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The Ancient buildings of Delos

Ancient Greek Sanctuary of Delos Slowly Sinks into the Aegean Sea

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A stone’s throw away from the Greek island of Mykonos in the Aegean Sea, the island of Delos once stood at the center of Greek and later, Roman, religious cult practices. Located close to the center of the Cyclades archipelago, it is the mythological birthplace of the deity, Apollo.

Surround by the crystal-clear blue waters of the Aegean Sea, the over 2,000-year-old buildings of the island offer us a glimpse into the daily life and religious practices of the island during both the Hellenistic and Roman periods of the first millennium BC.

An Ancient Site Soon to be Lost to the Sea

As sea levels continue to rise, brought about by climate change, the site could potentially be lost to the sea, scientists warn.

As the French mission's director on Delos and a researcher at the French state Institute for the Research of Ancient Architecture (IRAA), Jean-Charles Moretti states:

"Water enters the stores in winter. It eats away at the base of the walls... Every year in the spring, I notice that new walls have collapsed."

Terrace of the Lions of Delos

Terrace of the Lions of Delos. (Ggia / CC BY-SA 3.0)

A site which has been excavated for the past 150 years, it is believed that Delos may disappear in around 50 years. For instance, the sea level has risen 20 meters (66 feet) in certain areas of the island.

A study conducted by the Aristotelio University in Thessaloniki found that the increasing temperatures alongside the high levels of humidity can dramatically affect the chemical composition of certain materials utilized in cultural heritage monuments. With only a handful of archaeologists available to supervise the site during the summers, the constant stream of tourists only adds to this growing problem.

The Temple of Artemis on Delos.

The Temple of Artemis on Delos. (Zde / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Too Much Success Leading to Failure

At the height of the island’s cult to Apollo, Delos attracted both pilgrims and traders from across the ancient Mediterranean world. At one point, the island’s city hosted as much as 30,000 people. But this prosperity and the island’s popularity also attracted looters, which led to its eventual abandonment.

Today, wooden support beams are being used to shore up some walls but that will only slow down the erosion from the sea; until more robust and multi-disciplinary measures are eventually implemented.

Sadly, Delos isn’t the only island affected by the rising sea levels. Other coastal cities will also succumb to this natural disaster.

Top image: The Ancient buildings of Delos. Source: Andrant83 / CC BY SA 4.0

By Petros Koutoupis

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Petros Koutoupis

Petros Koutoupis is an author and an independent historical researcher, focusing predominantly on the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age periods of the Eastern Mediterranean and general Near East. Fluent in modern Greek, Petros has additional knowledge in languages that... Read More

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