At its peak, the island of Delos had a population of close to 20,000 people, none of which were born, or died there. The tale of this little island near Mykonos goes from religious site to commercial hub and comes to rest in ruins. Today the only inhabitants of Delos are wildflowers, lizards, a few archeologists and a cat.
Birthplace of Apollo
According to the story, the pregnant titan Leto was looking for a place to give birth. She finally came to Delos, which was known for absolutely nothing at the time. Despite giving a speech in which she points out how worthless and unimportant the island is, the inhabitants let her stay. She gives birth to the twin gods Apollo and Artemis on the island.
A temple to Apollo along with a giant statue, as well as statues of lions to guard his birthplace were built on the island. The religious sanctuary brought visitors and pilgrims, which in turn also brought trade.
Duty Free Island
Under later Roman rule the island became a tax free trade zone. This brought even more trade and even more people. The rich people of Delos developed complicated cisterns to supply water for the dry summer months and even sewers. Because of the far flung traders, many different temples were built on the island, not just for the Greek gods and goddesses, but even a synagogue, and a temple to Egyptian Isis.
Where No One Was From
Since Delos was considered a special religious site, it was decided to purify the island. All the graves were dug up and moved to an adjacent island. Later to make the island neutral in trade, it was ordered that nobody would be born or die on the island. Nobody could claim to be from Delos, everyone just lived there. When near death, or about to give birth, residents would be rowed by boat over to a nearby island.
Today, Delos is mainly populated by fields of wildflowers and lizards amongst the ruins. After a series of attacks, the shifting of trade, and since Leto was right and there was no real source of food, or wood on the island, it became uninhabited. Nobody had any real reason to stay since no one was from there. For years it was used as a marble or stone supply source and a group of thieves even stole most of the statue of Apollo.
Now the island’s only population are a few caretakers and archeologists. That and the many daily visitors. Just a short boat trip from the Mykonos, Delos is a beautiful place to visit. During high season several boats make the trip each day from the old harbor in the middle of Mykonos Town. If you are visiting during the offseason you may not get as much time on the island since the boats don’t run as frequently, but its still worth the trip to see the wonderful ruins on the island nobody was from.