Delos located at the centre of the Cyclades, the half-way point on the journey between mainland Greece and Ionia, the islands of Chios, Samos and Rhodes to the east, and Crete to the south.
Become a trading centre early on and develop steadily into one of the most important in the eastern Mediterranean.
To a large extent Delos owed its development to the fact that it was the birthplace of Apollo, which made it a holy place.
Despite its diminutive size, Delos is one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece, and certainly the most important in the Cyclades.
The archaeological site covers almost the entire island, starting on the west side, where the sacred harbour was. From the harbour, a majestic sacred way led to the Sanctuary of Apollo, where there were temples, altars, votive offerings and other buildings. There are ruins of four temples to Apollo, one of them known as the Temple of the Athenians. To the east is the Sanctuary of the bulls an oblong building, and to the north are the Treasuries and the long, narrow Stoa of Antigonns. In the northwest corner is the much smaller Sanctuary of Artemis, with an Ionic temple to the goddess, and the Tomb of the Two Hyperborean Maidens. Still further north is the region of the sacred lake, with the Terrace of the Lions, the Letoon, the Agora of the Italians and the Institution of the Poseidoniasts of Berytos.
A little further along are some fine examples of houses and a palaestra. To the northeast of the lake are the Stadium and the Gymnasium. Some of the houses yielded superb mosaic floors with representations of Dionysus, a dolphin and a trident. A narrow channel separates Delos from Rhenia, where there is an important burial ground. The Museum of Delos has sculptures of the Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods, together with a collection of vases from various periods.
On this flat island in the middle of the Aegean Sea the sun dazzles. Many caiques arrives at Delos every day bringing visitors from Myconos and who leave the island at sunset as it is forbidden to remain on the island overnight.
The tour of the site, taking in remains of various periods from the 2nd millennium BC to Roman times, begins on the west side of the island, in the area of the ancient harbour, where visitors land at a mole built up of excavation debris. From the Agora of the Competaliasts a broad paved way runs to the entrance to the Sacred Precinct. It is flanked by two stoas, the Stoa of Philip V of Macedon and the South Stoa, behind which are the remains of the South Agora.
Climbing the three marble steps of Propylon, we enter Hieron of Apollo, which extends northward to the Stoa of Antigonos and eastward to the Hellenistic wall beyond the Ship Hall. Immediately adjoining the Propylon, to the right, is the House of the Naxians, on the north side of which is the base of a marble statue of Apollo erected by the Naxians about 600 BC. Part of the trunk and the tights of this colossal figure, which originally stood some 9 m (30 ft) high, can be seen to the northwest of the precinct, which was bounded on the sound and west by a stoa.
Here the excavations found a large building, almost square in plain, identified as the Keraton in which the old horned altar of Apollo once stood. Immediately adjoining to the north is the badly ruined Precinct of Artemis, built in the 2nd century BC on the site of an older 7th century building.
In the center of the Sacred Precinct are three temples of Apollo, of which only the substructures remain. The oldest and smallest, the most northerly of the three, dates from the first half of the 6th century BC. It was built of poros limestone and housed an 8m (27 ft) high bronze statue of Apollo cast by Tektaios and Angelion of Aegina. The second temple, the most southerly, was the largest of the three and the only one to be surrounded by columns. It was begun in the 5th century BC but was apparently not completed until the 3rd. Between those two temples is the third and latest of the three, the Temple of the AtheniansNorth of the three temple, set in a semicircle, are the treasuries, from which we continue to the so-called Prytaneion and further east to a long building known as the Hall of Bulls after its bull's-head capitals or as the Ship Hall after a ship which was set up here in thanksgiving for a Macedionian naval victory.
On the east side of the Hieron of Apollo is the Sanctuary of Dionysos, in which are several marble phalluses. On one of the bases are carvings of scenes from the cult of Dionysos. West from here along the Stoa of Antigonos, with bull's-head metopes on the entablature, which was built by king Antigonos Gonates of Macedon about 250 BC. Rather less than half way along this is a semicircular structure dating from Mycenaean times, the tomb of the Hyperborean Maidens who attended Leto at the birth of the divine twins.
At the west end of the Stoa of Antigonos we leave the Hieron of Apollo, continue past the Agora of Theophrastos and a hypostyle hall on the left, and then pass the Temple of the Twelve Gods to reach the temple of Leto. This was built about 500 BC and preserves some courses of marble, with a bench running round the exterior, on gneiss and granite foundations. To the right, east of the temple, is the Agora of the Italians, the largest of a number of similar structures built to house foreign merchants.
From here, passing between the Temple of Leto and a long granite building, we follow the processional way, flanked by a number of lions in Naxian marble dating from the 7th century BC - the earliest monumental figures of animals in Greek art. They look out over the Sacred Lake, which was filled in 1925-26 on account of the danger of malaria. In the lake there is a palm tree, recalling the palm under which Leto gave birth to Apollo and Artemis. Other remains in the northern part of the site are the Establishment of the Poseidoniasts of Berytos (built for the accommodation of merchants from Beirut), the Granite Palaistra and the Lake Palaistra. The Museum contains a fine collection of material from the site, although some of the best items found here, such as the relief of Nikandre, are now in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Adjoining the museum is a restaurant , which also has a number of bedrooms. From here we can look around the area to the northeast, in which are the Gymnasion, the Stadion and a residential quarter near the sea, with a synagogue.
From the museum the visitor can walk to mount Mithnos. First you see the Terrace of the Syrian and Egyptian Gods (2nd century BC), with the Sanctuary of Hadad and Atargatis, which includes a small theatre, and the Sanctuary of Serapis and Isis. Here too is a Temple of Hera (5th century BC), oriented to the south, from which a flight of steps climbs the slopes of mount Kinthos. On the top of the hill are remains of a 3rd century temple dedicated to Zeus Kinthios and Athena Kinthia, who were worshipped here from the 7th century BC.
The ancient city of Delos has a typical example of a house of the Hellenistic period. Is the one known as the House of the Dolphins. The entrance leads into the peristyle, with the mosaic pavement, which gives the house its name, and adjoining this are a large room and several smaller apartments. Opposite it is the larger House of the Masks, the peristyle of which has been re-erected. The badly ruined theatre, with seating for some 5000 spectators, dates from 3rd century BC.
Behind the stage is a large cistern with nine chambers in which rainwater flowing down from the auditorium was collected. There are a number of other notable buildings on the "Theater Road" which brings us back to the harbour, including the House of the Trident and the House of Dionysos, both named after their mosaics, and the House of Cleopatra, named after the statues of Cleopatra and her husband Dioskourides which were found here.