Since earliest times, the sea has played a vital role in the history of the Hellenes – the Greeks. The sea facilitated communication, commerce, movement of people and ideas. As dawn broke over the Aegean, the Sea Cloud dropped anchor off the sacred island of Delos, the legendary birthplace of the Greek gods Apollo and his twin sister, Artemis. Now deserted save a host of cats, lizards and a few site guards, the island was once home to more than 30,000 souls during its heyday in the first century BC.
We started our exploration of the site in the port Agora that was dedicated to the God of Commerce – Hermes. Our next stop was the recently restored Theater residential district of ancient Delos where we had the opportunity to visit the peristyle House of Dionysos and House of the Trident both of which had wonderful mosaic tiled inner courtyards. Along the way we stepped into an array of small dwellings and shops, including ones belonging to an ancient fishmonger and wine seller. No matter how humble the dwelling, the ancient Delians seemed to favor white Parian marble for their door and window frames.
The French archaeologists, who have conducted all the excavations at the site over the past five decades, have stacked basalt mortars, amphorae, fragments of marble olive presses and small decorative marble columns artfully in many of the empty rooms. Fragments of plaster still cling to the rough-hewn, gray gneiss stone walls.
Despite the numerous groups of day-trippers from nearby Mykonos, the ancient side-streets were still eerily empty and quiet – as if the occupants had just stepped out to visit the shops in the Agora below.
We moved from the residential area to the sanctuary of Apollo via the great stoa built by Philip V of Macedonia. Beyond the foundations of the various temples, we walked past the magnificent Terrace of the Lions that guard the sacred lake of Delos.
Once at the museum, some of the more hardy broke away from the group to climb Mount Kynthos for a true panorama of the Cycladic world, while others found their way up to the white marble Temple of Isis before strolled back to the tender landing.
No sooner did we get back aboard the Sea Cloud than Tom announced impromptu “swim time” off the port gangway. A plunge into the cool, aqua marine waters of the Aegean was just the “ticket” to revive us after our long morning trek. The grilled sea bass, mussels, and champagne lunch being served on the Lido deck also helped!
After cruising for two hours we arrived off the main port of the island of Naxos where we took an orientation stroll up and around the medieval Venetian Kastro. Ellie and Laura guided us through a virtual labyrinth of winding streets, archways and steps after which everyone split up to explore the spice shops, sample Greek ice cream and Kitro, a local lemon liqueur. Some stayed ashore to watch the sun set through the “portara” and sample seafood at a shore-side tavern while the rest of us went back for a scrumptious dinner aboard Sea Cloud. Hard to have a more perfect day than this!