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Very close to Mykonos visitors have the opportunity to discover the charming island of Delos. This is one of the most famous archaeological sites in all of Greece, a site some have compared to Delphi and Olympia.
All that is required to reach this diminutive island is to stroll down to the old pier in Mykonos and take a boat. The journey port to port takes 20 to 30 minutes and offers the visitor the privilege of observing the archaeological remains on the island from the viewpoint of the blue waters of the Aegean.
Located just 2 kilometres from Mykonos, the fact that it is home to important treasures left behind by various civilizations, including the Egyptians, the Romans and the Macedonians, led to the entire island of Delos being declared a National Museum.
According to Greek mythology, Delos was the sacred birthplace of the children of Zeus and Leto: the goddess Artemis, who is associated with the moon, and Apollo, the sun god. This myth may even explain the island's lack of vegetation and trees, the rays of the moon and the sun being the only elements accompanying this valuable archaeological site.
Travelling back in time we find that the first signs of human presence here date back to the third millennium BC. This fact is confirmed by various vestiges of the past scattered throughout the island, such as marble columns, a gymnasium and a theatre.
Early in the tenth century BC the island became an important religious centre. This changed abruptly, however, when the Athenians took possession of the island in the mid-sixth century BC and ordered the removal of all the graves, relocating them to the nearby island of Rhenia. Since this time births and burials have been banned in Delos as it is considered desecration of a sacred place.
The island was later occupied by the Romans. These declared the island a free port and transformed it into a trading centre that attracted Egyptian, Syrian and Italian merchants.
And so we come to the seventeenth century, when Delos began to exert great power of attraction over Europeans, who came in droves to examine the island's ruins. Such was the expectation raised that in 1873 a group of archaeologists from the French School of Archaeology began excavations, only to unearth a significant segment of what had once been a large, influential and prosperous town. The finding was undeniably interesting, revealing a town replete with shrines, temples, ports, markets and residential areas. Thanks to both the great archaeological value and religious importance of the finding, Delos was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1990.
For those who decide to visit, we highly recommend both the Agora of the Competaliasts and the Agora of the Italians, two commercially important centres of activity, as well as the Terrace of the Lions, with its stunning marble-carved feline, and the temple of Delos, or Great Temple, one of the three temples that constitute the great Apollo Sanctuary.
Other worthy activities include a visit to the vestiges of what was once the Via Sacra, a stroll through the ancient theatre and the surrounding area, and a visit to the residential area beside the Sacred Lake, where you will discover what houses were like in Roman times, with their courtyards decorated with ornate mosaics and exquisite frescoes.
The island also features an Archaeological Museum displaying important findings unearthed during the excavations as well as a model of ancient Delos. Unfortunately, the finest pieces found at this site have been moved to the National Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens.