The island of Samos, located in the eastern Aegean Sea, has a long and rich history. Its remains are in the ancient ruins of the sanctuaries, walls, and old buildings on the whole island.
After numerous archaeological excavations, a large part of various objects and statues are now kept in two archaeological museums, in Vathy and Pythagorion. Besides them, there are some fascinating sights to see, such as the temple of Hera, and the tunnel of Eupalinos.
Also, the Castle Logothetis, Panagia Spilliani, and some other churches are very interesting places to visit. You can read more about Samos here.
But now, let’s go for a walk through the ancient history of the beautiful green island of Samos.
A few words about the Samos’ ancient history
According to Herodotus, Samos was one of the most important cities in the Greek world.
Actually, in the 6th century BC, it was an artistic, financial, commercial, and intellectual centre. During the rule of the tyrant Polycrates in the second half of the 6th BC, Samos became a major naval force, as well. In this period, three of the most important infrastructure projects were made close to Samos city, today’s Pythagorion. There is a harbour with 300m long and a big mole, the Temple of Hera, and The Eupalinian aqueduct. They belong to the archaic period (beginning of the 8th century BC until the beginning of the 5th century BC).
Samos was part of the Delian League and Athenian empires, supporting them in the Peloponnesian War. From 281 BC, Samos was ruled by the Ptolemies of Egypt, and from 197 BC, came under the jurisdiction of Rhodes. Then it was a part of the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire. Later it was ruled by the Genoese family Giustiniani, until 1475, when the Ottomans captured the island.
Under the local leadership of Lykourgos Logothetis in 1821, Samos joined the uprising of the Greek War of Independence. It was a Greek Revolution against the Ottoman Empire. In 1834, the island became a semi-independent state tributary to Ottoman Turkey. Then, in 1912, Samos was united with the Kingdom of Greece. And after World War II, it is part of today’s Greece.
Both Pythagoreion and Heraion sanctuary were inscribed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1992.
Pythagoras, a mathematician, and philosopher
The former name of the city Pythagorion was Tigani. In 1955 the name is changed after the great Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras, who was born there in 570 BC. In the former place of the ancient port of Samos, today there is a big statue in the sign of his great work.
Pythagoras is the founder of Pythagoreanism. Also, he is known for many mathematical and scientific discoveries, including the Pythagorean theorem. Even today, they are amazing since he lived in the 6th century BC!
The interesting thing is his religious teaching of metempsychosis or the “transmigration of souls”.
According to Pythagoras, every soul is immortal and upon death enters into a new body. He was an astrologer, doctor, and musician as well.
On the eastern side of Mount Kerkis, about 3 km from Kambos Marathokampos village, there is the Pythagoras cave. Actually, there are two caves. One where he was living and one where he was teaching students. In this place, Pythagoras was hiding from Polycrates, the tyrant of Samos. Access to the cave is a bit difficult, so we didn’t visit it.
Since Pythagoras had a pretty much ascetic lifestyle, with a lot of dietary prohibitions, he designed a special cup.
It is known as the Pythagorean Cup or Greedy Cup.
Well, it is a drinking cup, with a central column in it and a hole in the middle. As long as the level of the liquid (meaning wine), does not rise beyond the marked level, you can drink normally. But if you poured more wine, the entire content will be emptied through the little hole in the bottom of the cup! In this way, Pythagoras tried to teach his students and citizens not to be greedy 🙂
Today, the Pythagorean cup is a must-have souvenir from Samos. You can find it in souvenir shops and markets, as well as in the pottery workshops. Also, in a few workshops Samos, you can see the process of making cups and many various products and souvenirs. We visited the Ydria art pottery workshop in Koumaradei village. And it is always interesting to see how these items get their final shape from the clay in a traditional way.
ONE TIP for tickets:
There is a special ticket package, which costs 13 euros.
With this ticket, you can visit four important sights. There are archaeological museums in Vathy and Pythagorion, the Temple of Hera, and the Tunnel of Eupalinos. But you have to visit all four sights in three days, so organized your time well.
