Apollo’s temple-sanctuary complex, in its stunning mountainous setting, is part of the ancient site of Delphi. The sanctuary is one of the four major pan-Hellenic sanctuaries, and the temple represents the heart of ancient Greece—indeed, the Greeks believed that it marked the center of the world. Greek legend relates how two eagles, released from the west and east by the great god Zeus, both flew to the point that would become Delphi. A stone called the omphalos (navel) marked the spot and became the centerpiece of a temple to Apollo, the handsome, virile, all-powerful Greek god. An eternal flame burned within the temple and the site became the ancient world’s most widely revered oracle, where leaders of Greece’s perennially warring city-states came to seek Apollo’s advice on momentous decisions.
What remains of Apollo’s temple today are foundations, columns, and steps dating from a fourth-century b.c.e. version of the building. The first major temple seems to have been built in the seventh century b.c.e. and burned down in 548 b.c.e.; a second, built in the second half of the sixth century b.c.e., was destroyed in 373 b.c.e. The sanctuary area was a walled rectangular space through which passed the Sacred Way—a path lined with monuments dedicated to Apollo that zigzags its way uphill to the temple. This was a Doric-style building fronted by an impressive altar. At the back of the temple was a small space where the oracle itself was supposedly located.
The ancient Romans captured Delphi in the second century b.c.e. and many of its treasures were looted over the following years. By the end of the fourth century c.e, the rise of Christianity had resulted in the Romans closing Delphi as a religious site and it lay neglected until major excavation work started in the 1890s. It became a World Heritage site in 1987.