This is an excerpt from the book Travels through History : 9 Greek Islands , newly available on Amazon.
Delos is the reason the Cyclades have their name. The other islands in the Cyclades form a circle around Delos. Delos is a sacred island and the reason for that is Zeus.
On a more human level, the earliest inhabitants of Delos in the middle of the third millennium BCE built their homes on top of the hill called Kynthos, so they would have an early warning of any approaching invaders. A thousand years later the Mycenaeans settled by the sea. No records exist of when the Apollonian sanctuary began, but by the time the Ionians colonised the island in 1000 BCE Delos was already a cult centre. Hellenes from all over the Greek world gathered on Delos to worship Apollo the god of light, harmony, and balance, and Artemis the moon-goddess. As Delos became more prosperous through the next few hundred years, the Athenians gradually increased their influence, culminating in a decree in 426 BCE that stated no one could give birth or die on Delos. Eventually, this resulted in the entire population moving to the small neighbouring island of Rinia and further afield.
Delos rebounded once it came within the Roman sphere of influence. The Romans made Delos a free port in 167 BCE and its wealth soared in the second and first centuries BCE, as the island became the centre of commercial activity in the eastern Mediterranean. Unfortunately, this wealth and friendliness with Rome alerted local despots and pirates to the treasures on the island and Delos was plundered twice in the first century BCE, first in 88 BCE by Mithridates, King of Pontus and then in 69 BCE by the pirate Athenodorus. The island never really recovered from these losses.
Today, few people live permanently on Delos. There are no hotels on the island and no boats or yachts are supposed to moor there overnight. Ferry boats can come to Delos from Tinos, Naxos, and Mykonos, so it is best to arrive early.
After paying the entrance fee, grab a free map, and head into the site. On the map, I followed the Blue Line around until it intersected with the Brown Line, which I followed to the Stadium Quarter. I retraced my steps and then continued on the Blue Line. I retraced my steps again and followed the Green Line to the Theatre Quarter. All this took about four hours. This is a big sight and take plenty of water with you on your journey around.
The first open area is called the Agora of the Competaliasts, who were Roman merchants who worshipped the Lares Competales, the gods or guardian spirits of crossroads. There are two small temples dedicated to Hermes here. The path continues to The Sacred Way, formed between two porticos, which leads to the Propulaea, the main gateway to the Sanctuary of Apollo. The first features in this area include The Agora of the Delians, The Temple of the Athenians and the Poros Templethe. There’s also the Oikos of the Naxians (people from the island of Naxos) and the base of a huge marble base of a colossal statue of Apollo dedicated by the Naxians around 600 BCE. An oikos is a treasury where the offerings given by the people of Naxos were placed for safekeeping. Nearby, there are five further treasuries where the offerings of other cities were kept. These treasuries are close to the Bouleuterion, the Prytaneion, and the Ekklesiasterion used as assembly rooms for the deputies, dignitaries, and citizens respectively. All these different buildings/areas are shown in detail on the map, but walking around, there are so many walls and parts of columns scattered around that occasionally it’s difficult to discern where one temple or building ends and another begins. Even though there are no restricted areas in this part of the site, visitors are not allowed to walk on the walls to get their bearings.
If you’d like to read more, the book Travels through History : 9 Greek Islands is newly available on Amazon.