With the view from my room at Iniohos Hotel & Restaurant, Delphi, 700 meters/2,300 feet up Mount Parnassus, overlooking the Pleistos Valley and the Corinthian Gulf it’s no wonder the Oracle of Delphi could glimpse the future!
Yannis Papathanasiou, second generation owner of Iniohos, is as equally fascinated as I with the interplay of ancient regional culture and history with the development of the region’s food. He decries the weakening of traditional food making techniques and availability of such products as cheese from Crete using an enzyme from fresh figs, and natural yeast made from boiling grapes to syrup creating natural yeast used in their breads.
Yannis shares a feeling frequently expressed to this well-Greek-traveled journalist that Greek tourism in general has not concentrated enough on developing local tourism that cover these interest – popular culture/”people culture,” the history – not simply ancient – and local foods rarely found outside of the region.
Shortly after lunch, Yannis was off to food markets in Athens – 200 plus mile round trip – to pick up special ingredients from trusted purveyors and special spices from India. He didn’t arrive back until well after midnight. India?
A lunch of flaky spiral spanakopita, local grilled smoked sausages, tomato and feta salad all seemed very typical for a traditional Greek restaurant. Yet then an aromatic plate of Indian squash and peppers arrived. The executive chef at Iniohos is from India, and there’s a reason.
Delphi was a magnet for the entire pan-Hellenic world beyond what we now know as Greece. It was always an international city bringing together believers in the Pantheon. Today tourists from China, India and Japan flock to marvel at Delphi – as well as many other ancient Greek sites. After all, at one time all these regions were contemporaries – allies and enemies – always tied by the commerce of the great trade routes.
Hotel Iniohos sits high on the steep Mount Parnassus hillsides in the heart of Delphi. Delphi’s founding is shrouded in mist dating from the 1400s BC. Yet by the apex of the classical era (600s – 400s BC) and even into Macedonian and Roman empire days Delphi held an unparalleled position – and earned great wealth – within the belief system of the Greek pantheon. Considered the “navel of the world” to ancient Greeks Delphi was more important than the gods’ home of Mount Olympus. Delphi was their Vatican.
Pythia, the honorary name given to the Oracle of Delphi, held sessions from the stunningly positioned Temple of Apollo. There is evidence of volcanic fumes that seep up from deep in this tectonic active region that may have induced euphoria, even hallucinations. The Oracle’s pronouncements on the petitions and predictions asked were often cryptic – almost rants – and open to wide interpretations. Yet listened to with baited breath and frequently followed with auspicious outcomes.
Delphi was more than just the Oracle and became a commercial religious city of pilgrimage. Temples, sanctuaries, a vast theater with panoramic views of the valley and sacred springs dot the site.
The Thelos at the Sanctuary of Athena (4th century BC) in Delphi is iconic. It was often the first temple many pilgrims saw when entering the vast complex of the Oracle. Considered in its own day a masterpiece of Greek architectural symmetry and polychrome decoration it had 20 outer and 10 inner marble columns. Devotees of Athena still come to pay homage and pray to the goddess.
The ancient site of Delphi – a mere 20-minute walk or short taxi ride from the center of town – is extensive and built on the hills of Mount Parnassus, so walking within the site is essential. There is a modest admission charge to the main complex – the Temple of Apollo – including the excellent Archaeological Museum of Delphi. There is no admission charge to enter the Thelos at the Sanctuary of Athena, which is another easy 20-minute walk down the hill. You do want to see it all so allow yourself at least 3-hours.
The modern Archaeological Museum of Delphi caps this UNESCO World Heritage Site and is recessed into the mountain constructed of the same honey colored marble as the temples. Much of the art were gifts from around the pan-Hellenic world to the Oracle and priests of the temples, or burial objects for those fortunate enough to be interred in this sacred land. It’s superbly arranged in chronological order from 2,000-year-old bronze figurines to the eerily beautiful statue to Antinoos (2nd century AD). This remembrance to a tragic gay love story is sculpted in marble smooth as wax with rivulets of hair delicate and life-like.
On the morning I walked the grounds of the Thelos at the Sanctuary of Athena, a group of women – not a staged event – were dressed in modern versions of ancient robes chanting and meditating to the goddess Athena. It seemed strange at first. Then it all became real; they were giving thanks at the navel of the world to mother Earth.
When you go: Modern toll-roads and many bus companies connect Athens with Delphi.
Disclaimer: the author was a guest of Iniohos Hotel & Restaurant. Travel arrangements were made by the MTCgroup
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