Travel books on Greece generally claim that Delphi is the most mystical and magical site in the entire country. Indeed Delphi provides visitors with a spectacular landscape, one of the finest collections of ancient Greek art and some impressive archeological sites. In antiquity Delphi was held to be the centre of the world, the 'navel' or omphalos. According to a myth, Zeus, wishing to find the centre of the earth, freed an eagle at each end of the world and they met at Delphi.
Lying about 180 kilometres north-west of Athens, Delphi reached its pinnacle in the 4th century BC. It was at that time that pilgrims came from far and wide to seek advice of its oracle, who is believed to have spoken for Apollo. Once protected by a federation of Greek states, Delphi witnessed a number of Sacred Wars, culminating in King Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, marching his army to defeat not only Amfissa, which laid claim to the sanctuary, but also the combined armies of Athens and Thiva (Thebes) at the Battle of Khaironeia in Boeotia. The Romans took over Delphi in 191 BC, finally leading to the abolishment of the sanctuary in 4th century AD by Theodosius.
Delphi is now a sleepy town perched on a sharp cliff, at an altitude of 500-700 metres, with spectacular views of the vast vistas to the south, olive tree valleys, gently sloping down towards the Gulf of Corinth. Busloads of tourists, again from far and wide and seeking a modern day pilgrimage to the archeological sites and the modern museum, descend upon Delphi almost daily. The drive, beyond the largely non-descript Athens-Lamia National Road, is spectacular, too. The snow covered (in winter) slopes of Mount Parnassus, Greece's second highest mountain, begin to take shape soon after Livadia, 35 kilometres off the National Road, as the road begins to curve and meander through low hills. The Oedipus crossroads is also stated to lie somewhere on the way.
Once in Delphi, a major decision is from where to start -- the museum or the archeological sites. Either way, Delphi does not fail to impress with its sense of history and spectacular beauty. The town, 500 metres beyond, is generally avoided by the day-trippers from Athens.
The treasures in the Delphi Museum are innumerable and priceless, enough to leave any visitor speechless. The bronze gilded tripod, upon which sat Pythia and spoke on behalf of Apollo, along with its handles and accessories, decorated in geometric patterns, usher the visitors into the world of Olympian gods.
The winged sphinx -- part bird and lion and part woman -- a votive offering from the island of Naxos, said to have been erected in 560 B.C, catches the eye immediately. So do the depictions of the struggle between Heracles and Apollo for the oracle, the gatherings of the Olympian gods to discuss the war between the Greeks and the Trojans and the battle between the giants and the Olympian gods. There also are the depictions of stories of the 'Judgment of Paris' as well as the two archaic kouroi, Cleobis and Biton, who got the most precious gift of all -- peaceful death.
In another room, the dark statues of Apollo, his sister Artemis and mother Leto peer out of the glass cases, their hair and clothing once made of gold or gilded sheets, bodies of wood and arms and legs of ivory. Large parts of the statues have been restored in wax.
More treasures follow -- the depiction of gods Apollo, Artemis and Leto, riding horses and arriving in Delphi from Athens to be received by the people and king Delphos (510-500 B.C); Heracles and the Nemean lion; the tall Acanthus Column and the three dancers that were once perched 13 metres high at the Sanctuary of Apollo; the statue thought to be that of the Roman general and consul who, in 197 B.C, following his victory of Phillip V, proclaimed at Corinth the 'autonomy of Greek state' -- each a complete tale in itself deserving separate space.
A short walk up a paved path from the museum leads to the Sanctuary of Apollo. At the Sanctuary of Apollo, the open courtyard from the Roman period with the stoa -- a long, rectangular building with columns in front and dark background or small rooms in the back -- to the north lead into the 'Sacred way'. Both sides of the 'sacred way' used to be lined with the treasuries of the Greek city states, containing the votive offerings, which also served as propaganda in favour of the dedicators. The base of the treasury of Siphnians, once one of the most beautiful buildings at Delphi, is well-preserved. A little beyond, on the other side of the first major curve, is the replica of the treasury of the Athenians, restored for symbolic reasons between 1903 and 1906 by the French architect, Replat, and paid for by the City of Athens.
