For centuries, Delphi was considered the center of the world, or omphalos, literally meaning navel. It gained this title early on through legends associated with its patron god, Apollo, god of the sun. Nestled in the hills of the Parnassus mountain range, Delphi became a powerful and commanding force in the late 7th century BCE and continued into the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. Its decline began thereafter due to the enticing and ever-growing power of Christianity. Largely due to the wealth generated by Delphi, it became not only a geographic and religious center but an economic and social center as well. Delphi gained fame and subsequent wealth as word spread of an oracle with far-reaching prophetic powers.
In the 7th century BCE, the Amphictyonic League, comprised of twelve city-states located within mainland Greece, Attica, Euboea, and the north-east Peloponnese, recognized Delphi as an independent state. “The temple and shrine of Apollo at Delphi and the Delphians shall be governed by their own laws, taxed by their own state, and judged by their own judges, the land and the people, according to the customs of their own country” (Thuc., Book V, Ch. XV). To further establish its importance and seal it as an internationally recognized site, Delphi was made the second site of the League’s biannual meeting.
Architectural evidence suggests that Delphi was inhabited as early as the 16th century BCE, directly preceding the period of Mycenaean and was residential prior to becoming religious. The first recorded evidence of occupancy was around 1400 BCE when Delphi was a sanctuary devoted to the female deity Ge or Athena; it was destroyed by a rock fall at the end of the Bronze Age. According to legend, Ge (Mother Earth) was overthrown and her son, Pytho, killed by Apollo who then established Delphi as a sanctuary devoted to himself. Other gods most likely worshipped at this site during its prehistory include Poseidon, god of the sea, and Dionysus, god of wine. It is unclear exactly when the transformation to Apollo as the primary deity associated with Delphi occurred, but by the 8th century, dedications characteristic of the cult of Apollo became much more prevalent. Tripods and bronze male figurines normally associated with him began to make an appearance. The first temple on the site was built in the mid 8th century by brothers Trophonios and Agamedes. Shortly after the establishment of Apollo on the premises a new cult began to emerge in the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia.