Delos

800px-ancient_greek_theatre_in_delos_01

Ancient Greek Theatre, Delos (Bernard Gagnon/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0).

Prefecture of Cyclades, Region of the South Aegean
N37 23 60 E25 16 0.012
Date of Inscription: 1990
Property : 350.64 ha
Ref: 530
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According to Greek mythology, Apollo was born on this tiny island in the Cyclades archipelago. Apollo’s sanctuary attracted pilgrims from all over Greece and Delos was a prosperous trading port. The island bears traces of the succeeding civilizations in the Aegean world, from the 3rd millennium B.C. to the palaeochristian era. The archaeological site is exceptionally extensive and rich and conveys the image of a great cosmopolitan Mediterranean port.

Delos, even though a small (350.64 ha), rocky island in the centre of the Aegean Sea, was considered as “the most sacred of all islands” (Callimachus, 3rd century BC) in ancient Greek culture. According to the legend, it was there that Apollo-Sun, god of daylight, and his twin sister Artemis-Moon, goddess of night light, were born.

The island was first settled in the third millennium BC. The Apollonian sanctuary, established at least since the 9th century BC, reached the peak of its glory during the Archaic and Classical period, when it acquired its Pan-Hellenic character. After 167 BC, as a result of the declaration of Delos as a free port, all the commercial activity of the eastern Mediterranean was concentrated on the isle. Rich merchants, bankers and ship-owners from all over the world settled there, attracting many builders, artists and craftsmen, who built for them luxurious houses, richly decorated with frescoes and mosaic floors. The small island became soon the maximum emporium totius orbis terrarium (S. P. Festus, 2nd century AD) – the greatest commercial centre of the whole world. The prosperity of the island and the friendly relations with the Romans were the main cause of its destruction. Delos was attacked and looted twice: in 88 BC by Mithridates, the King of Pontus, an enemy of the Romans, and later, in 69 BC, by the pirates of Athenodorus, an ally of Mithridates. Since then, the island fell rapidly into decline and was gradually abandoned. Captured after its abandonment successively by the Byzantines, Slavs, Saracens, the Venetians, the Knights of St. John and the Ottomans, Delos was turned into a quarry site with its temple columns burnt for lime, and its houses left in ruins.

The excavations that started in 1872 and are still in progress have unearthed the Sanctuary and a good part of the cosmopolitan Hellenistic town. The monuments that have been excavated up to now speak most eloquently for the grandeur of the sacred island and illuminate a past civilisation, which was Europe’s cradle and wet nurse. The entire island is an archaeological site, which, along with the neighbouring islands of Rheneia, Greater and Lesser Rematiaris, constitutes an immense archaeological site.

Criterion (ii): Delos had considerable influence on the development of architecture and monumental arts during the Greco-Roman period, as seen in the immense Hellenistic sanctuary. A great part of its treasure of masterpieces was found during the excavations and is exhibited today in Delos’ Museum. This influence was matched later by the important role it has played since the 15th century in furthering our knowledge of ancient Greek art from a widely renowned sitewhich is among the first sites in Greece that captured the attention of archaeologists and travellers.

Criterion (iii): The island of Delos bears unique witness to the civilizations of the Aegean world since the 3rd millennium BC. During the Palaeo-Christian era, it was the seat of the bishopric of the Cyclades. From the 7th century BC to the pillage by Athenodoros in 69 BC, the island of Delos was one of the principal Pan-Hellenic sanctuaries. The feast of the Delians, which was celebrated every four years in the month of May until 316 BC, included gymnastic, equestrian and musical competitions, Archaic Age dances, theatrical productions and banquets. Like the Olympic and the Pythic Games, it was one of the major events in the Greek world.

Criterion (iv): The archaeological site of Delos provides an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble that restores the image of an extremely important cosmopolitan Mediterranean port that began to prosper since 314 BC, reaching outstanding levels during the 2nd and 1st centuries BC. Warehouses and trading companies abounded, large residential areas were established, public buildings were founded by associations of bankers, traders and ship-owners. Moreover, there were an unprecedented number of sanctuaries dedicated to foreign religions: temples of Sarapis, Isis and Anubis, temples to the Syrian gods Haadad and Atargatis, and even a synagogue in the stadium district.

Criterion (vi)Delos is directly and tangibly associated with one of the principal myths of Hellenic civilisation. It was on this arid islet that Leto, made pregnant by Zeus and fleeing the vengeance of Hera, gave birth to Apollo and Artemis after a difficult labour. According to a Homeric hymn, the island, which until then had been floating, became anchored to the floor of the ocean. The newborn Phoebus- Apollo threw off his swaddling clothes bathed the universe in light and began walking with his cither and his bow. Kynthos, the mountain of Zeus, and the wheel-shaped lake, close to which the pregnant Leto suffered labor pains for nine days and nights, remain essential landmarks of the island’s sacred geography, which was clearly defined by the additions made to the Delian sanctuary to Apollo between the 6th and the 1st centuries BC.

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