Ancient Heraion and the Temple of Hera
About 7 km far from Pythagoreion, near the sea, there is Heraion. It is one of the most important sanctuaries of ancient Greece, dedicated to the goddess Hera.
According to Greek mythology, Hera was the queen of gods, and the sister-wife of Zeus, the father of gods. And she was born and raised there, on the banks of the river Imvrasos. Hera was the beautiful goddess of nature, fertility, marriage, and monogamy. For sure it wasn’t easy for her because god Zeus was well-known for his love affairs 🙂
Once, there was six kilometres long road that connected Pythagoreion and Heraion. It was the Sacred Road, with about 2.000 statues around it. At the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3rd century, during the Roman age, it was paved with rectangular stones.
Today, only one small part could be seen. Actually, Samos Airport passes over one part of the ancient road.
Geneleos group statues
Walking around Heraion, we saw various and interesting remains of the former huge sanctuary.
First, we found the monument of the Greek aristocratic family. It is known as the Geneleos group, as it was created by Geneleos, the sculptor. It is from the Archaic period, around 560 BC. But today in this place, you can see the copies. Actually, the original statues were transferred to the Samos archaeological museum.
Once there were 6 figures, today there are only four, without the heads. On the right side is a figure of the donor, represent as a wine drinker. The two standing statues are females. The next two statues are missing. According to the size and shapes in the base, there were one female and a statue of a young boy. And the last one, actually the first on the left side was a donor’s wife.
Close to the Geneleos family, there are the feet, the remains of the former Kouros statue. The original remains were also moved to the Samos Archeological Museum.
Besides the feet, there are the ruins of the Hermes and Aphrodite temple.
The temple of Hera
Well, the first temple dedicated to the goddess Hera was the Hekatompedos I, made of mud-brick, in the 8th century. Then it was rebuilt in the late 7th century, known as Hekatompedos II.
During the rule of Polycrates, the architects Rhoikos and Theodoros in 540 BC made the most famous The Great Temple. It was 109 m long, 55m wide, and 21m high, with 155 columns. Even today, these dimensions are impressive for one building!
Unfortunately, today only a column is there, on the northeast corner of the temple. Actually, it is half of the column. Just try to imagine how this temple was a marvellous building in ancient times. But after the Polycrates’ death in 522 BC, the construction has never been completed.
Anyway, this is the largest Greek temple ever built in honour of Hera.
The Great altar
The ritual place and the centre of the Hera cult was the Great Altar. Located in front of the temple, the altar was about 36m long and 16m wide. Usually, during religious rituals, the animals were sacrificed. Certain parts were consumed by pilgrims, and other parts were buried under the altar.
During the 1st century, Samos was a Roman province and the altar was reconstructed using marble. Also, one small temple was built in honour of Hera and Emperor August.
Antique smaller temples
One smaller temple was built there in the 2nd century CE, and the last temple was erected in the 3rd century CE. At that time, there were residential houses with courts, mosaics, water supply, and a small thermal bath installation as well. There were temple-shaped buildings, used as treasuries. The Heraion sanctuary was destroyed in 262 CE by an earthquake and started to lose its role as the cult of Hera.
In the 5th century CE, the Early Christian basilica was built there from the remains of former buildings.
After that, the Heraion sanctuary has abandoned for centuries. The first excavation began in 1890, then at the beginning of the 1900s, and was stopped because of World War II. The new excavations started in 1951, and they are still continuing.
Visiting hours for Heraion Sanctuary: every day from 8.30 to 16.00, except Tuesday when it is closed.
The ticket fee is 6 euros for adults.
Archeological Museum Pythagorion
This museum is located in a modern building in the centre of Pythagorion, on the remains of the former ancient city of Samos. It is very well organized, like the Archeological Museum in Vathy. There are about 3.000 various items in the museum, found during the excavations in the ancient city of Samos and all around the island. So you can see the collections from the 5th millennium BC till the 7th century AD.
