Anyone who has visited Delphi, the ‘navel’ (omphalos in Greek) of the ancient world, will be aware of the numinous quality of its dramatically mountainous surroundings. Until the late 19th century, however, what is now a much-excavated site was in fact the village of Castri, and distinctly lacking in numen, or divinity. From Cyriac of Ancona in 1436 to the first excavators in 1892, just over two hundred people were recorded as having gone there. In July 1936 alone there were 165 visitors, in July 1990 77,900, and now there are over two million a year.
Cyriac arrived in March 1436, drawn by the humanist movement and a renaissance that, up to then, had concentrated on understanding the literary texts and found the idea of actually viewing the sites unappealing. He saw the stadium and theatre, tombs, statues and inscriptions. In 1453 Greece fell to the