Delphi: The Bellybutton of the Ancient World

Genre: Documentary

By the mid 4th century, this was

one of the most awe-inspiring

and spectacular places

in the entire ancient world.

Its combination of art, religion,

money made it, in modern day terms,

the equivalent of the wealth of the Swiss

banks, the religious power of the Vatican,

the advertising potential

of the World Cup

and the historical importance of

all the world's museums combined.

This is Delphi, on the slope of

Mount Parnassus in central Greece.

Home of the great Oracle of Apollo,

Delphi was the Omphalos,

the belly button,

the centre of the ancient world.

According to ancient myth,

Zeus sent two eagles

from opposite ends of the Earth.

And this is where they met.

It was several days' journey from the

main cities of the ancient Greek world.

Yet for centuries,

not just ordinary people,

but kings and ambassadors

from great cities and empires

struggled up here

in search of answers to

their most puzzling questions.

Fundamentally, they came here to ask the

Oracle of the god Apollo about the future.

But however unwelcome, unhelpful,

indeed awful, those responses

were, they kept coming.

Why? And why do we still

come here as tourists today?

For me, it was because Delphi told the

ancient Greeks something about themselves.

Indeed, above the entrance

to the temple of Apollo,

where they went to see the Oracle,

was a simple inscription.

It said, "Gnothi seauton".

Know thyself.

And that message, I think, isn't just

important to the ancient Greeks.

I believe that know thyself,

the message of Delphi,

and everything that was

incarnate in this place,

still has meaning

and importance for us today.

What the tourists see here at Delphi

has only been like this

for just over a century.

Before that, it was a lost world.

Scholars knew that Delphi had been

one of the most important

sanctuaries in ancient Greece.

But it was buried beneath earth,

rocks and centuries of legend.

The answer was to dig,

and just about everybody

had their shovels at the ready.

Ever since the Renaissance,

Europeans had looked

to ancient Greece as

the foundation of Western culture.

By the 1890s, American, French

and German teams were negotiating

with the Greek government

for the right to excavate.

Eventually, in 1892,

the French won the race.

They sweetened the deal by lowering tariffs

on imported Greek currants and olive oil.

Ever since, they have led

the search for ancient Delphi.

When I first began studying the

sanctuary as a young postgraduate,

French scholars like Dominique Mulliez

were an enormous inspiration.

The first problem for

the archaeologists was that there

were people still living right

on top of the ancient sanctuary.

Despite the difficulties,

the sanctuary and its lost treasures

gradually began to emerge

from the soil.

The legend became a real place,

with an iconic reputation.

In ancient times it had been

a communal sanctuary,

visited freely by people from

all over the ancient world.

Now, once again,

people flocked to Delphi.

It became a beacon for internationalism

just like the modern Olympic games,

which were founded

at the same time in the 1890s.

And, in fact, Delphi still is

a beacon for internationalism.

Here's how ICOMOS,

the UNESCO organisation,

described Delphi when they made

it a World Heritage Site in 1986.

"This reaffirms that one

of the enduring missions

"of Delphi is to bring

together men and women

who otherwise remain divided

by material interests."

But is that true?

And if so, how and why did

Delphi get such a reputation?

The only way to answer

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    "Delphi: The Bellybutton of the Ancient World" STANDS4 LLC, 2021. Web. 25 Feb. 2021. <>.

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