Sun drenched would be an understated description of Delos, which is pretty fitting for the birthplace of Apollo, god of the sun. And even though we aren’t sun worshippers, at least in the bake-our-bodies-on-the-beach sense, this did seem like a place we had to see.
The only way to get to Delos is by taking a small ferry from the nearby island of Mykonos, which worked out great for us since that was one of the ports of call on our Mediterranean cruise aboard the Royal Princess.
The little port town of Mykonos gleamed in whitewashed splendor under the morning sun as we took our tender in from the ship. But, as inviting as it was, it would have to wait until after we paid our homage to more sacred ground.
According to mythology, when the minor goddess Leto became pregnant by Zeus it sat less-than-well with the big guy’s wife, Hera. Mrs. Z decried that Leto would not be allowed to give birth on “terra firma” and figured that solved that.
But the clever Leto swooped in to take advantage of a loophole. At that time the island of Delos was floating freely across the sea, making it terra not-so-firma and eligible for some creative deception.
After Apollo was born, Daddy Zeus proclaimed that the island was important enough to stay in one place so he secured it to the ocean floor.
Because of this status, the island became a place for pilgrimages to pay tribute to its native son, his sister Artemis, and their mother.
Temples were erected in their honor and a town sprung up, becoming quite the hotspot for the Greek elite. Elaborate houses, agoras, and a theater soon followed.
As the ferry from Mykonos pulled up to the dock all we could see on the barren landscape were a few lonely walls, columns, and a bunch of stones strewn about.
Unfortunately looting took a heavy toll on the temples and palaces. Most of the marble used in their construction was hauled off before modern archaeologists discovered the ruins.
But once we made our way up the sunbaked path it became clear that there was still plenty to see here. We could visualize some of the homes, named for the artwork that survived the centuries.
The opulence wasn’t too hard to imagine at The House of Cleopatra (no, not that Cleopatra) where statues of Cleo and her husband flank the door, or The House of the Dolphins and The House of Dionysus with their mosaic tile floors.
All of these dwellings had fresh water access supplied by cisterns underneath, along with sewer systems to carry off the waste.
These types of innovations weren’t found in most of the world for over a thousand years.
From the residential area we headed back down the hill to what was once the main drag of Delos, the Sacred Way.
The road runs along the shore, from the bay to the far end of the town, passing many of the main temples along the way.
There is very little left to see of these once great monuments, but several inscriptions have survived, giving researchers a pretty good idea of which gods each was dedicated to.
In the center of it all a huge open space marks where the agora, or market place, once thrived.
Delos didn’t have natural resources to provide for itself, so almost everything had to be imported and then sold at the early version of a shopping center.
At the far end of the Sacred Way we came upon Delos’ most famous denizens, a pride of marble lions dedicated to Apollo by people from the nearby island of Naxos around 600 BC.
The Terrace of the Lions originally had at least a dozen of the big cats, but several have been carted off over the years so only five remain.
Just as there is only one way on to Delos, there is also only one way off… and the last boat back to Mykonos was leaving in a few minutes.
So unless we wanted to spend the night among the ancient Greek gods we had to make like Hermes and put some wings on our shoes.
Back on Mykonos we still had a couple hours until Royal Princess sailed, giving us the opportunity to do a quick exploration of the town.
Just a few steps from the ferry dock, Panagia Paraportianí is the oldest church on the island. Construction started in 1425, but work continued for two hundred years as four chapels were combined into the one church.
We passed another church as we entered the main part of town, one of the many tiny chapels that commonly dot the coasts of the Greek Isles dedicated to fishermen and all those who go out to sea.
Another thing we noticed was that there is probably a huge demand for villas to rent in Mykonos, because there were so many of them on the island which was kind of interesting.
From our vantage point on the water the little city is almost blindingly white, with just a few blue and maroon rooftops to break the continuity.
We wandered into the maze of narrow winding streets leading up from the harbor and seemed to be on an endless trail, since almost all of the houses are connected to each other.
It struck us as a topless tunnel with long whitewashed walls, until we began noticing that miniature gardens and colorful details distinguish the homes from one another.
The tiny alleys turn every which way, and it would have been incredibly easy to get hopelessly lost if not for the basic plan that downhill meant toward the water.
Feeling reasonably secure that we would be able to find our way back to the ship, we decided to go a little farther, then take a break at a neighborhood watering hole for some Hellenistic snacks, a goblet of the nectar of the gods, and a bit of mythology from A to Z.
We figured the scarlet letter on our mugs stood for Alpha, first among beers.
Then we thought maybe the A is for Athens, home of Zeus, Mount Olympus, and the Athenian Brewery. Better yet, today it should be for Apollo, but no matter which, the golden potion had restored our strength and vigor.
Perhaps not to the level of Zeus, who defeated the Titans for supernatural superiority right here on Mykonos before settling in Athens, but it did a fine job of taming Apollo’s parching rays.
Turned out we got a bit of a show with our two drink minimum too, as a bit of a brew-ha-ha broke out between waitress and boyfriend… or maybe we just didn’t understand how Greeks express their affection.
Either way it was done at a volume that the gods up on Mount Olympus could have heard.
With the dust settled, both in our throats and between the staff, we didn’t need any voices from on-high to tell us it was time to make tracks down the sloping streets.
A blast of the ship’s horn was more than enough of a sign.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
Thanks to Princess Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure! As always, all opinions are our own. See our entire Mediterranean voyage aboard the Royal Princess here
This post may contain sponsored links.