Since Samos has a long and rich history of pottery making, you can see various items of different sizes and shapes. There are vases, plates, bowls, vessels, amphora, and lamps with interesting patterns as well.
One of the remarkable items is a group of small and white Aphrodite statues.
Then you can see the jewellery and some nice items from Roman times.
And the hoard of 300 Byzantine golden from the 7th century AD will certainly get your attention.
The cemeteries of the ancient Samos
During the excavations on the island, the remains of cemeteries from the Geometric, Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods were found.
The pottery was used in daily life, but also for funeral purposes.
They are in different shapes with various interesting painting details.
Sarcophagi and archaic stelae
During the 6th BC, there was a practice of burying the dead in stone sarcophagi. One of these marble monumental items is dated to the second half of the 6th century. It has the shape of a temple, and it looks stunning.
Also, there are various small poros grave archaic steles, the grave monuments made of marble, and carved in relief.
The marble relief funeral banquet, from 5th BC, which represents funeral customs is particularly interesting. Originally the stelae were dedicated to gods and heroes but later served as grave monuments.
Ancient portraits of Roman emperors
Among the statues of Roman emperors, the most impressive is the colossal portrait statue of the Roman emperor Trajan. It is 2,71m high, dating from the early Imperial period. Even today, on his garment, we can see the decorative rosettes with red pigment, characteristic of the imperial purple. Two other important marble statues are the portrait of Augustus and the portrait of Claudius.
On the upper floor, there is a collection of marble statues as well.
One of the most important is a statue of seated Aiakes, father of the tyrant of Samos Polycrates. According to the preserved inscription, it was dedicated to Hera and dates from ca. 540 BC.
Some statues are without heads, arms, or some other parts. Also, there is a votive relief of the god Amun with a sacrificial lamb near the altar. But to me, a black-white female statue, made of two different stones was very fascinating.
In the museum, you can see the “wall” which represents one of the open-air sanctuaries. It was found on the hill of the ancient city of Samos, dated from the Archaic time to the late Hellenistic period. They were dedicated to the Mother-Goddess Cybele. The statuettes, dedicated to the Goddess were put in the natural caves of the rock.
By the way, around the modern museum building, you can see various ancient remains. So, there are the columns of the former Roman villa with an atrium, mosaic floor, banquet hall, bath complex, and clay pipes for caring water.
Outside the museum, there are different altars, one white marble door, and a few marble sarcophagi, as well.
Visiting hours: every day from 9 to 16h, except Tuesday and a few holidays when it is closed.
The ticket is 6 euros for adults.
Ancient Roman baths
Close to the Castle and to the west of Pythagorion, there are the remains of the Roman baths.
They were built in the 2nd century AD and included a complex of public buildings and baths. Actually, the baths were part of the athletic complex with the gymnasium, the stadium, the palaestra (wrestling school), the cold water pool, and hot rooms. Unfortunately, this place was closed during our vacation and we couldn’t enter the complex.
The ancient tunnel of Eupalinos
This tunnel is one of the most important ancient technological achievements.
It was dug in the mid-sixth century BC, by two groups working simultaneously, one from the North and one from the South. The amazing thing is that they met each other at the same height, in the middle of the mountain, with only a small deviation from the straight line! The tunnel has two levels. In fact, it was used to supply the ancient capital of Samos (today Pythagoreion) with fresh water.
You can read more about this amazing ancient tunnel here.
Panagia Spilianni (The Virgin of the Cave)
Close to the Eupalinos tunnel and almost on the top of the hill, there is the Monastery of Panagia Spilliani.
It was founded in the 17th century, in a small cave that is 120 m long.
Next to the cave, there is a small chapel of Saint George. Admission is free.
Just be careful because it is very slippery and dark a little bit in the cave.
You can light the candle, pray in a little chapel coloured in blue, and see the old icon of the Virgin Mary. According to the legend, the icon returned miraculously to the island when some people tried to steal it.
And from the top of the hill, there is a fantastic view of Pythagoreion town and the sea coast.
