Sacred Sites on the Greek Island of Samos

by Melinda Marton

Temple of Hera - the HeraionI love the rich, spiritual feeling of this ancient land and spent my last summer holiday in Pythagoreion on the beautiful island of Samos. There is so much to see here, I didn’t spend much time lying on the beach!

First stop was the local museum, which is a beautiful new building in the middle of the town.  It’s placed next to the ancient city and has current archaeological excavations right next door.

The Samos museum mentions all the following as local to the island:

  • The main sanctuary of the patron goddess of the island (sanctuary of  Hera, at the mouth of the river Ibravos)
  • Patron God of the city, Dionysos
  • Temple of Aphrodite – lies beneath the foundation of an old house
  • On the heights of the city, sanctuaries of the Mother Goddess, Cybele
  • Sanctuary of Demeter at the edge of the city, high on an isolated hill, as appropriate to mystery cults
  • Artemis, Dionysus and Apollo cults
  • A cult of Nymphs
  • Inscriptions of Hygeia
  • Temple of Isis with large, lavishly adorned altar in the south of the small square to the right of Lykourgos Logothetes street which leads to the harbour

Archaic Sanctuary of ArtemisI was totally amazed, reading through this list! Beautiful pieces of altars and statues of the Goddesses adorned the museum; a whole wall from Cybele’s sanctuary formed one wall of the museum. The place was a true treasure to someone who follows the path of the Goddess!

Archaeological site next to the museumThe next step was for me to find all these temples, sanctuaries - or the places they have been. There was a member of the museum staff curator sitting inside the exhibition area, talking endlessly on her phone and I waited patiently for what seemed an age, but then realized she didn’t speak English.  No problem, I thought, I will find them alone …

Temple of Aphrodite

Next to the bus stop I found the Temple of Aphrodite, fenced and locked. The grass was well cut inside the fence. Two frescoes were visible but they were turned towards each other, so I could not see their outside.  I would have loved to go inside and meditate in that peacefully resting place.

Temple of Aphrodite Temple of Aphrodite
Above: Temple of Aphrodite (I pushed my camera through the fences to take these photos)

Going into the shop next door to the temple, I asked if someone could unlock the site and let me in.  The shopkeeper was very friendly and told me that he owned the shop and the adjoining house, the columns for which came from the temple.  He didn’t wish to open the gates, and I did not push more. I went outside, simply sat on the bench placed there for people waiting for the bus, and meditated on the Goddess of Love.

Temple of Hera – The Heraion

TGeneral view of the temple from the Sacred Way, where the pilgrims would arrivehe tourist guide says that “earliest traces of the cult of a fertility goddess, who is identified with Hera, date from (…) the second half of the 2nd millennium BC.”

It was definitely not easy to find the Temple, at least not for those of us, like me and my boyfriend, who wanted to reach it on foot, walking the 5 km of the ancient sacred way which leads to it (the distance from the city of Pythagoreion).  There wasn’t a map, a signpost, anything, and after a good two hours in the broiling sun, we reached a bushy and densely overgrown marsh, and took us ages to find the main gate to the Temple; we found out afterwards that the “proper” gate was next to the road at the other side.

Entering the ruins, I felt an overwhelming feeling of sadness and loss.

Temple of DionysusTemple of Dionysus

There wasn’t a sign on this temple, at all.  The Temple lies between houses, close to the main street.  I discovered it by walking the street, and recognizing the picture from a tourist book.

Archaic Sanctuary of Artemis

The Archaic sanctuary of Artemis is next to a big car park. It is filled with water and high plants, bushes of all kind. I was wearing sandals, and I simply did not have the courage to walk around. I sat down on the safe cement, and tried to meditate, while cars were passing by, most of the occupants obviously finding it funny that I was sitting there …

I felt a beautiful energy, the Goddess’s own, strong young and vigorous, once I attuned to it.

 The covered well and ruins of the Sanctuary of NymphsThe Sanctuary of Nymphs

I understood that it was believed the Nymphs were the founders of the earliest settlement which is now Pythagoreion, and indeed, as I could see, their ruined sanctuary lies just next to the ruins of the oldest city wall.

However, the place looks very sad and forgotten, and I could almost hear the desperation of that place, the cry for someone who would at least cut the grass, as was done at Aphrodite’s Temple. But no, the grass was so tall, and so dense, that again, I did not dare walk through it … I went up the steps, next to the well, and turned back.

Temple of Isis

Attempting to locate the Temple of IsisThe museum lists an altar place and a Temple of Isis. But I could not find it, despite the fact that I really tried. I went back twice to the museum, paying the entrance fee twice, just to get some info about it, but in vain. The old gentleman selling the tickets at the museum simply refused to tell me. He kept smiling and telling me to find the Epfalinio tunnel – like I was an idiot or something (I must say I never experienced this kind of treatment before in my life). The locals never heard of an Isis temple; a history teacher from Athens described the place to me, but I never found it. I was looking for an archaeologist who could show me around, but the one connection I got was not of use, as the person was away, on holiday. So I needed to give up my search, for now.

Steps leading to the Sanctuary of NymphsI spoke to some locals, and also to a very nice German woman working in a shop close to Aphrodite’s Temple. They all said it was a big task for the locals to cut the grass and take care of the ruins, for free, and in the end they simply ignored them all.  That is why all these beautiful, ancient sites are slowly (or rapidly) being swallowed up by the wilderness.

I am not a writer, but I wrote down what I saw and what I experienced, in the hope that something can be done.  Maybe some of you would be interested in doing something to save this temples, maybe pay to a person to take care of them (just cutting grass would be enough, I think) maybe performing some rituals on the sites. I would certainly love to try to do something about it, so please do contact me if you are interested, wanting to help or having ideas.

May the wisdom and the blessings of the Goddess be with our next steps.

(All photos are by the author)

K. Tsakos, Samos, a guide to history and archeology, Hesperos ed., Athens, 2003
 

Melinda Marton

Melinda Marton is a psychologist living and working in Copenhagen, Denmark. Contact her on the following mail address: melimarton@gmail.com

Latest posts by Melinda Marton (see all)