House of the Masks on Delos island

The House of the Masks …


The Temple of Isis on Delos Island

The Temple of Isis …


House of Hermes on Delos Island

The House of Hermes …


House of Dionysus on Delos island

… intricate mosaics, like this one in the House of Dionysus …


The Agora of the Competialists on Delos Island

… and ruins and antiquities practically everywhere you step, like these in the Agora of the Competialists, will enthrall you for hours on Delos


Delos Archaeological Museum

And when you need a break from the intense summer sun, you can cool off while viewing hundreds of sculptures, mosaics, frescoes and antiquities …


Delian lions

… including the original marble Delian lions, now displayed in their own special gallery inside the Delos Archaeological Museum


Ruins and treasures aplenty:  If you’re a big history and archaeology buff, a half-day excursion to Delos probably won’t offer nearly enough time to explore the vast outdoor ruins, let alone the treasures inside the Delos Archaeological Museum. There’s plenty to see, and after three separate visits we still haven’t seen it all.

But visiting Delos involves a lot of walking, usually under a hot, bright sun, and that makes it even more challenging to view as many of the island’s highlight attractions as possible in just one trip.


Hordes of tourists at the four houses with mosaics

Competing for viewing space with hordes of people in huge guided tour groups certainly doesn’t help, either. When we took a guided tour in 2006, we practically got trampled trying to see some of the spectacular mosaic floors at the four famous houses — the House of Dionysus, the House of the Tritons, the House of the Dolphins and the House of the Masks. About half a dozen different tour groups, with up to 50 people in each, converged on the houses at nearly the same time. There was some pushing and shoving as people from different groups tried to squeeze past each other to view or photograph the mosaics, and I couldn’t begin to count the number of times that I got bumped and jostled or had my feet stomped by other tourists trying to get in front of, behind or around me. It wasn’t pleasant, and I only got brief glimpses of some of the mosaics. The floor mosaic in the House of Dionysus was the only one I was actually able to photograph.


Heimdall’s tip for viewing the mosaics

Heimdall, a destination expert for Antiparos, has planned his Delos visits strategically so he has been able to view and photograph the mosaics without the crowds and hassles we have encountered. Heimdall told me he catches the very first (9 a.m. ) Delos ferry from Mykonos, and heads directly to the four houses — basically moving in the direction opposite to the one most tourists are inclined to take when they enter Delos. This plan of attack puts Heimdall at the mosaics long before the tour groups and other throngs of sightseers descend en masse, giving him a prime opportunity to shoot unobscured photos of the stunning mosaics. Sometimes he’s the first person to arrive, so he doesn’t have to worry about shadows or squeeze past other people blocking the narrow wall openings through which the mosaics can be viewed.  Be sure to check out his impressive Mykonos & Delos album on flickr. (I’ll admit I’m jealous Heimdall got those amazing pics, because I had to settle for stealing quick glances of the artwork — usually over somebody else’s shoulder!)


Don’t miss the museum

Many visitors don’t bother going in the Delos Archaeological Museum, preferring to explore the outdoor sites, but it’s worthwhile visiting its galleries to view the many sculptures, reliefs, mosaics, pottery, figurines, jewellery, and scores of small tools and household items that had been used in day-to-day life in ancient Greece. It’s also where you’ll see the original Delian marble lions; the ones on the outdoor Terrace of the Lions actually are replicas. (The gallery with the lions was roped off the last two times we’ve been to Delos, so we had to view and photograph the lions from several feet away. )

Many of the museum’s treasures were discovered in the late 1800s during a major archaeological excavation project that the Ecole Française d’Athènes  (French School at Athens) launched on Delos in 1872. (The research project actually continues to this day.) In 1904, the Archaeological Society of Athens built what was originally a five-room museum to house and display some of the finds, while many more antiquities unearthed on the island were sent to Athens for display at the National Archaeological Museum. Expansions in 1931 and 1972 increased the Delos museum’s size to nine rooms.

The photos below will give you a good idea of what you’ll get to see, both outdoors and inside the museum, when you visit Delos yourself.


Map of ruins on Delos island

You can view and download this basic map of the Delos archaeological site from the website operated by the Greece National Tourist Organisation (GNTO). I have circled the area where the four houses with the famous mosaics are situated. If you take the 9 a.m. ferry from Mykonos to Delos and head directly to that area upon arrival, you should be able to view and photograph the ruins at your leisure before large tour groups arrive and crowd the site.


