According to Greek mythology, Apollo was born on this tiny island in the
Cyclades archipelago. Apollo's sanctuary attracted pilgrims from all over Greece and Delos was a prosperous trading port. The island bears traces of the succeeding civilizations in the Aegean world, from the 3rd millennium B.C. to the palaeochristian era. The archaeological site is exceptionally extensive and rich and conveys the image of a great cosmopolitan Mediterranean port.
bears unique witness to the civilizations of the Aegean world in the 3rd millennium BC. During the palaeo-Christian era, it was the seat of the bishopric of the Cyclades which ruled over the islands of Mykonos, island of Delos Syros, Seriphos, Kythnos and Keos. From the 7th century BC to the pillage by Athenodoros, Delos was one of the principal Pan-Hellenic sanctuaries. The feast of the Delians, which was celebrated every four years in May until 316 BC, included gymnastic, equestrian, and musical competitions, dances, theatrical productions, and banquets. It was one of the major events in the Greek world.
On the island, which had already been the site of earlier human settlements (sparse during the Neolithic age, more dense during the Mycenaean period), everything revolved around the sanctuary of Apollo, the seat of the Ionian Amphictyonia. The Naxians, the Parians, and the Athenians disputed the site, with the last-named triumphing under Pisistratus (c. 540-528 BC). They ordered the first purification of the place. In 454, the treasure of the Delian Confederacy, which replaced the Amphictyonia, was moved to
. In 426 a second purification decree forbade being born or dying at Athens Delos. Pregnant women and terminally ill persons were transported to the . The decision, motivated by religious reasons, was not without political considerations. In 422 BC in a move to strengthen Athenian domination, the Delians were deported en masse. Except for some short reprieves and truces, their exile lasted until 314, when island of Rheneia Delos regained its independence in principle and again became the centre of an island confederation that was tolerated and more or less controlled by the Lagides of Egypt and later by the Macedonians. It became a very important cosmopolitan Mediterranean port ,reaching outstanding levels during the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, when the average population is estimated to have been 25,000.
In 166 BC the Delians were again ousted, this time by the Roman Senate, which wished to supplant trade at Rhodes by making
Delos a free port. It was a landmark decision that signalled the end of a period dominated by religious and political considerations and the beginning of a phase of economic expansion as had presaged the extent of diplomatic and commercial relations reflected in the honorific decrees of the late 3rd century BC in favour of the rich foreign benefactors of the sanctuary. The great era of maritime trade ended only in 69 BC with the sacking of the island by Athenodoros, the last of a series of disastrous events. Abandoned in the 6th century, captured successively by Byzantines (727), Slavs (769), Saracens (821), Venetians, the Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem, and the Ottoman Turks, Delos was turned into a quarry site. The columns of its temples were consumed by the lime kilns, the walls of its houses left in ruins.
Today the island's landscape consists solely of ruins unearthed systematically since 1872. On an archaeological site estimated at 95 ha, 25 ha have been excavated. The principal zones are the north-east coastal plain (Sanctuary of Apollo, Agora of the Compitaliasts, Agora of the Delians); the Sacred Lake region (Agora of Theophrastos, Agora of the Italians, the renowned Terrace of Lions, the Institution of the Poseidoniasts of Berytos (Beirut); the Mount Kynthos area (Terrace of the Sanctuaries of the Foreign Gods, Heraion); and the theatre quarter, whose poignant ruins have been overrun by vegetation.
is among the first important Greek sites in the Aegean world to have captured the attention of archaeologists. island of Delos Delos had considerable influence on the development of architecture and monumental arts during the Graeco-Roman period; this influence was matched later by the important role it has played since the 15th century in furthering our knowledge of ancient Greek art from a widely renowned site.