The ancient traces on the island of Samos

 

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 and 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 center. 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 the Samos city, today’s Pythagorion. There are the harbor with 300m long and 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 empire, 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, Byzantine Empire and later it was ruled by the Genoese family Giustiniani, until 1475, when Ottomans captured the island.

Modern times

Under the local leadership of Lykourgos Logothetis in 1821, Samos joined the uprising of the Greek War of Independence (Greek Revolution), against the Ottoman Empire. In 1834, the island became the 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 port, built in the same place as the ancient port of Samos, 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!

Pythagoras tetraktys theorem, Pythagorion

Pythagoras tetraktys theorem, Pythagorion

 

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.

Mural of Pythagoras, an ancient mathematician, and philosopher, the house in Karlovasi

Mural of Pythagoras, an ancient mathematician, and philosopher, the house in Karlovasi

 

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.

Pythagorean cup


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.

 Pythagorean cup

Pythagorean 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 in the pottery workshops. Also, in a few workshops on 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.

Ydria pottery workshop, Samos

Ydria pottery workshop

 

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 🙂

 

Sacred Road

Once, there was six kilometers long road that connected Pythagorion 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. Also, Samos airport passes over one part of the ancient road.

Ancient Sacred road, Temple of Hera, Samos

Sacred 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 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 archeological 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 the statue of a young boy. The last one, actually the first on the left side was a donor’s wife.

Group of Geneleos, ancient Temple of Hera

Group of Geneleos statues

 

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.

And besides the feet, there are the ruins of the Hermes and Aphrodite temple.

Heraion sanctuary, Samos

Feet and ruins of the Hermes and Aphrodite temple

 

The temple of Hera

The oldest traces dedicated to Hera dated back to the Mycenaean times. And owing to Herodotus, there are some records about this marvelous temple.

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, 21m high, with 155 columns. Even today, these dimensions are impressive for one building!

Temple of Hera, Heraion sanctuary, Samos

Temple of Hera

 

Unfortunately, today only column is there, on the north-east corner of the temple. Actually, it is half of the column. Just try to imagine how this temple was a marvelous building in ancient times. But after the Polycrates’ death in 522 BC, the construction has never been completed.

One column of the Temple of Hera, Samos

One column of the Temple of Hera

 

Anyway, this is the largest Greek temple ever built in her honor of Hera.

 

The Great altar

The ritual place and the center of the Hera cult was the Great altar. Located in front of the temple, the altar was about 36 m long and 16m wide. Usually, during the religious rituals, the animals were sacrificed. Their certain parts were consumed by pilgrims, and other parts were buried under the altar.

Altar of the Temple of Hera

The Great Altar of the Temple of Hera

 

During the 1st century, Samos was a Roman province and the altar was reconstructed by using marble. Also, one small temple was built in the honor of Hera and the Emperor August.

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.

The Early Christian basilica, temple of Hera, Samos

The Early Christian basilica, Temple of Hera, Samos

 

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.

The ancient remains in Heraion sanctuary, Samos

The ancient remains in Heraion sanctuary

 

Visiting hours for Heraion sanctuary: every day from 8.30 to 16.00, except Tuesday when it closed.
The ticket fee is 6 euros for adults.

 

Archeological Museum Pythagorion

This museum is located in a modern building in the center 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.

Archaeological Museum Pythagorion, Samos

A new building of the Archaeological Museum Pythagorion and the remains Agora of Samos

 

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.

Pottery items, Archaeological Museum Pythagorion

Pottery items, Archaeological Museum Pythagorion

 

One of the remarkable items is a group of small and white Aphrodite statues.

Aphrodite statues

Aphrodite statues from the Hellenistic period

 

Then you can see the jewelry and some nice items from Roman times.

Ancient Pottery, Roman times, Arch. Museum Pythagorion

Pottery, jewelry, pencils, lamps from the Roman times

 

And the hoard of 300 Byzantine golden from the 7th century AD will certainly get your attention.

Archaeological Museum Pythagorion, golden coins

Byzantine golden coins, Samos museum

 

The cemeteries of the ancient Samos

During the excavations on the island, the remains of cemeteries from Geometric, Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods were found.

Archaeological Museum Pythagorion

Archeological Museum Pythagorion, ancient cemeteries

 

The pottery was used in daily life, but also for the funeral purpose.
They are in different shapes with various and interesting painting details.

The ancient funeral pottery

The funeral pottery

 

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.

Archaeological Museum Pythagorion

Ancient marble sarcophagi

 

Also, there are various small poros grave archaic steles, the grave monuments made of marble, and carved in relief.

Stelai

Archaic steles

 

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 the grave monuments.

Archaeological Museum Pythagorion, funeral banquet

Archaeological Museum Pythagorion, funeral banquet relief

 

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.

Archaeological Museum Pythagorion

The statue of the Roman emperor Trajan

 

Marble statues

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.

Ancient marble statues, Archeological Museum Pythagorion

Marble statues

 

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.

Archeological Museum Pythagorion

Open sanctuary wall

 

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 atrium, mosaic floor, banquet hall, bath complex, clay pipes for caring water.

Roman villa and the ruins of the ancient city of Samos

Roman villa and the ruins of the ancient city

 

Outside the museum, there are different altars, one white marble door, and a few marble sarcophagi, as well.

Archeological Museum Pythagorion

Ancient altars, one marble door, a marble sarcophagi

 

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.

