Despotiko Island and Archaeological Site (Apollo Sanctuary) in Greece

All you need to know about the ancient site of Despotiko, a small islet near Antiparos in Greece. Includes a brief history of the site, and information on how to get there.

Where is the ancient site of Despotiko in Greece?

There are hundreds of ancient sites and temples everywhere in Greece. Some of them, like the Acropolis, Ancient Mycenae and Delphi, are world-famous. Others are not so popular.

Despotiko ancient site and sanctuary of Apollo

One of the lesser known archaeological sites in Greece is Despotiko. This is a small, uninhabited islet very close to Antiparos, in the Cyclades group of islands, not far from Mykonos or Santorini. Here is an introduction to all the Greek island groups, where you can see more about the Cyclades.

The majority of excavations on Despotiko have taken place in the last 20 years and are ongoing. In fact, the site isn’t officially open to the public, which is the main reason why it’s not so famous yet. Still, it is possible to visit the island and see the ancient site.

So far, archaeologists have discovered a large sanctuary of Apollo, and the remains of various other buildings. Visitors can literally witness the unearthing of the ancient ruins, which I thought was very cool!

Here is some information on the archaeological site and Despotiko island, including how to get there.

Excavations on Despotiko island in Greece

The first excavations in Despotiko took place in the 19th century, and were led by Christos Tsountas, one of the most important Greek archaeologists.

Ongoing excavations in Despotiko island Greece

More in-depth excavations started in the late 1990s, under the supervision of archaeologist Yannos Kourayos. The excavations are ongoing, with more and more artefacts being discovered.

The most important building that has been excavated is a large 6th century temple which was dedicated to three of the Olympian gods – Apollo, his sister Artemis, and Hestia.

Alongside the temple, there were other ceremonial buildings, a banqueting hall (hestiatorion) and an aqueduct.

According to some archaeologists, Despotiko might have been as important as Ancient Delos during antiquity. While both islands had a sanctuary of Apollo, it appears that the sanctuary in Despotiko was more important than the one in Delos.

Further excavations will reveal more information. In the meantime, here is a brief history of the site.

History of Despotiko island Greece

Future plans involve turning the site into an open-air museum. Some of the current constructions, such as the concrete walkways, will facilitate visitors to walk around the site.

Visit Despotiko island in Greece

A few of the excavation findings from Despotiko are exhibited in the local Archaeological Museum in Parikia, the port town in Paros.

Visiting the ancient site of Despotiko

I first heard of Despotiko a couple of decades ago. At the time I used to go to Antiparos every summer, but excavations had barely started and the island wasn’t open to visitors. I believe the site received its first unofficial visitors in 2018.

Current excavations on Despotiko ancient site Greece

We visited the island on a small boat, Captain Sargos Antiparos – more information later. We had about an hour there, which was more than enough to walk around the ancient site.

Apart from looking at the reconstructed temple, we had the chance to see the excavations in progress. They are very hard work! We also had a short chat with the very friendly guard.

I have to say, I felt a little sorry for the archaeology students who are volunteering in excavations under the scorching sun! But to me, watching archaeologists at work was really fascinating.

(In all honesty, I found it more interesting to look at the excavation rather than at the heavily reconstructed temple. I thought  it was somewhat out of place – but hey, this is just my un-expert view and please ignore it. After all, everyone seems to have an opinion when it comes to restorations).

The archaeologist Mr Kourayos was there too, as this is literally his life project. I would love to have the chance to talk to him, but he seemed busy and I hesitated to interrupt him. Maybe next time. I later found this interview, which I thought was quite interesting.

Walking among the ruins of ancient Despotiko

Fun fact – the small islet is literally full of goats. The shepherd who used to live there on his own was asked to leave when excavations started, but I understand he still has special permission to herd his goats. After all, this is Greece!

How to get to Despotiko island in Greece

There is evidence that, in ancient times, Despotiko was connected with Antiparos through a natural causeway. Nowadays, it’s only a short boat ride away from Antiparos island. You can also get there from Paros.

Archaeological site of Despotiko in Greece

Here are some of the tours to Despotiko that were available at the time we visited. Regardless of which one you choose, you should get in touch ahead of your trip to check the exact itinerary and book your spot.

Note that when the meltemi winds are strong, boat trips in Greece can be modified or even cancelled. I suggest planning your trip for the first days of your vacation. This way, you can always reschedule it if you need to.

Captain Sargos – Boat trip to Despotiko ancient site

We visited the ancient site of Despotiko with Captain Sargos. In fact, this was the only tour where you could actually visit the site, rather than sail by.

“Sargos”, meaning sea-bream, is a nickname for Captain Giorgos Marianos. He is an iconic x-fisherman who runs tours to Despotiko and the nearby beaches on his two boats, Sargos I and Sargos II.

Despotiko tour captain Sargos

Our half-day cruise included an hour’s stop at the ancient site of Despotiko. There was also enough time to visit beautiful Livadi beach on Despotiko, and snorkel around some sea caves. In addition, we made a few photo-stops at picturesque natural spots around both Despotiko and Antiparos.

Sargos boat departs from Agios Georgios Antiparos

The Sargos boats depart from the tiny port of Agios Georgios, on the south coast of Antiparos. In fact it’s a pier rather than an actual port. You can get there in your own vehicle, or bus / taxi from Antiparos town.

