Delos, the Sacred Island is just off of Mykonos and a “must see” when visiting Mykonos. In fact, it is difficult to miss the island of Delos, as the island is readily seen right from the main harbor in Mykonos. Ferries leave from this same harbor regularly to take visitors to the island, during daylight hours only, as after sunset, the island is home to the ghosts of past civilizations only. When on yacht charter, cruise to Delos on board and anchor right off of the island in the protected anchorage and take the ship’s tender into the shore dock. It is easy to spend several hours or more wandering the ruins, or hire a guide for a more in depth tour. A museum is on the island which is well worth seeing, with stone carvings, mosaics and bits of everyday life that have been excavated from the ruins of a once busy island civilization.
Delos, the center of the Cyclades, has been inhabited since at least the 3rd millennium B.C. It rose in importance as the Greeks did and around 480 BC it became the center of the Delian League. The Delian League in turn kept its treasury on Delos making it a rather wealthy location. They also passed several decrees, including that no one could be born or die on the island. Pregnant women were quickly shipped off to neighboring islands as was anyone who became ill.
Delos became immensely wealthy and was so impressive that the Romans kept it as a free port when they came into power. It finally collapsed in 88 BC when Mithridates conquered it. What is left today is one of the most extensive ruin sites anywhere in the world. The entire island is strewn with sections of walls and marble fragments. It is also still being excavated.
In all directions of Delos are the remains of temples, homes, and monuments. There is also an impressive array of different cultures that left their mark on the island. Shrines for Samothracian, Egyptian, and Syrian Gods are interspersed amongst the Greek ones. The Temple of Isis stands above most of the town. Entire sections of the residential areas are more or less intact. The streets are still clearly outlined, many of them with sewers running underneath. The northern section of town featured more modest living quarters. Here most of the homes were only a couple rooms. Wildflowers have taken over in force in most places which only enhances the whole effect. A hill rises on the south side of town and that area is known as the theater district. It is there that some of the truly opulent houses can be found. Two themes show up most often in the mosaics. The dolphin symbolized Apollo while the panther was associated with Dionysus. One of the most famous mosaics on Delos is that of Dionysus riding a panther. This is found in the completely intact House of the Masks (named for another mosaic featuring theater masks). Several rooms in this building contain large sections of the original wall decoration as well as mosaics covering the entire floor. It is difficult to tell from the distance you’re forced to remain from it, but this mosaic is so incredibly detailed that there are over 100 stones in the eye of the panther alone. The building itself was probably a hostel for actors.
Delos Lion Statuary
Unfortunately, visitors have a limited time to tour the island and yachts may not anchor overnight in the harbor. Visit the museum first which is where the famous marble lions that once guarded the sacred lake are now stored, and then spend time seeing the rest of the island before returning back on board to cruise on to the next waiting Cycladic Island.