Visiting Delos with Kids | Everything Your Family Should Know About Delos
In the centre of the South Aegean Sea there is a small and barren island, Delos, which mainly consists of granite but still has managed to catch many people’s attention for thousands of years. The rest of the islands are located in a tight circle around it and thus are called the Cyclades, deriving from the word kiklos which means circle in Greek.
Visiting museums and archaeological sites can sometimes prove to be a difficult task when including children, but in this case the island of Delos, with its fascinating stories and full of mystery remains and monuments, can guarantee a great day of exciting exploration for both kids and grown ups.
So what is the deep mystery surrounding Delos?
Myths & Legends of Delos
The Birth of Apollo
According to Greek Mythology, the island’s story began when Zeus, the mighty father of the Greek Gods, fell in love with Asteria, daughter of the Titans Coes and Phoebe. Asteria did not return his feelings and Zeus, blinded by lust, pursued her in the form of an eagle. Running to escape his chase, she came across a cliff and, desperate as she was, turned herself into a quail and flew over the Aegean Sea.
She then transformed into a floating moving island that was named Asteria or Ortygia (the quail island). It was there that, through her union with the Titan Perses, she gave birth to her daughter Hecate, who later became the goddess of Witchcraft.
Not long after that, Zeus’s restless heart fell for her sister, Leto, who succumbed to his charm and became pregnant with twins. Goddess Hera, Zeus’s wife, fed up by his continuous adultery and furious with jealousy, decided to take revenge. She threatened any piece of land on Earth where the Sun shined with bloody vengeance if it were to hold Leto’s labor on its grounds and sent a giant snake, Python, after her.
For nine months Leto would wonder all around Greece looking for shelter but no land would risk becoming the object of Hera’s rage. Time was running out and Zeus decided to act and help his beloved mistress. Through Boreas, God of the Northern Wind, he asked Poseidon to build a water dome over her sister’s island, Asteria.
This way Hera’s threat would not matter as the island was not connected to the core of the Earth and, thanks of the dome, no Sun would shine on it.
As soon as Leto reached Asteria, labour began. She laid under the only tree of the Island, a magnificent Phoenix, and the great goddesses, Athena, Demeter and Aphrodite, gathered around to support her. But the birth could not go through unless Eileithyia, the Goddess of Labour, was there and she was locked in Hera’s chambers of course.
Nine days of enormous pain for Leto went by. The goddesses could not stand to see her suffer any more, so they sent Iris, the messenger of the Gods, to ask Hera to show mercy on Leto and send Eileithyia to her aid. In order to tame her anger, Iris offered her a beautiful nine-metre long necklace made of amber and gold by the great God of Crafts, Hephaestus.
Hera agreed and Eileithyia run to Leto who immediately kneeled under the Phoenix and gave birth first to Artemis, the Goddess of Hunt, and then to Apollo, the God of Poetry, Music and Light. In that moment, the once ghostly island rooted to the Earth and was renamed Delos, the island that is bright or revealed, just like the Light did when Apollo was born.
It is said that when Apollo was born, and since it was the seventh day of the month, swans flew seven circles over the island; glorifying women’s voices were heard chanting; the barren land greened and blossomed; and the Goddesses felt in awe.
King Anius & the Three Daughters
During the Trojan War, Delos was ruled by King Anius, whose ancestry was said to have been divine. His mother, Rhoeo, was the granddaughter of God Dionysus, while his father was the luminous god, Apollo. When Rhoeo got pregnant, her father, unaware of the baby’s father, punished her by putting her into a boat and sending her off to the open sea.
Luckily, after a few days, Apollo finally found her and took her to Delos where she gave birth to their son, Anius, who was gifted with clairvoyance.
Anius became king of Delos and had three daughters, the Inotropes, who according to their names, Spermo (the one who produces wheat), Ino (wine) and Elaida (olive oil), were blessed by their grandfather Dionysus to bring abundance in these essential for the Greek diet supplies.
When the Achaeans were ready to embark on their great trip, in order to avenge the abduction of their beautiful Queen Helena by Paris the prince of Troy, they stopped at Delos. King Anius foresaw that the war would last 10 years and invited them to stay there for nine and then go to Troy on the last year, reassuring them that they would have plenty of food supplies thanks to his daughters.