 

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 Roman baths, Pythagorion

The Roman baths, Pythagorion

 

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, and 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.

Acnient Eupalinos tunnel, Samos ok

Eupalinos tunnel

 

Panagia Spilianni

Close to the Eupalinos tunnel and almost on the top of the hill, there is the Monastery of Panagia Spilliani (The Virgin of the Cave).

Panagia Spilliani

Entrance in the complex of Monastery Panagia Spilliani

 

It was founded in the 17th century, in a small cave which is 120 m long.
Next to the cave, there is a small chapel of Saint George. Admission is free.

Panagia Spilliani

Monastery complex Panagia Spilliani

 

Just be careful because it is very slippery and dark a little bit in the cave.

Panagia Spilliani, Samos

Entrance and the stairs in the cave of Panagia Spilliani

 

You can light the candle, pray in a little chapel colored 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.

Panagia Spilliani

Panagia Spilliani, a cave with little church

 

And from the top of the hill, there is a fantastic view of Pythagoreion town and the sea coast.

A view on Pythagorion from the monastery Panagia Spilliani

A view on Pythagorion from the monastery Panagia Spilliani

 

The castle of Lykourgos Logothetis and Metamorfozis church

Logothetis Castle is located in the southwest of the port of Pithagorion. The tower was built at the beginning of the 19th century, during the Greek Revolution against the Turks. Actually, it was the headquarters of the revolution, and it was named after Lykourgos Logothetis, the island’s leader. But the story about the castle is much longer.

Lykourgos Logothetis tower

Lykourgos Logothetis tower

 

Actually, this place is the oldest acropolis on Samos, dating from prehistoric times. The first castle was built during Byzantine time 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 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.

Ancient red columns of the former Roman villa, Pythagorion

Red columns of the former Roman villa

 

Also, there are the remains of the Early Christian church from the 5th century.

The remains of the ancient Castle Early Christian Basilica

The remains of the Castle Early Christian Basilica

 

Castle Early Christian basilica, Pythagorion

Castle Early Christian basilica, Pythagorion

 

The Metamorphosis Church (the Church of the Transfiguration of the Christ)

Close to the Castle remains, there is or the Metamorphosis Church. It was built in the 1830s, after the Greek revolution. Next to the church, there is a small cemetery.

The Church of Metamorfosis, Pythagorion

The Church of Metamorfosis

 

The church celebrates the 6 August, when Samos was liberated in 1824 from Turkish rule. It is also a National Samos Independence Day. Every year the festival and a procession are organized.

The Church of Metamorfosis

The Church of Metamorfosis, 6th August, Samos Independence Day

 

The Church of Metamorfosis, Logoghetis castle, Pythagorion

The walss and door of the Church of Metamorfosis

 

Interior of the Church of Metamorfosis

Interior of the Church of Metamorfosis

 

Samos Archaeological Museum

Samos Archaeological Museum is located in the center 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.

Samos Archaeological Museum, Vathy

Samos Archaeological Museum, the old Paschaleion Αrchives building

 

I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of the museum collections. There are various objects dating back to the Hellenistic, the Prehistoric, the Geometric, and Archaic periods.

The museum collections include the sculptures in different sizes, usually without the heads.

The ancient statues in Samos Archaeological Museum

The ancient statues in the Samos Archaeological Museum

 

The 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 the white-grey marble and it looks really impressive!

Ancient Kouros, Samos Archaeological Museum in Vathy

Kouros, Samos Archeological Museum in Vathy

 

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 archeologists first found the body of the statue, and 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.

Ancient statues and feet of the kourosSamos Archaeological Museum, Vathy

Statues and feet of the kouros, Samos Archaeological Museum, Vathy

 

The Geneleos group and Griffin-promotes

As I have mentioned before, the originals statues of the Genelous group are transferred from Heraion to this museum.

The original ancient statues of the Geneleos group from Heraion, Samos

The original statues of the Geneleos group

 

Also, in the Heraion’s sanctuary were found the figurines of the griffin, a mythical creature.

Anceint Griffin-promotes, Samos Archaeological Museum, Vathy

Griffin-promotes, Samos Archaeological Museum, Vathy

Originally came of 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 ancient voting offers to Hera, Samos Archeological Museum

The voting offers to Hera, Samos Archeological Museum

 

The collections include sculptures, pottery, bronze, ivory and wooden items, clay figurines, coins, jewelry. They are not all from Samos, but also from Egypt, Assyria, Iran, Cyprus, Babylon. And most of them are the votive offerings dedicated to Hera goddess.

Ancient items, Lion ivory, Bronze belt, coins, gold, figurines, Samos Archeological Museum

Lion ivory, Bronze belt, Coins, gold, Clay figurines

 

Samos has a long history of pottery production.

Ancient ottery items, Samos Archaeological Museum, Vathy

Pottery items, Samos Archaeological Museum in Vathy

 

And some of the pottery items have unusual dimensions 🙂

Ancient pottery, Samos Archeological Museum

Pottery, Samos Archeological Museum

 

ONE TIP for tickets:

There is a special ticket package, which costs 13 euros.
With this ticket, you can visit four important sights, such as archeological 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 Samos

In a word, I have really enjoyed wandering around these ancient remains in 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 marvelous world.
So, if you are passionate about history, you will certainly enjoy visiting this wonderful island and its ancient sights.

The castle of Lykourgos Logothetis and ancient ruins, Samos

The castle of Lykourgos Logothetis

 

 

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