The excellent Delphi Archaeological Museum displays some of the finest works of art in Greece. The museum's 15 rooms chronicle the history of Delphi from the 15th century BC to the 4th century AD, including the many magnificent treasures donated from places throughout the Classical world. After major renovations and expansion, the Delphi Museum reopened in 2004.
What to See
The museum's 15 rooms are generally arranged chronologically, with some themed exhibits (see map here). Following is a summary of the rooms and their major highlights.
Terrace. Highlights include the fine Sarcophagus of Meleager and a large mosaic (5th century AD) with animals and birds.
Rooms I and II: Beginnings of the Sanctuary. These rooms contain the oldest artifacts found at Delphi, including Mycenaean clay figurines (c.1500-1400 BC) from the Sanctuary of Athena and a variety of bronze objects from the 7th century BC: shields, cauldron and tripod, griffin heads, animal votives and a statuette of Apollo. A sign emphasizes Delphi's relationships with Crete and Asia Minor in this period - it was from Crete that the cult of Apollo Delphinios arrived here.
Room III: Early Archaic Period. The star attraction here is a pair of famous Archaic (6th century BC) statues, depicting either the Argive twins Cleobis and Biton or the Dioscuri. They stand 7 feet (2.16m) tall. Also here, and also dating from the 6th century, are painted terracotta fragments and five metopes from the Sikyonian monopteros, a round building with an open roof. The metopes are damaged but still retain some traces of paint. They are thought to depict: the Argonauts; Zeus' abduction of Europa; Castor and Polydeuces stealing the Arcadian cattle; hunting of the Calydonian Bear; the quest for the Golden Fleece.
Room IV: Sacred Pits. This room displays sacred objects that were buried purposefully in pits after a fire in the 5th century BC, and excavated in 1939. Most of the objects are votive offerings made in western Asia Minor (Ionia), illustrating the widespread importance of Delphi even at this early date. Notable objects include three chryselephantine heads with gold headresses (6th century BC) - probably Apollo, his sister Artemis and his mother Leto; an ivory statuette (7th century BC) depicting Apollo as "master of the beasts," with his hand resting on a lion; and a life-sized bull (6th century BC) made of wood coated in three sheets of hammered silver.
Room V: Treasury of the Siphnians. The star in this room is the Naxian Sphinx, a gift from the island of Naxos in the 6th century BC. It stood atop a 47-foot (14.4m) column near the Temple of Apollo and was highly visible from afar, proclaiming the wealth and importance of Naxos to all who visited Delphi. The remainder of the room displays the entrance door and temple sculpture from the Treasury of the Siphnians (6th century BC), which Herodotus remarked was one of the richest in Delphi.
Room VI: Temple of Apollo. This room documents the history of the great temple of Delphi with a rich collection of sculpture, artifacts and explanatory texts. Some of the sculpture displayed here had been in storage so long that it was forgotten; scholars had begun to speculate that it had been taken away by the Romans in antiquity! Sculpture from the west pediment includes a 6th-century Archaic depiction of a giant-slaying and 5th-century Classical portraits of Dionysus and Maenads. The east pediment frieze from the Archaic period shows a simple scene of Apollo arriving at Delphi from Athens; the Classical counterpart shows Apollo seated on a tripod, flanked by gods and muses. A splendid Nike figure displayed here is from the top of the 6th-century temple.
Rooms VII and VIII: Treasury of the Athenians. This famously lavish treasury had 30 metopes, of which an impressive 24 have survived. They date from immediately before or after the Battle of Marathon (480 BC) and illustrate three popular themes: Amazon-killing; the labors of Hercules; and the labors of Theseus. The sculptures are the work of multiple artists, some working firmly in the Archaic tradition and others beginning the transition to Classical art. A side wall in Room VII bears an important 2nd-century BC inscription that contains the oldest known notation of melody.
Room IX: Votive Offerings. This room is an interesting hodge-podge of 5th-century BC figurines, statues and architectural fragments, most of which come from the Sanctuary of Athena and its treasuries.
Room X: Tholos of the Sanctuary of Athena. The architecture of the 4th-century BC Tholos at the Sanctuary of Athena is illustrated, along with some fragments of its interior and exterior friezes.
Room XI: Late Classical and Hellenistic Periods. Especially impressive are figures from the Monument of the Thessalians (c.335 BC), portraits of seven generations of ancestors of Daochos II of Thessaly. Many of them are depicted as athletes. Also here is the large Acanthus Column from an unknown donor.
Room XII: Late Hellenistic and Roman Periods. The highlight of this room is a celebrated marble statue of Antinous, Emperor Hadrian's beloved. Sick with grief after Antinous drowned in the Nile in 130 BC, Hadrian deified him and dedicated statues of the youth everywhere he went. This statue in Delphi is one of the most beautiful. Also here is the Monument of Aemilius Paullus, the earliest known Greco-Roman monument that depicts a historical event. It shows the titular Roman general's victory over of King Perseus of Macedon in 168 BC. King Perseus had set aside marble for a victory monument before the battle; when Aemilius Paullus won, he used the marble for himself.
Room XIII: The Charioteer. Easily the most famous work of art in the Delphi Museum, this bronze statue of a victorious Charioteer (c.475 BC) is one of the most celebrated statues in all of Antiquity. The figure was originally part of a group that included a four-horse chariot, but only three hooves and the reins have survived. The monument was donated by a Sicilian prince to commemorate a chariot-racing victory in the Pythian Games of 478 or 474 BC. The face of the charioteer is beautiful and serene, probably depicting him during his post-race lap of honor. Designed to be seen from afar and from below, the statue is oddly proportioned when viewed up close. The sculptor of this exquisitve portrait is unknown, but Pythagoras of Samos has been suggested as a possibility, as he was in exile in the area at the time.
Room XIV: The End of the Sanctuary. Chronicling the last centuries of the shrines at Delphi, this room contains busts, statues and inscriptions from the Late Roman period (1st to 4th centuries AD). One of the busts may be a portait of the historian Plutarch, who was a priest a Delphi.
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