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The Sacred Way

The Sacred Way was the route that visitors followed within the sacred precinct, from the entrance up to the altar of the Chians. This way had a ritual character: on the ninth day of each month, visitors seeking the advice of the oracle, the “theopropoi” as they were called, had to walk uphill along the Sacred Way until they reached the altar at the top. There they would sacrifice an animal and wait their turn for the oracle of Pythia. Some illustrious people, as Philip II of Macedonia and the citizens of Corinth, Chios, Naxos and Thebes, could avoid waiting in the queu, as they had assured “promanteia”,  that is to say priority to consult the oracle.

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It seems that the Sacred Way had been constructed in the Archaic period. The pavement surviving today is dated in the Early Byzantine period; in these times the road led to several houses that had been constructed at the place of the former sacred precinct. Several architectural parts from nearby earlier buildings, still visible today, had been used for the pavement. Modern visitors of the site follow the same road to reach the imposing altar; they have to follow the uphill zig zag route, some 200 meters long. On both sides of the sacred way there were terraces, statues, treasuries and other voting offerings of cities, but also of families or individuals. The treasuries were dedicated by the cities not only to celebrate important military victories or events, as it happened with the Athenians whose treasury celebrated the victory of Marathon; these monuments were also constructed to express gratitude to Apollo for an oracle or a favour given to the city. Votive sculptures stood along the first part of road and were followed by treasuries, while in front of the temple and around the altar were found important votive monuments dedicated by wealthy people and city-states; the monument commemorating the Greek victory at Plataea, a common offering of all Greek city-states, is the most impressive of them.

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