The castle of Lykourgos Logothetis
Logothetis Castle is located in the southwest of the port of Pythagorion. The tower was built at the beginning of the 19th century, during the Greek Revolution against the Turks. In fact, it was the headquarters of the revolution, named after Lykourgos Logothetis, the island’s leader. But the story about the castle is much longer.
Actually, this place is the oldest acropolis on Samos, dating from prehistoric times. The first castle was built during Byzantine times around the end of the 7th century. During the next centuries, the castle was often rebuilt and finally renovated by the Genoans (the Giustiniani family) around the middle of the 14th century. It was abandoned in 1475, after the Ottoman conquest, and then renovated during the Greek Revolution.
In the castle’s courtyard, there are the remains of the Imperial Roman Villa from the 2nd century AD. You can see the beautiful red columns and the remains of the former palace. It is supposed that this villa hosted important guests, such as Cleopatra and Mark Anthony, Octavian August and Emperor Hadrian, and the guests of Roman emperors.
Also, there are the remains of the Early Christian church from the 5th century.
The Metamorphosis Church (the Church of the Transfiguration of the Christ)
Close to the Castle remains, there is the Metamorphosis Church. It was built in the 1830s, after the Greek Revolution.
Next to the church, there is a small cemetery.
The church celebrates the 6 August, when Samos was liberated in 1824 from Turkish rule. It is also National Samos Independence Day. Every year the festival and a procession are organized.
Samos Archaeological Museum
Samos Archaeological Museum is located in the centre of Vathy, close to the port and the City hall.
It consists of two buildings. The old one is in neoclassical style, built in 1912 (“the Paschaleion Αrchives”). The new modern building was erected at the expense of the “Volkswagen” cultural foundation in 1987.
The museum is open every day from 09.00 to 16.00, except Tuesday when it is closed.
The entrance fee is 4 euros for adults.
I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of the museum collections. There are various objects dating back to the Hellenistic, Prehistoric, Geometric, and Archaic periods.
The museum collections include sculptures of different sizes, usually without heads.
Ancient Kouros of Samos
A special attraction in the museum is the largest surviving colossal Statue of Kouros in Greece.
It is 4,8 m high, made of white-grey marble and it looks really impressive!
The Kouros of Samos was created in the 6th century BC, on the Sacred Way in Heraion.
In September 1980, on the Sacred Road, the archaeologists first found the body of the statue. Then in 1984, they found the head. According to the inscription on the left thigh of the statue, it was made for the sanctuary in Heraion. And it is supposed that represents one of the Geomori aristocrats, the rulers of Samos in the early 6th century.
By the way: kouros is the modern term for a free-standing ancient Greek sculpture. First, it appeared in the Archaic period in Greece. Kouros represents a nude young man. The female sculpture is the kore, but usually, it is completely or partly dressed.
The Geneleos group and ancient Griffin-promotes
As I have mentioned before, the original statues of the Genelous group are transferred from Heraion to this museum.
Also, in the Heraion’s sanctuary were found the figurines of the griffin, a mythical creature.
Originally came from the ancient Near East and his role was as a guardian of the royal treasure. So the griffin heads were used as protomes (figural attachments) on bronze cauldrons set on tripod stands, during the ceremonies of offerings to the gods.
The collections include sculptures, pottery, bronze, ivory and wooden items, clay figurines, coins, and jewellery. They are not all from Samos, but also from Egypt, Assyria, Iran, Cyprus, and Babylon. And most of them are votive offerings dedicated to the goddess Hera.
Samos has a long history of pottery production.
And some of the pottery items have unusual dimensions 🙂
In a word, I have really enjoyed wandering around these ancient remains on Samos Island.
On the other hand, I was a little bit sad to see some of them surrounded by grass and greenery.
Yes, I know, they belong to history and we have to move on.
Nevertheless, ancient Greece seems like a marvellous world.
So, if you are passionate about history, you will certainly enjoy visiting this wonderful island and its ancient sights.