Delphi in the Ottoman period

Delphi shared the history of Phocis, with successive changes of suzerains in the course of the Frankish period down to 1410, when the Ottomans gained a firm hold over the region. The area itself remained almost uninhabited for centuries, whereas it seems that one of the first buildings of the early modern era was the monastery of Panayia (the Mother of God) built over the ancient Gymnasium. A settlement that began to form, gradually evolved into the village of Kastri.

Cyriacus of Ancona and his narration
The first western “traveler” who described the visible archaeological remains in Delphi and offered a rare view of the area in a rather obscure period was Cyriacus of Ancona (his real name was Ciriaco de Pizzicoli). He was a brilliant personality, a genuine representative of Renaissance humanism. He started his career as a merchant, yet the antiquities he encountered during his travels moved him deeply and motivated him to learn ancient Greek and Latin at the relatively advanced age of 30. He then pursued a series of travels aiming at archaeological investigation and documentation, along with undertaking various diplomatic missions, particularly in the Ottoman court. Cyriacus visited Delphi in March 1436, in the course of a journey to Greece and the eastern Mediterranean, and spent six days there, recording the archaeological remains with Pausanias' text as his guidebook. Thanks to him we have learned about the condition of the theatre and the stadium as well as many visible statues. He also contributed to the field of epigraphy by recording a considerable number of inscriptions. His identifications, however, were not always correct: for example the round building that he described as the temple of Apollo was none other than the two semi-circles of the base of the Argives' ex-voto.
Our information for the next two centuries of Ottoman rule is relatively sparse and rather confused. Under the name Kastri, Delphi was subjected to the kaza of Salona (Amphissa). We know that the destructive earthquake of 1580, which affected the entire Amphissa region, caused severe damage to the antiquities.

The foreign travelers
Information on Ottoman Delphi became more abundant as the travelers who visited it increased. In Ottoman times as in antiquity, one of the main roads which connected Eastern and Western Greece passed through the region of Delphi. Many travelers disembarked at Itea or Naupaktos and then took the long way to Delphi, aided by beasts of burden such as donkeys, mules and horses.
From the mid-17th century onwards, such visits became more frequent, as the idea of traveling and collecting antiquities became fashionable throughout Europe. Two of the earliest (recorded) visitors of Delphi were George Wheler and Jacob Spon, who passed by in January 1676. The first building to have attracted their attention (as well as that of many other travelers in the years to follow), was the monastery of Panayia built in the region of “Marmaria”, right on top of the ancient Gymnasium. It was an annex of the Monastery of Jerusalem situated in Davleia in Boeotia and it stood there until its demolition during the “Great Excavation” in the 1890s. Many travelers sojourned in this monastery; most of them mention the excellent wine offered by the – otherwise frugal – monks.
In 1766 a group of travelers passed from Delphi: Richard Chandler, a professor in Oxford specialized in epigraphy, Nicholas Revett, an architect and designer, and William Pars, a painter. Their expedition had been funded by the renowned Society of the Dilettanti, which systematically promoted the interest in Greco-Roman antiquities in Great Britain. The results of their research were published in 1769 under the title “Ionian Antiquities”, followed by a compendium of inscriptions as well as two travelling accounts, one about Asia Minor (1774) and another about Greece (1775). Apart from the antiquities that they recorded, they also produced some vivid descriptions of daily life in Kastri, particularly the visit of a band of Turco-Albanians, whose duty was to guard the mountain passes. These men appalled the British with their “barbarian” and “crude” behavior.
In 1805 Edward Dodwell visited Delphi, accompanied by the painter Simone Pomardi. His descriptions are simple but precise, and so are the fine engravings by Pomardi, which illustrated his book, published in 1821. Apart from the antiquities, he also depicts scenes of daily life, such as a memorable dinner at Chrisso, or the hospitality offered by the priest of Kastri in a plain, single-room house with no ventilation for the smoke coming out of the hearth. The family lived together, without any sense of privacy.
A well-known travelling destination such as Delphi could not have escaped the philhellene Lord Byron, who visited in 1809. Byron was accompanied by his friend John Cam Hobhouse. The poet was inspired by this visit to write – among other things – the following verses:

Yet there I've wandered by the vaulted rill;
Yes! Sighed o'er Delphi's long deserted shrine,
where, save that feeble fountain, all is still.

At the same time he couldn't help but notice the incised signatures of other visitors on the ancient columns, which were re-used at the monastery of Panayia; among these was the signature of the Count of Aberdeen, whom Byron accused, as he did with Lord Elgin, for the mutilation and steeling of antiquities. His horror at the abominable actions of his compatriots, however, did not prevent him from leaving his own signature on the marble of the same column, nowadays standing restored in the Gymnasium of Delphi.

The first decades of the Greek state
After the liberation of Greece and the foundation of the Modern Greek State, care for antiquities was immediately taken throughout the country. Several sculptures found in situ in Delphi were initially transported to Aegina, to the first museum founded by governor Capodistria. However, there was a persistent demand for the foundation of a museum in the region of Delphi itself. An excavation of the entire region had been planned since the 1860s, but the limited financial resources of the Greek state rendered this perspective almost impossible. Meanwhile, foreign travelers continued to visit Delphi. One of them was the French poet and author Gustave Flaubert, who visited the site in 1851. Τhe increasing numbers of visitors and amateur antiquaries possibly contributed to the final achievement of a deal between the French and Greek state for the expropriation of the village Kastri, the relocation of the inhabitants and their houses, and the realisation of the largest, until then, excavation on Greek soil.

Text - Translation: Dr. Aphrodite Kamara, Historian