You might think that all the coolest ancient sightseeing is reserved for the Greek mainland, but a relaxing vacation to the Cyclades can be more than just beaches and sunsets! Don’t get me wrong, those are some of the best parts, but if you want to mix in some adventure with your island paradise, ask us about a day trip to Delos, which is one of the most important archaeological sites in all of Greece, and definitely one of the most unique and interesting.
When you visit Delos, it has to be a day trip. It’s hard to stay there permanently. That’s because being born, being sick, and dying on the island became, as the Muslims say, haram (forbidden) when the Athenians built a big navy and decided to take things over about 2500 years ago. They decided that this was the best way to keep Delos sacred and pure. Why? I’m sure you could find some exceptions these days, but as the ancients have it, Delos was created thousands of years ago by the god Poseidon until some special circumstances. Zeus, unable to escape his womanizing ways (as per usual), had left his mistress Leto pregnant with twins. His wife Hera was rather peeved about this (reasonable), and subsequently cursed Leto so that she would find no place on land to give birth (definitely not so reasonable). Poseidon thus decided to help a brother out, and raised Delos from the bottom of the sea so that Leto could give birth to Artemis and Apollo. And from that time on, Delos became one of the most important religious sites in the ancient world, and while the Athenians were in charge, having the audacity to get sick or even die there was a big no-no.
Other than these pesky little rules, Delos was more or less the Upper East Side of Manhattan for wealthy Greeks of the day. They didn’t have addresses: residents would have busts of their heads outside their houses so you knew who lived there. As you can imagine, they left behind a lot of cool stuff for us to look at. Delos is a tiny island—your average morning jogger could probably make it the long way from one side to the other in about 15 or 20 minutes—but because it was such an important religious site, it might have the biggest concentration of ancient temples and other ruins relative to its size than any other site in Greece. In addition to the temples and ancient theater, staples of any archaeological site worth its salt, there are still a ton of statues and monuments that are still recognizable, even after thousands of years. Of course, the Athenians’ whole shtick about nobody being able to do much of anything there was a little bit overblown, because there couldn’t be such a incredible array of ruins to see if it hadn’t been a thriving port city for some time after. In fact, many archaeologists consider it to have been one of the most cosmopolitan cities of the ancient Greek world: the island even has the ruins of a Jewish synagogue, one of the oldest in the entire world! Mykonos might be a great vacation spot, but if you feel the need to get your legs moving and your mind a little active, Delos is just a short hop across the water away.