Delphi’s historic roots hold the key to the future

It is early morning and the sun remains hidden by the pink and grey escarpment of Mount Parnassus. In its shadow, the Temple of Athena sits in solitude. Many of its monumental stones have long since tumbled down the grassy slope into the valley which leads the eye to the wine-dark distant sea. The day is too young for most visitors and I am alone here, looking for a sign, not of what the future holds, but of what the past reveals.

Behind me, the slanting site of Delphi’s ruined temple to Apollo, amphitheatre and stadium, climbs up almost to the mountain top. Interspersed with the tawny gold of dried grasses and yellow limestone columns, dark green cypress trees boast a live and muscular continuity. Here at the the omphalos – the bellybutton of the world, life goes on.

The big question is “why is it all here“, rather than in Athens, or down on the coast where Cretan sailors must have once landed to trade goods and ideas? In the small nearby town of Delphi, I fall into conversation with a cafe owner and ask him this same question. He tells me “this is not the right question” and, upping the ante suggests “The right question is why are we here.”

Both the Temple of Athena and the Temple of Apollo are thought to be built on much earlier sites of pilgrimage, perhaps as old as 1400BC, when our ancient ancestors worshipped Gaia – goddess of the Earth itself. soon the rosy-fingered dawn has driven its chariot over the top of the mountain and its instantly too hot to be out here and I head back into the village to find breakfast and reflect. As Europe wilts in record breaking temperatures this summer, perhaps the right question is “how can we now best respect Mother Earth?”

Temple of Athena Pronaia at Delphi

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