The Achaeans refused the king’s kind offer to stay and instead abducted the three girls in order to secure food for the soldiers upon their arrival in Troy. After being surrounded by violence and death for years, the girls became desperate and prayed to Poseidon to save them, which he did by turning them into doves. This way the girls returned home and since then it is forbidden to kill doves in the island.
Anius also had three sons Mikonos, Andros, and Thasos who travelled to these islands and founded them.
History & Antiquities of Delos
Flourishing & the First Catharsis
The history of Delos is not less fascinating than its myths. This deserted island was one of the first cosmopolitan cities.
Its first habitants, in the prehistoric era, were the Kares and Minoans and, later on, the Achaeans.
Delos was considered a place of great healing, as many of the locations chosen by the ancient Greeks for the buliding of their Temples were, and is thought to carry great electromagnetictic charge.
Being equidistant from Greece’s mainland and the Ionian coastline (today’s Turkey), because of its strategic location and sacredness, its economic and trading importance grew greatly and so did its number of visitors and population. Subsequently, many cities of Greece tried to gain control of it.
In the Archaic Period, all the Ionian cities would gather in Delos to celebrate Apollo and confer. Some cities, in order to impress, would craft and build extraordinary dedications to Apollo like the Colossus of the Naxians, a seven-metre tall marble statue, and their famous Lions of Delos.
In the 6th century BC, Athens had become very strong and was under the command of Peisistratus. It was he who ordered all the graves of Delos to be opened and emptied claiming that Apollo, being the God of Light and thus of Life, could not possibly want the dead in his sacred place.
The bones were moved to the neighbouring island of Rhenia, the Catharsis was complete, and the sin was considered cleansed. The growth of population and subsequently of graves, which became too many to fit in the island, was a probable cause for that decision.
Delos was so highly respected, that even during the Persian Invasion, in 492 BC, it was not attacked. On the contrary its fleeing habitants were asked to come back from Tinos, with a promise that they would not be harmed. It is also said that, Datis, the Persian general did not allow his fleet to come even near the island. Instead, he went out to the shore by himself and burned a great amount of incense to the Gods.
The Delian League & the Second Catharsis
After the end of the Persian Wars in 478 BC, in order to protect themselves from future Persian threats, 150 cities of Greece united and formed the Delian League under the command of Athens. Its treasury was hidden in the temple of Apollo in Delos, until Pericles had it transferred to Athens in 454 BC, with the excuse that it would be safer, and used its resources to build all the temples of Acropolis.
The allies were not at all pleased with that but crafty Pericles replied to them that as long as the Athenian Navy Force kept its promise to protect them, it was none of their business what he did with the funds.
During the Peloponnesian War (431BC), between the Delian and the Peloponnesian League, Athens was struck by an awful and deadly plague. At the time, it was thought that one way to ease the Gods was to cleanse a sacred place. So the Athenians decided to proceed to a new catharsis of Delos by forbidding anyone to be born or to die there. Because of this oracle, which is said to have come from Delphi, the residents of the island were deprived of all their property rights.
In addition, they watched the bones and unmelted bodies of the ones they loved being dug out of the graves by the Athenians’ slaves and thrown into boats which carried them to Rhenia where they were cast into a great deep pit called the Gutter of Catharsis. During this time, a lot of precious metals were collected by the Athenians, which makes some historians believe that this, along with the deprivation of the habitants’ right was the true reason behind the second “Catharsis”.
Delos: An Ancient Duty Free and Cosmopolitan City
After Athens’s defeat in the Peloponnesian war (404 BC), the Second Delian League was formed and reinstated in Delos. With the help of the Macedonians, the island regained its independency in 314BC and became an uprising, trading and business centre.
In 166BC, it was seized by the Romans that yet freed Delos from all taxes, so as to weaken the commercial power of the port of Rhodes, and turned it into a duty free port, similar to today’s airports. This led to its massive growth as a trading and economic spot and also to the gathering of many wealthy people from different lands on the island.
Apart from Greece, people from Palestine, Rome, Syria, Phoenicia, Egypt and other parts of the world would visit Delos frequently for business reasons and end up settling there. Every nation carried with it its culture and practiced freely its religion, as we can see from the imposing Egyptian Temple of Isis, built on a hill overlooking the port, the Sanctuary of the Syrians and the Synagogue.