Captain Sargos prices and departure times

Tickets for the half-day cruise cost 25 euro / 15 for children. However, if you aren’t interested in the beaches, you can only visit the site. In this case, the ticket costs only 7 euro. You can pay by card or cash.

I totally recommend taking the whole cruise, as some of the spots are very pretty – they reminded us of some of the coves in Milos. Plus, Livadi beach further down on Despotiko is stunning!

Departure times change throughout summer. We left at 11.30 and were back around 16.00. There were more cruises departing later in the day, though none of them stopped to the ancient site of Despotiko.

Antiparos sea caves

Before you go, get in touch with the captain, to ask for availability and reserve your spot. You can see more info and contact details here – Captain Sargos Despotiko tours. If you go, say hi from Vanessa – he claims that he doesn’t like talking too much, but he was very chatty with me!

Note – Captain Sargos is the person responsible for transferring the archaeologists from Antiparos to Despotiko and back. To me, this is a good enough reason to support him!

Captain Ben – Antiparos and Despotiko cruise

Another option is Captain Ben, which departs from Antiparos and also picks up passengers from Pounta port in Paros. This quaint, colourful boat passes close to the ancient site of Despotiko, but it doesn’t actually make a stop there.

Boat cruise Captain Ben Antiparos

Instead, it makes several stops at beaches and coves around Antiparos, Despotiko and possibly nearby islands, depending on weather.

Prices vary depending on the exact tour and whether you want lunch and drinks. As a rule of thumb, the cruise costs 45 euro, whereas the snacks / lunch / drinks is an additional 15 euro, but ask for any discounts.

We saw this boat a couple of times when we were in Antiparos, and people on board seemed to be having lots of fun! They were jumping off the boat to snorkel, and I am under the impression there was plenty of drink involved 🙂

Snorkelling off the boat in Despotiko island

Here is some more information for Captain Ben Antiparos. Make sure you get in touch well in advance, as this tour seemed to be very popular, even at low season when we visited.

Regaki Catamaran – Sailing cruise from Paros

If you are not planning to visit Antiparos, you can take a sailing trip from Paros. This leisure cruise on the Regaki Catamaran departs daily at 10.00 from Parikia in Paros.

Livadi beach on Despotiko island Greece

The boat visits a few beaches and caves on Antiparos and Despotiko island, but doesn’t stop at the ancient site. Food and drinks are served on board. Tickets cost 90 euro per person.

To ask for more information and book your place, check out their website.

Sailing trip to Naxos, the Small Cyclades, Antiparos and Despotiko

If you are in Paros for only a few days and only want to take one sailing trip, this semi-private full-day tour is worth considering.

Sailing trip from Paros to Despotiko

You will visit some of the Small Cyclades: Iraklia (one of my favourite islands!), Schinoussa and Koufonissi. These are all small islands with pristine, natural beaches and some of the clearest waters I’ve ever seen.

The cruise also includes Naxos, Antiparos and Despotiko. The exact itinerary on the day will depend on the weather.

While I haven’t taken this tour myself, it is ideal if you want to explore a few islands, and start planning your next vacation  in Greece!

You can see more information and book your spot on GetYourGuide.

How do I get to Antiparos?

In order to get to Antiparos, you have to get to Paros first. You can book ferry tickets to Paros on FerryScanner, a search engine including tickets for most ferries in Greece. If you use this form, I get a small commission with helps me run this website.

In order to get from Paros to Antiparos, there are two options: Either a passenger ferry from Parikia port, or a passenger / vehicle ferry from Pounta port on the west coast of Paros. You can get show up and your tickets on the spot.

Bonus: A tiny bit of historical background on Ancient Greece

If you know a little bit about Greece, you will probably have heard of the Cycladic civilization. This ancient culture flourished on the Cyclades islands during the Bronze Age, between 3,200 and 1,100 BC.

Ruins in Despotiko ancient site Greece

The ancient site of Akrotiri in Santorini, which was destroyed by a volcano eruption in the 17th century BC, is a great example of an ancient town of that period. Similarly, the ancient site of Phylakopi in Milos dates from that era.

The Bronze Age led up to the era of Ancient Greece. Surprisingly, there seems to be some debate among archaeologists about the exact dates of Ancient Greece. Many people place it roughly between 1,100 BC and 30 BC. You can see a detailed breakdown of the Ancient Greece timeline here.

Like mentioned above, most of the ruins that have been discovered so far on Despotiko islet, including the temple, date from the Archaic era. This covers the 7th and 6th century BC. Yes, it’s a millennium after Akrotiri was washed away!

However, evidence suggests that it was inhabited before that. Due to its location in the centre of the Cyclades group, it is likely that Despotiko was an important port before the Archaic times.

Future excavations will tell, and I can’t wait to return in a few years and see the progress. Even with the reconstructions!

Despotiko tours and ancient site

I hope this information on Despotiko island and how to get there has been useful. If you have actually taken any of these tours, please share your opinion below, to help out more visitors. Also, check out my article on the fantastic cave of Antiparos, which I also consider a must-see!

Vanessa in front of the sanctuary of Apollo at Despotiko island Greece

Hi! I am Vanessa from Athens, and I love exploring my country. I hope this article on Despotiko island and the ancient site has helped! Feel free to like my FB page for notifications on new blogposts and other news about Greece.

 

 

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