Delphi was a most known religious and cultural place in antiquity, being a Panhellenic temenos and a famous oracle in ancient Greece. It is indicative how both the myths and ancient sources refer to Delphi as the center of the world, lying at the foot of Mount Parnassos in a spectacular landscape with an overview of the Itea Bay. The archaeological site includes two sanctuaries dedicated to Apollo and Athena Pronaia.
Apollo was the main deity worshiped in Delphi and his cult was established in the eighth century BC almost simultaneously to the first building activity in the sanctuary. The myths refer to the foundation of the sanctuary by Apollo, when he arrived transformed into a dolphin and call him Delphinios. Another myth reports Apollo Pythios to have killed the serpent Python that guarded the original temenos of Mother Earth; the famed Pythian Games celebrated this death and honored Apollo with musical and athletic festivities. By the sixth century BC the Pythian festival had become almost as popular as the famed Olympic Games, following the growing religious influence of Delphi throughout Greece. The music contests took place at the theatre, which was first built in stone in the fourth century BC and was subsequently refurbished several times. Its present form dated to the third century BC could host around five thousand people. In 582 BC athletic events, almost similar to the Olympic ones, were also included to the Pythian Games. Since the fifth century BC they took place at the stadium, which was higher up the slope and is well preserved nowadays in the form it was built in the second century BC. The names of the winners on the bases of their statues, as reported by Pausanias, prove the Panhellenic participation in these Games. Supporting this, the Pindar’s Odes praise the Pythic winners and more particularly, the chariot race winner Iero, tyrant of the Sicilian city of Gela. Polyzalos, also a tyrant of Gela dedicated to Apollo the famous bronze statue of a Charioteer after his victory at a chariot race of the Pythian Games. Another wealthy votive offering was that of Daochos II. It consisted of nine marble statues, all members of Daochos’ family who were winners at the games in Delphi. Both statues are on display in the Delphi Archaeological Museum of Delphi.
Delphi was regarded in antiquity as the most trustworthy oracle and both ordinary people or prestigious rulers and cities consulted it. The divination and other cult rituals took place in the temple of Apollo and more particularly in the adyton, where also a statue of Apollo and the omphalos, symbol of Delphi as the center of the world, were housed. According to the legend, there were five different temples of Apollo built before the existing one, an imposing Doric temple completed in 330BC and nowadays standing on a central terrace and partially restored. The oracle grew in fame especially during the archaic colonization, when the Greek metropoleis seeked for approve of the God before founding a colony, enhancing the religious ties between the cities. It is indicative of its political power the fact that the Oracle continued to monitor the colonies after their establishment. In the course of the seventh century the oracle’s fame reached from Magna Graecia to the west to Minor Asia to the east. The Oracle reached its peak between the sixth and the fourth centuries BC, when numerous votive offerings from around the Greek world were dedicated to Apollo as a sign of gratitude for his guidance or in occasion of important events, such as war victories or wins at the Pythic Games. Most votive offerings stood along the so-called Sacred Way, a road that pilgrims and visitors followed through the temenos until they reached the temple of Apollo. Amongst others stand out the Treasuries, small buildings in the shape of a temple, built by cities in order to safe keep their offerings and display their wealth and prosperity to the visitors of the sanctuary.
There were several Treasuries in the sanctuary reported by sources, including the earliest one dedicated by the Corinthians, and the Treasury of the Massaliots, built in order to enhance the increasing commercial power of this colony. As in both these situations, not all the treasuries have been identified in the ruins with certainty or are clearly visible. One of the wealthiest monuments in the sanctuary was the treasury dedicated by the people of Siphnos, the most prosperous of the Greek islands in the sixth century BC. It was made of Parian marble and had an admirable relief decoration. Although the Treasury is only preserved on the foundations level, its sculptures are on display in the Archaeological Museum of Delphi. The most dominant Treasury along the Sacred Way is that of the Athenians, built around 500 BC as a symbol of the victory of democracy over tyranny or in memory of the victory of the Athenians against the Persians in Marathon (490 BC). It had the shape of a small Doric temple in antis and according to literary sources, it contained trophies of several Athenian war victories including the battle of Marathon. It was restored so that nowadays it stands out at the archaeological site. It was famous for its elegant relief decoration with mythical scenes of the Greek heroes Theseus and Hercules; the original sculptures are on display in the Archaeological Museum of Delphi.
The archaeological site of Delphi also includes a sanctuary dedicated to Athena Pronaia. Within its boundaries among altars and several cult buildings, there were the famous circular Tholos and the remains of three temples dedicated to the goddess, two archaic ones and one dated in the fourth century BC. There has been archaeological research in Delphi since the 19th century in both sanctuaries. The Archaeological Museum situated at the site presents their history by displaying the finds in thematic units.