The island of Delos ‘is in reality nothing more than a great rock of granite and gneiss. The ruins, on the other hand, are the most extensive, the most varied and the most evocative of the past in the whole of Greece’.14
There is a brief reference to cipollino on the island of Delos, contained in a note on Vronwy Hankey’s article, A Marble Quarry at Karystos.15 She refers not very precisely to a ‘house in the northern quarter’ of the archaeological site.
Delos is an arid and waterless island near the centre of the Cycladic group with no direct connection to the mainland. It can be reached from Mykonos, a half-hour journey in a small boat which leaves regularly between 9 a.m. and ll a.m., the last return sailing being at 3 p.m.; or from Tinos on a slightly longer journey. There is no accommodation on the island and all visitors have to leave before nightfall. The island is only 5 km. long from north to south and 1300 m. from north east to west, and the archaeological remains cover most of the area.
It has a long history, starting in mythology with its creation for the giving of birth of Apollo by his mother Leto, who could find sanctuary in no other place because of the anger of Hera, the legitimate wife of Zeus, father of Apollo and his twin sister Artemis. It is therefore the cult of Apollo which was the most important on the island. The principal sanctuary was that of Apollo, the Archer, and Artemis, the Huntress. The great Delian festivals held every four years were in honour of Apollo.
It was said to be first occupied by the Carians. Articles from prehistoric sites have been found, from Minoan civilizations, as well as traces of a Mycenean city. It was inhabited in the archaic period and in the 7th and 6th centuries BC by Naxians. The famous lions belong to this period, as well as the statue of Apollo. By the 6th century BC it had come under the control of Athens, with the rest of the Cyclades, and many tombs were removed from the temple of Apollo and later the contents were transferred to the neighbouring island of Rheneia; circa 424 BC the Athenians built a new temple of Apollo. By the 3rd century BC Delos had become an important trading centre, as well as retaining its religious importance. Under the Romans the island prospered and expanded. The population increased and grew more mixed. Between 100 and 90 BC Delos reached the apogee of its power, with a population of 20,000.
In spite of this Roman connection there was little trace of cipollino. In accordance with Hankey’s reference to the ‘northern quarter’ search was concentrated on that area. In Insula bloc 5, almost opposite the four columns of the Poseidoniasts and the Insula of Jewels there are two small columns, one 1.73 m. /5.84 Rf tall and the other 1.30 m., /4.39 Rf both with a diameter of .25 m. /.84 Rf, which could possibly be cipollino (Plate 3.21). There is also a small broken piece on the path just outside the Insula of Jewels, measuring .30 m. /1 Rf on one side and .20 m. /.67 Rf on the other (Plate 3.22). In the Granite Palaestra there is one other small piece .51 m. /1.72 Rf long and .22 m. /.74 Rf in diameter with a hole at both ends .085 m. in diameter (Plate 3.23).
Many of the columns are of local Delian granite. For example in the Granite Palaestra there are eight upright granite columns and 20-30 lying on their sides. There is also much of the light blue marble, with the grey pattern, over the whole site, and the white with very faint pattern, from Naxos, which is the nearest marble supplier in the area. There was disappointingly little cipollino.
The island was raided by Mithridates, the king of Pontus in 88 BC when everything Roman was destroyed and in 69 BC what was left was pillaged and destroyed by Athenodorous. Up to the Middle Ages and in later times pirates and neighbouring islanders took pieces of marble for their own buildings. Perhaps therefore it is not surprising that the much prized cipollino was lost to Delos.
14 Nagel’s Encyclopaedia – Guide, Greece, Nagel Publishers, Geneva, 1973, p. 368.
15 V. Hankey, A Marble Quarry at Karystos, Extrait du Bulletin du Musée du de Beyrouth, XVIII, 1965, pp. 53-59. See page 5 Note 23.
Maps and Plates
Plate 3.21 Two small columns of cipollino in Insula Bloc 5, Delos.
Plate 3.22 Small fragment of cipollino on the path just outside the Insula of Jewels, Delos.
Plate 3.23 Broken fragment of cipollino in the Granite Palaestra, Delos.