According to Greek Mythology this was the place where Leto, following an affair with Zeus and chased by Zeus’ jealous wife Hera, found refuge and gave birth to Apollo and Artemis.
It is believed that the island was first inhabited around the 3rd millennium and according to Thucydides its first inhabitants were the Carians, while excavation findings suggest a Minoan and Mycenaean period as well.
In approximately 1000 B.C Delos became the cultural and religious center of an amphictyony of the Aegean islands under the protection of Naxos. Every four years a great festival, Delia, in honor of Apollo and Artemis, would take place, with sacrifices, musical and dancing contests. The Athenians entered the amphictyony and by the mid 6th century B.C. started to impose their rule. During the time of Peisistratos (540 B.C) the Athenians enforced the first purification of the island and removed all graves from the area of the sanctuary.
During the Persian wars Delos remained untouched by the catastrophes the other Cycladic islands suffered, and from 478 B.C. and on became the natural meeting ground for the Delian League. The League’s treasury was kept there until 454 BC when Pericles moved it to Athens.
In 426 B.C. the Athenians imposed a second purification in the island by removing all the remains of those buried in its ground, transferring them to the neighboring island of Rhenia. Since then, no deaths or births were allowed in Delos.
By the end of the 4th century B.C and up until 168 B.C Delos flourished. From 166 B.C., under the protection of the Athenians Delos became an important commercial center. In 88 B.C the army of Mithridates destroys all its monuments, temples, and slaughters its 20,000 inhabitants. In 69 B.C. another catastrophic invasion will take place only to be repeated in the following years by pirates. The islands commercial prosperity comes to an end. By the end of the 2nd century A.D. there is nothing else on the island except for a small settlement which was abandoned in the 6th century A.D.
The importance of the island’s history started to unfold itself in 1877, when the French Archaeological School started their first official excavations on the island.
In 1990, UNESCO included Delos in the World Heritage List as an “exceptionally extensive and rich” archaeological site.
Today, in the island’s Archaeological Museum, visitors may admire a significant collection of sculptures, ceramic vessels, epigraphs, mosaic floors, and other excavation findings.>
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