North of the Sanctuary of Apollo is the much-photographed Terrace of the Lions. Located across the road from the now dry lake where legend places the birth of ancient Greek sun god Apollo, the Terrace of the Lions preserves the memory of what was once an imposing series of stone lions.
These proud marble beasts (originally thought to number 16) were offerings from the people of Naxos, presented to Delos in the 7th century BC to guard the sacred area. The famous Terrace of the Lions is a signature image of Delos, as key to the island as the whitewashed windmills of Mykonos.
The famous Terrace of the Lions on Delos that dates to 3,000 BC, was erected north of the sanctuary of Apollo overlooking the Sacred Lake and dedicated to Apollo by the people of Naxos just before 600 BC. They undeniably represent one of the most noticeable landmarks of the island.
The lions are faced East towards the Sacred Lake of Delos where Greek scholars of the time believed Apollo had been born. The lions seemed to have been placed in a position to either symbolically guard the site, or to simply inspire a sense of divine power to travelers on their way to Apollo’s shrine in the area.
While visitors can still stroll by the original location of the five remaining lion statues, these are simply marbled replicas. The actual feline figures have been moved to a nearby museum so that no more of the holy cats goes missing or gets destroyed by the elements.
The terrace consisted of a row of nine to twelve marble carved lions, with their mouths as if snarling or roaring, were meant to guard the sanctuaries and to give a special feeling of divine fear among the worshippers. There may have been up to 16 sculptures originally. The lion has always been regarded as a symbol of power and royalty.
The terrace is part of the sprawling archaeological site of Ancient Delos, on the island’s northwest coast. It sits in front of the rectangular Agora of the Italians, south of the Sacred Lake where Leto gave birth to Apollo. Between the terrace and the sea lies the temple of Poseidon.
Today only seven of the original lions remain. The island of Delos, which is widely recognized as the birthplace of the god Apollo and his sister Artemis, has been a sacred area used for a long time and for various reasons throughout history. Between 900 BC and AD 100, sacred Delos was a major cult center.
Here are some pretty interesting facts about Lions Of Delos:
1. Originally, the sculptures must have stood on the terrace with their pedestals directly on the ground, and in excavations 1904-1906, many of the statues (some, in an upright position), were discovered in their original places, according to experts. The sculptures – standing parallel to each other – were separated by approximately 3.20-3.50 m.
2. Today, Delos is one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece. The French archaeologists have conducted excavation in Delos for more than 100 years. Delos is still uninhabited except for the French archaeologists and site guardians.
3. Made of the typical coarse-grained Naxian marble, these attractive lion sculptures are regarded as one of the earliest examples of stunning monumental Naxian sculpture. Moreover, these lions were a famous gift to that island of Delos from Naxos, which dominated commerce in the Cyclades, during the 8th and 7th centuries BC.
Today, the original marble lions are stored in the museum, and they have been replaced by replicas; a row of exact copies of the sculptures, standing on the modern rectangular pedestals on the terrace in Delos.