As in the museum, there is lots to see and admire -- the Stoa of Athenians, erected after the Persian wars of around 490 B.C, that once housed parts of the Persian ships, dedicated by the Athenians to Apollo; the wall with names of freed slaves inscribed in ancient Greek language; the 4th century B.C theatre, restored by the Romans, that, at its height, had a capacity of 5,000 and still yields panoramic views from the top rows and the well-preserved stadium, one of the best preserved in Greece, beyond the trees that line the upper decks of the theatre.
In the middle of all this lies the east facing Temple of Apollo, with the altar in the front. Just a few columns now stand on the site, close to the entrance, along with the excavated foundations of the walls. The eastern part of the temple was dedicated to Apollo and the rear, western part to Dionysus. On the temple architrave were inscriptions of the wise utterings of Greek philosophers, such as 'Know Thyself' and 'Nothing in Excess'.
The temple housed the golden statue of Apollo, the navel stone and the tripod of the oracle, upon which once sat Pythia. The Delphic oracle had a reputation not only in Greece but throughout all the then known world. Greek cities and citizens as well as foreign leaders consulted it and offered gifts. The Pythia was a woman who left her family to enter Apollo's service and lived in a special dwelling to remain pure. Initially there was only one Pythia, but as the reputation of the oracle spread, two more were added.
The Pythia is said to have replied in incoherent words and incomprehensible shouts to the questions put to her. The answers, generally ambiguous, were interpreted by the suppliant as it pleased him and, only if the future turned out otherwise, did he see the true answer. One such famous ambiguous oracle is the reply to Croesus, king of Lydia, who asked if he would defeat the Persians. The oracle is said to have replied, "If Croesus crosses the River Halys, a great power will be destroyed". Croesus is said to have interpreted the answer in his favour and upon crossing the River Halys with a great army was defeated. The oracle was right.
A glance below affords a bird's-eye view of the Gymnasium and the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia, beyond the winding road that runs from Delphi to Arachova. In between lies the Castalian Spring where pilgrims are said to have cleansed themselves with water from the sacred Mount Parnassus before consulting the oracle.
The Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia was the site of the tholos (dome), thought to be the work of master architect Theodoros (ca. 380 B.C). The tholos was originally composed of 20 outer columns that surrounded ten Corinthian semi columns, in two tiers. A huge rock in the middle of the eastern end is what is believed to have destroyed the older Temple of Athena. Of the newer temple also, only three restored columns and traces of outer walls of the round building now remain.
For intending visitors, the museum and archeological sites are open daily from 8.30 a.m to 3 p.m. Tickets are 6 euros per person. The museum and the archeological sites are free to visit on Sundays during winter months.
Photographs by the writer. The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The hotel industry in Swat has suffered a loss of about Rs 5 billion while around 20,000 people associated with tourism have lost their jobs. Hoteliers share their woes...
By Muhammad Shahid
Militancy in certain parts of Swat, also known as Switzerland of the East, and the subsequent military operation have dealt a severe blow to tourism, depriving thousands of their source of bread and butter.
The local businessmen and hoteliers blame exaggerated media reports for their current economic depression. They say that militancy is confined to a small belt of Swat district, but people conceive of the entire district as a boiling cauldron.
Taliban have established their strongholds in the remote Peuchar area of the troubled Matta and Kabal tehsils. However, tourists from within the country and abroad have abandoned visiting the entire Swat district in view of the news about violence in certain areas.
A 20-member delegation of journalists recently visited Kalam valley on a three-day tour arranged by Kalam Hotels Association. It was a pleasant experience travelling to the valley by road passing through orchards of pears and apples.
"Tourists believe Taliban are present in Kalam and are slaughtering people but you have seen there is not a single militant here," a local Malik, Ghazan Khan, told journalists. Malik Ghazan, who has grown a handlebar moustache, said the people of Kalam were peaceful, loving and hospitable and that the tourists were as safe there as before.
