Mount Parnassus shimmered on a heat spring afternoon above the temples of historic Delphi. In a verdant valley under, silver-tipped olive timber stretched to the sea. The solar traced a golden arc in the azure sky. On a flat plateau surrounded by this pure theater, I seemed up to discover myself standing at the heart of the world.

At least, the heart of all issues as the historic Greeks knew it. In entrance of me was a black ovoid stone, generally known as the omphalos, set on the spot in Greek mythology the place two eagles loosed by Zeus crossed paths at the earth’s nexus. It marked Delphi as one of the biggest enigmas of the historic universe.

I had come for what was supposed to be a day go to throughout a latest journey to Athens. Delphi is finest generally known as the house of the well-known Oracle — a robust priestess who noticed the future of kings and nations — and I needed no less than a glimpse of the thriller earlier than urgent forward with my travels.

But as I stood on the archaic plateau, I used to be riveted. The damaged columns of once-mighty altars rose like spirits in the pure air. A timeworn stadium and a prodigious stone amphitheater reigned silently over the mountain. The Temple of Apollo, the place the Oracle distributed her cryptic prophecies, was ringed with paths trod by truth-seekers who had labored up the steep valley from the Corinthian Gulf.

Despite the ancient bling, Delphi’s supremacy as a sacred power center was epitomized by the simple stone omphalos that had riveted me during my visit — what the Greeks called the “navel of the world.” While the temples have crumbled, seeing the omphalos gave me goose bumps, and left me awe-struck over Delphi’s sublime place in history.

At the top of the Sacred Way, the Temple of Apollo, now razed to its foundations, greeted visitors with these wise words: “Know Yourself,” and “Nothing in Excess.” Inside, the Oracle, a woman older than 50, would sit entranced over a crack in the earth answering questions. A centuries-old debate still rages over whether her divine inspiration came from an ether-like vapor formed by an ancient water source, the nearby Castalian Spring.

Whatever the truth, visitors can explore the remains of the spring in a rocky crag near the Delphi museum, an archaeological time capsule whose centerpiece is an exquisite, life-size bronze statue from 475 BC known as the Charioteer. With flowing robes, gems for eyes and regal poise, this masterpiece by an unknown artist embodies the mystery of Delphic lore.

The next day should be spent visiting the Corycian Cave, an obligatory stop for ancient supplicants after encountering the Oracle. A three and a half-hour trek (each way) from the ruins, this sanctuary for the nature god Pan dates to the neolithic era. The hike starts above Delphi’s marble amphitheater and winds through lovely pine forests. At each turn, there are outstanding views over the ancient site. In hot summer months, those preferring not to sweat it out can also drive.

After a long day, it’s essential to refuel at a traditional Delphi taverna. To Patriko Mas, with a stunning position overlooking the valley, is a lively gathering spot offering charcoal-grilled meat and fish, as well as roast peppers, stuffed mushrooms and other vegetarian fare.

After dinner, I strolled along the waterfront and looked back across the gulf to catch the sunset. There, as the sky faded to a golden pink, the peaks of Mount Parnassus towered in the distance over the town of Delphi, where gray stone houses clung under orange tiled roofs to the cliffs.

Rising above it, ancient Delphi glimmered from the mountainside like a polished gem — as smooth and simple as the stone at its very heart that once marked the center of the world.

Liz Alderman is the Paris-based chief European business correspondent for The New York Times.

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