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Sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi

Sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(jazz music) - [Voiceover] Sitting here overlooking the Sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi makes it really clear to me why the Greeks believed that the Gods dwelled on a mountain. - [Male Voiceover] Well we have this glorious view. - [Female Voiceover] I feel on top of the world. It makes sense. The Greeks practiced their religion in places called sanctuaries that became complexes of many buildings. - [Male Voiceover] This is one of the most important Pan-Hellenic sanctuaries. What that means is that it was not controlled by one city state, but it was a place that Greeks came from numerous city states from all over Greece. - [Female Voiceover] Therefore Pan-Hellenic across Greece. The Sanctuary at Olympia is another example of Pan-Hellenic sanctuary. - [Male Voiceover] Now of course in that case, Greeks from all over came to compete in athletic games, but Olympia also had an oracle that is a priestess who had a connection to the Gods, but here at Delphi this was perhaps the single-most important sanctuary because here although there were games, there were musical competitions and there were sporting competitions. This was the place with the single-most important oracle. That is with the priestess who could help decide major political and even private issues. - [Female Voiceover] The priestess here at Delphi, the oracle was called the Pythia and she made her pronouncements. She answered questions from the temple that we're looking at now. - [Male Voiceover] When she did this, she was seated behind a curtain we believe. She was seated on a tripod and over a kind of chasm that went into the earth and according to traditions that go back at least to the ninth century, this was a way that she connected directly to the God Apollo. - [Female Voiceover] Right, a way that Apollo could speak through her and so we're in a space that is entirely sacred to the God Apollo. - [Male Voiceover] So according to the ancient reports we have, the way this would work is somebody of high stature with significant wealth or political power would come with a very specific question, often a yes or no question. They would give it to one of the priestess' assistants and that would then be read to the priestess who was behind a curtain. She would make a pronouncement which would then be interpreted so that it could be understandable by the assistant priests. - [Female Voiceover] So as a Pan-Hellenic sanctuary, as a sanctuary for all Greeks, this was a place where one could really show off the wealth and the power of your city state. The primary way that city states could do that was by building treasuries. Now, treasuries were often small buildings. They weren't peripteral, but as we normally think about a Greek temple as having columns all around it. Instead they had columns in the front and they were mostly storehouses for objects that were being offered dedicated to the God. It's important to remember I think that Greek religion was transactional. That people gave gifts to the Gods and in turn the Gods favored them. - [Male Voiceover] This might be booty that was taken in war. It might be the result of some other kind of good fortune, but there's no question that that transactional aspect was important. You wanted to give as much as you could to the Sanctuary of Apollo in order to stay in Apollo's good graces. - [Female Voiceover] And so when visitors came to the sanctuary, they walked up, what was called the sacred way and they passed by numerous treasury buildings built by numerous Greek city states or what the Greeks called the polis. - [Male Voiceover] Now you can imagine how competitive this was because each city state was showing off against the other. - [Female Voiceover] Right and we can look down at the reconstructed treasury built by the city state of Athens. - [Male Voiceover] That's a great example. Just beside it, we believe that there had once been a huge pile of booty that they had taken from the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. - [Female Voiceover] Right, which they won against great odds and so you really could understand why they would thank the Gods for that victory. - [Male Voiceover] It's one of the larger treasuries and it's in a very prominent place, just below the Athenian treasury is a smaller treasury, which was, according to reports, the most lavishly decorated of all the treasuries here. This belonged to the small island of Siphnos in the south of the Aegean Sea. - [Female Voiceover] And the Siphneans were especially wealthy because they had gold and silver mines so they could afford to build a really lavish treasury. - [Male Voiceover] The treasuries were stacked up over each other in such a steep space. - [Female Voiceover] Well you wound your way back and forth to go up to the very top of the sanctuary where we see the theater. - [Male Voiceover] Well most sanctuaries had a theater. The most famous probably, the theater Epidaurus which was an important sanctuary for healing. - [Female Voiceover] This is a good reminder that theater was connected to religious practice and it's interesting to know too the form of the theater we have the actors on the bottom and the seats rising up above built into the hillside. Imagine sitting in that theater, looking down past the actors, to this amazing view of the temple and the valley beyond. (jazz music)