As you disembark from the boat, the Sacred Harbour is on your left, the Commercial Harbour on your right and straight ahead lies the Agora of the Competaliasts. The Competaliasts were Roman merchants who worshipped the Lares Competales, the guardian spirits of crossroads; offerings to Hermes would once have been placed in the middle of the agora (market square), their positions now marked by one round and one square base.
Sacred Way and Sanctuary of Apollo
The Sacred Way leads north from the far left corner of the Agora of the Competaliasts. Formerly lined with statues and the grandiose monuments of rival kings, walk up it to reach the three marble steps of the Propýlaia leading into the Sanctuary of Apollo. On your left is the Stoá of the Naxians, while against the north wall of the House of the Naxians, to the right, a huge statue of Apollo (c.600 BC) stood in ancient times; parts of it can be seen behind the Temple of Artemis to the left. In 417 BC the Athenian general Nikias led a procession of priests across a bridge of boats from Rínia to dedicate a bronze palm tree whose circular granite base you can still see. Three Temples to Apollo stand in a row to the right along the Sacred Way: the massive Delian Temple, the Athenian, and the Porinos, the earliest, dating from the sixth century BC. To the east stands the Sanctuary of Dionysus with its colossal marble phallus.
Northwest of the Sanctuary of Dionysus, behind the small Letóön temple, is the huge Agora of the Italians, while on the left are replicas of the famous lions, their lean bodies masterfully executed by Naxians in the seventh century BC to ward off intruders who would have been unfamiliar with the fearful creatures. Of the original lions, three have disappeared and one – looted by Venetians in the seventeenth century–adorns the Arsenale in Venice. The remaining originals are in the site museum whose nine rooms include a marble statue of Apollo, mosaic fragments and an extensive collection of phallic artefacts. Opposite the lions, tamarisk trees ring the site of the Sacred Lake, where Leto gave birth, clinging to a palm tree. On the other side of the lake is the City Wall, built – in 69 BC – too late to protect the treasures.
Bear right from the Agora of the Competaliasts and you enter the residential area, known as the Theatre Quarter. The remnants of impressive private mansions are now named after their colourful main mosaic – Dionysus, Trident, Masks and Dolphins. The theatre itself seated no fewer than 5500 spectators; just below it and structurally almost as spectacular is a huge underground cistern with arched roof supports. Behind the theatre, a path leads towards the Sanctuaries of the Foreign Gods, serving the immigrant population. It then rises steeply up Mount Kýnthos for a Sanctuary of Zeus and Athena with spectacular views out to the surrounding islands. Near its base, a small side path leads to the Sacred Cave, a rock cleft covered with a remarkable roof of giant stone slabs – a Hellenistic shrine to Hercules.