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The Castalia spring

Castalia was a sacred spring at Delphi and its water played a very important role to the cult and ritual of the oracle. It is there that Pythia and the priests and the rest of the staff of the temple were washed; they also used the water of this spring for the cleaning of the temple. Washing in the water of Castalia was also a necessary ritual for the “theopropoi”, those who came to ask for an oracle, so that they were purified.

The spring was situated in the ravine of Phaediriadae at the foot of Phlemboukos, a rocky crag which in antiquity was called Hyampeia. From there, the water flew down to the plain of Pleistos, forming the stream Arkoudorema (“the stream of bears”) as the locals call it nowadays. According to the myth, it is there that laired the awesome dragon Python. From the spring water was conducted via a channel to the homonymous fountain, situated between the temenos of Apollo and the ancient gymnasium.
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The construction of the fountain goes back to the first decade of the 6th century b.C.; it stood at the same place as we see it today, just beside the actual route. It is a rectangular construction measuring eight by six and a half meters. It consists of a stone built basin and a system of underground pipes and spouts carved in the rocks, which supplied the fountain with water. A slabs-paved court extends with stone benches in front of the basin; the visitor would reach it via a staircase with a few steps. The fountain had been restored and its shape had changed several times. The best known version is the one described by Pausanias, the ancient traveler and is dated in approximately the 1st century b.C. It is known as “Castalia of the rocks” and is found some 50 meters higher than the fountain of the Archaic period which is called “Kato (“lower”) Castalia. In order to achieve better access to the fountain, the rock around was smoothened both by length and width and it is at this place that the visitors placed their votive offerings to the Nymph Castalia within the niches constructed on this purpose. During the Post-Byzantine period and the Ottoman occupation, the bigger of these niches was transformed to a chapel of Saint John the Baptist. Just below the niches there was a rectangular rock-cut basin, ten meters by length and half meter by width, which received the water of the spring conducted there via a closed pipe. The façade of the fountain had seven bronze spouts, separated from each other by seven rock-cut pillars. A staircase with eight steps led lower, to a stone paved yard with benches for the visitors.

Castalia of the rocks was excavated in 1878 by the Greek archaeologists S. Dragatsis and E. Kastorchis and Lower Castalia was excavated by the Greek archaeologist A. Orlandos. Both fountains have ever since been conserved and restored.
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