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Physical Description

Phocis is a small region of central Greece, famous for the sanctuary and oracle of Delphi. The mountainous district, dominated by Mount Parnassus, was isolated and poor in antiquity. The fertile plain below Parnassus on the Corinthian Gulf has always been known for its olives, and today it is covered with millions of olive trees.

Parnassus is a stupendous mountain mass with two main peaks: Lykorea (2443 m) and Gerontovrachos (2421 m). The sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi perches on a shoulder of Parnassus and looks out over the wild and dramatic countryside.

Kirrha is a town on the shore of the Gulf of Corinth, and it served as the ancient port of Phocis. Itea, a small town west of Kirrha and 19 km from Delphi, is the modern port, but this was not a highly seafaring region. Another Phocian town called Arakhova east of Delphi may occupy the site of a small classical place called Petrites.


To the ancient Greeks Parnassus was sacred to Dionysos and the maenads. At one time, the territory of Phocis extended across Greece to the port of Daphnus, on the Atalante channel. None of the 22 cities, developed as a federation in the sixth century B.C., was ever very important or big. Despite this, Phocis stood up to adversaries and even maintained the Aeolic dialect at least into Classical times.

The sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi was highly coveted by other Greek cities in antiquity because it was the route to northern Greece via the Kephissus valley and the pass of Elatea which led to Thermopylae. It was the internal unity of Phocis which allowed the city to hold onto these assets until the sixth century, during the first Sacred War, and to regain them again by the fifth century.

Curtis Runnels

view up the pass from Delphi

overall view of the valley from northwest

view west to Mount Kiona from Delphi

snow-capped peaks from north

snow-capped peaks from northeast

view from east, modern water channel in foreground

Arakhova Pass from Delphi

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