Still the Greek element was always prominent. Apart from the three temples of Apollo, the Sanctuary of Zeus, the Temple of Hera and the House of Hermes are fine examples of the Hellenic element. Hermes also remained the protector of Trading for the island and two columns with his head on the top, called the Hermetic Columns, were placed in the port.
Moreover, in different parts of the city a lot of phallic symbols were carved on the house doors or placed as monuments on the streets, as a symbol of God Dionysus. Dionysus was thought to bring prosperity and safety, and his presence is magnificently illustrated in mosaic, in the House of Dionysus. Witchcraft was also very popular; soulbound dolls and love spells would be delivered to the temple of Artemis by young girls or witches.
Delos became a big busy city, reaching up to 300 stores and 30.000 residents at one point. It even had a bureau de change and was very famous for its perfumery. Unfortunately it also held one of the largest slave markets at the time. Approximately 250,000 people were sold annually.
Because of its rapid growth, the island lacked any construction plan and this led to its ragged formation. Still, it became full of luxury houses, especially in the quarters close to the Theatre, the construction of which began in 314BC, lasted 70 years and seated 6,500 viewers.
Related activities: Ancient Delos Private Family TourCheck availability
Merchants, bankers, traders and shipmen would build houses according to, and in order to demonstrate, their wealth. One of them was the House of Cleopatra of Athens, who was an independent business woman that broke the norms of female inferiority at the time. Her house had a beautifully crafted mosaic floor and a statue of herself and her husband.
Interesting fact, some years ago a group of archaeologists got thirsty and drank water out of the cistern of her house. After that, they sent the water for testing and the results were extraordinary. The water was not only drinkable, but very clean and nutritious.
But Cleopatra’s House and the House of Dionysus were not the only ones decorated with fine mosaic craftsmanship. Until this day, approximately 350 pieces of mosaic art have been discovered. Some of the most beautiful ones are located in the House of the Dolphins, the House of the Lake, the House of Masks, the House of the Tridents, the Theatre Quarters and the Northern Quarters.
Another interesting fact, that demonstrates the island’s development, is that it had a sewage system. There were toilets and bathtubs inside the houses which is quite impressive, given the fact that even Ludovico XIV, in the 17th century AD, did not have any.
The decadence & end
This abundance of welfare and prosperity came to an end in 88BC, when Mithridates, king of Pontus, raided Delos.
At the time, he was in an ongoing war against the Roman Empire aiming to free the Greek cities and form an independent Hellenic country. Delos decided not to dissociate from Roman command and in return 20,000 of its habitants (mostly Romans) were killed during the attack and the island was wildly looted. Delos could not recover from this attack, left with much fewer people and no wealth.
In 69BC, the island took its final hit when pirates attacked it and stole its last piece of glory. According to the findings, its habitants were so deeply caught by surprise that a tavern owner did not even take the day’s takings with him, and the customers threw their drinking cups on the floor and ran for their lives.
Some appear to have had hopes of return though. A woman dug and hid her jewels in the ground while some men hid delicious wine in a well to wait for its recovery, which only happened when the archaeologists found it.
After that, Delos completely lost its sacred character and was completely deserted during the first Byzantine years.
How to get to Delos
To reach Delos you can get a boat from Mykonos old port. You can get your tickets, even half an hour before departure, from the ticket agency that is there. Tickets cost 20€ per adult, 10€ for children from 6 to 12 years old and are free for children under 6 years of age. The ferry ride takes approximately 30 to 40 minutes, and the number of trips from Mykonos to Delos and back are between 2 to 4 per day depending on the time of the season and the weather.
You could also pre-book your tickets which is a good idea if you wish to buy them in advance but want a refund in case your plans are cancelled.
Alternatively, you can also opt for a family-friendly private tour to Delos. Our kid-friendly guide will make the visit to Delos an interesting and exciting one. As well as taking you to areas and highlighting aspects of the site you might never know about, they will also recount tales from Greek mythology.
Depending on your spirits and stamina you can choose what suits you better. This walks can take from 90 minutes to five hours, your choice! In terms of food and drinks, there is a snack bar in the museum but it is also a nice idea to pack snacks and beverages with you and enjoy them at any point of your walk in this beautiful scenery.
Delos is an ideal destination for a family daily trip of exploration, full of mystery and fun, that will certainly enrich your holidays with great memories and knowledge. In addition to this tour to Delos, you might want to consider other family tours on Mykonos such as:
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