Kalam is located at an altitude of 8,600 feet and around 99 kilometres from Mingora, the Swat headquarters. The area houses around 250 hotels, some of which have been rented by people as houses.
Kalam Hotels Association President and owner of Kalam Continental Hotel Dr Abdul Wadud said the hotel industry had suffered almost Rs5 billion loss during the last two years. "Earlier, we were unable to accommodate the huge number of tourists thronging the Kalam valley, but this year only a few tourists came." He said around 20,000 people had lost their jobs. "There were 15 people working at my hotel, but now the number has dropped to just one," he said.
On behalf of the Kalam Hotel Association, Dr Wadud demanded the government to announce a special package for local hoteliers to make up for the losses they have suffered.
Those associated with tourism also complain that the area lacks facilities compared to Murree, Nathia Gali and other tourist resorts. For instance, they cite the facility of chairlifts which are not available in Kalam though the area is most suitable to accommodate them.
Zahir Khan, President Swat Hotels Association who owns Al-Haramain Hotel in Mingora, said the hotel industry throughout Swat had suffered almost Rs2.5 billion loss in 2007. "Around 15,000 people associated with tourism have lost their jobs."
Rehmat Sidique, General Secretary Kalam Hotels Association and owner of Pameer Hotel, alleged the Pakistan and Sarhad Tourism Development Corporations had directed tour operators not to accompany tourists to Kalam. He added that the local hotels had cut their staff. "There were around 15 people working at my hotel, but now there are three, while more than 700 shops in the bazaar have been closed. Nowadays we are charging Rs500 for a room that was rented out for Rs3000 to 4000 in the past."
A hotelier, requesting anonymity, said 'hidden hands' had been trying to damage the tourism industry of Frontier province even before the emergence of Talibanisation. "It has been a long cherished desire of the hoteliers in Murree and Nathia Gali to divert the attention of tourists from tourist hotspots in Frontier province and the emergence of Taliban seems to be part of that strategy."
Several local people complained about their problems. The Kalam valley houses a 'civil hospital' but it lacks facilities. Kalam Union Council Nazim Habibullah Saqib told this scribe that the hospital received an X-ray plant from a Swiss non-government organisation under the Kalam Integrated Development Project about ten years ago. However, the X-ray plant is awaiting installation. "We took up the issue with authorities several times, but to no avail."
Further, two boy schools -- one high and the other higher secondary -- had been functioning without principals for the last two years. There is only one girls' middle school in Kalam, with only two teachers, only one of whom is a graduate.
Mushtaq, General Manager Sarhad Tourism Development Corporation (STDC), told TNS that the STDC had set up three rest houses and one information centre (Landakai area) in Swat. He said the government was mulling the setting up of mobile medical units in tourist hotspots.
"Revival of tourism in Swat depends on talks between the government and militants, and the media can also play an important role," he said.
The checkposts set up by the army have also drawn local people's ire, as they believe the thorough checking by the troops has also damaged tourism. The army has set up around 14 checkposts in various areas of the district, right from Taliban stronghold Imamdheri to Kalam, while on Mingora-Kalam road there are nine checkposts, one each at Fizzagat, Gulibagh, Khwazakhela, Shamad (Khwazakhela), Baghdheri, Fatehpur, Tirat, Madyan and Bahrain.
The checkposts and countless sandbagged bunkers on the Mingora-Kalam road give an impression as if the area is a war zone, provoking fears among the visiting tourists.
Though Madyan, Bahrain and Kalam have remained undisturbed, troops in large numbers are present on the checkposts and motorists are made to wait for checking.
The people of Madyan, Bahrain and Kalam said they were fed up with grilling and wait for long hours at the checkposts. Some even accused the personnel manning the checkposts of discouraging the tourists from visiting Bahrain and Kalam, and 'advising' them to visit a peaceful area, as people of this area were 'extremists'.
The hotel, trade and transport associations of Kalam have demanded that the government must order a removal of these checkposts till August 14. "Otherwise they would observe the Independence Day as 'black day'."