The Stadium of Delphi

The Stadium of Delphi 
© Ephorate of Antiquities of Phocis, Ministry of Culture and Sports

The stadium of Delphi, situated at the highest part of the area, must have been built in the second half of the 4th century B.C. or even after the victory over the Galatians in 279 B.C. It was about 178 meters long and on both sides there were raised banks for the spectators, initially made of battered earth, and later on, of stone; Pausanias mentions that Herod Atticus paid for a marble revetment of the seats. The two rows of benches joined at the semi-circular sling, divided in four tiers.

The stadium of Delphi is built on the highest point of the archaeological site, just above the theatre and between the Phaedriads and the hill of St. Elias, to the northwest of the temple of Apollo. The northern side of the stadium lies against the slope, taking advantage of the natural inclination of the ground. The tiers of the southern side are supported by a wall. It seems that from the time of its construction onwards, dated to the second half of the 4th or the first half of the 3rd century B.C., the “gymnastic” contests took place there, i.e. the track and field sports, as well as musical performances or contests, according at least to a 2nd century B.C. inscription, referring to the performance of a hymn “for the god and the Greeks” by Satyr the Samian accompanied by the guitar. Traces of 6th century B.C. buildings as well as fountains have been discovered on the site.
Τhe Stadium of Delphi, the best preserved stadium in Greece, presents at least four different phases. The first one dates to the end of the 4th century B.C. Until then, the track sports and the horse and chariot races took place at another site, possibly on the plain below Delphi.
In its early phase it must have allowed up to 20 athletes to compete simultaneously on 20 tracks. In its second phase, however, dated also before the mid-3rd century B.C., the number of tracks was reduced to 17. In both cases the starting point (aphesis) was made of stone, marble initially, limestone later. In ca. 100 B.C. the spectators' tiers on the southern side were added. Finally, what we see today corresponds to the fourth phase of the stadium, after the stone revetment of the spectators' benches. Pausanias mentions that Herod Atticus (101-177 A.D.) had the tiers covered with marble, but what we see today is limestone. It seems that an attempt at marble revetment might have taken place, but it was not completed due to the death of the great sponsor of the arts. Initially the stadium was 178.35 meters long, the size of a Pythian stadium, whereas its width on the eastern end was 25.25 meters, on the west end 24.65 meters and in the centre 28.5 meters. In the Roman period the track was elevated and its length was reduced to 177.414 meters. The spectators' benches stood along the long sides and met at the semicircular sling. Yet, they didn't level with the arena, where the athletes competed, but were raised on a crepis 1.30 meters high. On the north side, 12 rows of seats divided by staircases in 12 tiers are preserved. The highest corridor is protected by a wall made of plain rocks, mainly against the rock falls. To the west lies the sling with six rows of seats, divided by staircases in 4 tiers. On the south side, the support walls and the tiers they supported are collapsed, but they must have corresponded to those of the north side. The total capacity of the stadium was about 6,500 spectators. On the eastern side, the starting line is preserved almost intact, with two rows of slabs bearing incisions for the feet of the runners and rectangular cavities for supporting the hysplinx, the mechanism allowing the simultaneous start of the race. To the east of the starting line, four pillars have been discovered, which supported the monumental arched entrance.
Upon reaching the stadium, on the eastern end of the support wall, one sees an inscription forbidding the removal from the building of the wine which was preserved for sacrifices. The interpretation of the inscription is somewhat ambiguous; moreover it is not certain that this was its original position. The stadium was abandoned in 394 A.D. Cyriacus of Ancona records that, when he visited Delphi in 1438, the stadium was almost intact. However, with time it became covered with earth and used as a pasture. Traveler W. Leake wrote that during his own visit, in the early 19th century, only the upper row of benches was visible.

Text - Translation: Dr. Aphrodite Kamara, Historian