Terrace of the Lions in Delos, Greece

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Marble sculptures of guardian lions at Terrace of the Lions, Delos, Greece

The Terrace of the Lions featuring three of the seven surviving marble lion sculptures in Delos, Greece (L'allée des lions à Délos en Grèce)

The Terrace of the Lions (L’allée des lions à Délos en Grèce) in the island of Delos near Mykonos, Greece, was built just before 600 BC by the people of Naxos, the largest island in the Aegean Sea. Dedicated to Apollo, this alley of the lion sculptures originally had nine to twelve squatting guardian lions sculpted in marble, out of which only seven of them exist now.

The Delos Lions Avenue is comparable to the Egyptian Avenue of Sphinxes at Karnak in Luxor dating back to about 1400 BC. As the Terrace of the Lions in Delos was built much later, it is possible that the Egyptian Sphinxes might have inspired the people of Naxos to create these lion sculptures. Notably, there is a Greek sphinx in the Archaeological Museum of Delos.

Delos, now considered one of the most important archaeological and historical sites in Greece, was recognized as a holy, spiritual sanctuary for a millennium before Olympian Greek mythology identified it as the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis.

Delos Island was originally inhabited in the 3rd millennium BC by the Carians, a tribe of pirates, who were later expelled from the island by King Minos of Crete.

The people of the island had to import all their essential supplies, including food and timber, because there was no agriculture or other productive endeavors. However, there were flourishing markets (agoras) at various locations, and such markets were established and run by the locals, visiting merchants from the nearby islands and foreigners. Delos also had one of the largest slave markets of the times.

The most important landmarks in Delos island, some of them dating back to the 6th century BC, include the Temple of the Delians dedicated to Apollo, the platform of the Stoivadeion dedicated to Dionysus (the god of wine, ritual madness and ecstasy) with his statue and pillars supporting colossal phalluses (the symbol of Dionysus) on either side of the platform, and the House of Dionysus. The other monuments of mythological significance and tourist interest include the Temple of Hera, the Doric Temple of Isis, the House of the Dolphins, the Minoan Fountain and the Sacred Lake.

Delos is also known as an island which has one of the most extensive archaeological excavation sites in the Mediterranean region. Since 1872, The French School of Athens (the École Française d’Athènes) has been excavating the island, which has a vast array of ancient architectural structures comparable to the art and architecture of Olympia and Delphi. Several artifacts excavated from here are displayed at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens and the Archaeological Museum of Delos.

Since 1990, Delos has been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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