Delos island

Inside the entrance gate to Delos. The Orca, one of the excursion boats from Mykonos, is docked at the pier just outside the ticket booth.


the Sacred Way on Delos Island

A couple strolls the 13-meter-wide Sacred Way


Delos island

Tourists explore the ruins closest to the entrance gate


Delos island

This visitor looks like she’s walking through a field of tall grass …


a pathway on Delos island

… but she was actually walking one of the paths that meanders through the ruins


Agora of the Competialists on Delos island

This small round structure in the Agora of the Competialists was constructed from marble and dedicated to the Greek god of commerce, Hermes


Delos island

A narrow street separates rows of stone houses


 Delos island

A pair of columns tower above plants and tall grasses


ruins on Delos island

A solo visitor walks a path surrounded by ruins of ancient buildings


Delos island

A column stands next to a footpath that passes between ruins of ancient houses


Sanctuary of Dionysus on Delos Island

Two phallic monuments at the Sanctuary of Dionysus


Sanctuary of Dionysus on Delos island

Explicit phallic images adorned many public and private buildings on Delos. The phallus is a symbol of the god Dionysus; in ancient times, the Greeks believed that phallus symbols would ward off evil spirits.


Establishment of the Poseidoniasts on Delos island

Columns in the Establishment of the Poseidoniasts


Delos island

Tall stone walls remain intact on this large house


Stoa of Phillip in the ruins on Delos island

The Stoa of Phillip next to The Sacred Way


A Minoan fountain on Delos island

A Minoan fountain


a pathway on Delos hillside

A pathway on a Delos hillside. Good walking shoes are advised, but we — and other tourists — have walked extensively on Delos wearing sturdy sandals.


Terrace of the Lions on Delos

The Terrace of the Lions


Terrace of Lions at Delos

Spring wildflowers surround one of the Delian lions


Establishment of the Poseidoniasts on Delos

Columns in the Establishment of the Poseidoniasts


 House of Hermes on Delos Island

Visitors approach the House of Hermes


House of Hermes on Delos Island

Looking up at the House of Hermes


wildflowers and ruins on Delos island

Looking toward Ano Remiataris island across a field of wildflowers and ruins


House of Dionysus on Delos island

Columns rise above the stone walls of the House of Dionysus


House of Dionysus on Delos island

Columns and the mosaic floor inside the House of Dionysus


Temple of Isis on Delos island

The Temple of Isis


Temple of Isis on Delos island

Overlooking the Temple of Isis from the adjacent hillside


Building remnants on Delos island

Rows of column segments, bases and other foundations of ancient buildings


Delos view of Mykonos island

These visitors have a good view of Mykonos as they explore the ruins


a house on Delos island

Looking down on the remains of an ancient house


palm tree on Delos island

An elegant palm tree near The Sacred Lake


House of the Tritons on Delos

Lion head consoles carved into a column at the House of the Tritons


ancient commercial port on Delos

Seaside ruins of the ancient commercial port on Delos


Delos snack bar and archaeological museum

Approaching the snack bar, left, and the Delos Archaeological Museum. The snack bar has seating on an outdoor shaded terrace, but prices for its beverages, light snacks and souvenirs are quite steep. If you’re travelling on a budget, bring bottled water and a picnic lunch with you to Delos.


Delian lions in the Delos Archaeological Museum

The heads of three of the original marble Delian lions


Delian lions in the Delos Archaeological Museum

Peeking below the bellies of the Delian lions


a fresco in the Delos archaeological museum

A plaster wall painting in the ‘daily life’ gallery


panther mosaic in the Delos archaeological museum

A colourful panther mosaic


sculpture in Delos archaeological museum

The museum has six separate rooms of sculpture and reliefs


sculpture in the Delos archaeological museum

A close view of the face of one of the sculptures


Delos Archaeological Museum

Phallic symbols and sex-themed artifacts in a display case


Mosaic of Hermes and Athena

This giant mosaic of Hermes and Athena has been mounted on a wall at the juncture of two Hellenistic sculpture galleries


Mosaic of Hermes and Athena

I waited for the gallery to empty so I could snap this photo of the mosaic …


Delos archaeological museum

… without getting someone else’s head and body in the picture


Hermes and Athena mosaic

An image near the upper right-hand corner of the frame for the huge wall-mounted Hermes and Athena mosaic


Delos archaeological museum

One of the wall paintings in the daily life gallery


wall painting in the Delos archaeological museum

Another wall painting in the daily life gallery


wall mural in Delos archaeological museum

Another colourful plaster wall painting


Delos Archaeological Museum

A giant frame supports the tall Statue of Ofellius Ferus


sculpture in the Delos archaeological museum

People at my gym practically kill themselves doing squats in the hopes of someday boasting a rock-hard butt like the one on this sculpture …


Delos Archaeological Museum

… while this sun-streaked, trim torso confirms that six pack abs have been revered since ancient times


antiquities in the Delos Archaeological Museum

An interesting collection of facial expressions!