Samos - ANCIENT SAMOS - - The sanctuary of Hera



The archaeological site of the -Heraion lies in the south west corner of the Kambos plain, 6.5km from Pythagoreio (open daily, except Mon, 8.30–3). Excavated periodically since the beginning of the 20th century, mostly by the German Archaeological Institute in Athens, this is one of the most thoroughly investigated and documented sanctuaries of the Aegean. Photographs of the site taken during the excavations of the 1950s and 60s show a remarkable density of building foundations and finds, which reveal a relentless superimposition and addition of structures throughout the long history of the sanctuary from Mycenaean, to Roman and Early Christian times. Today, much of this has been covered over again leaving only some of the upper levels of the foundations of structures visible; as a result, the site can appear confusing on a casual visit. One impression never fades, however—the sheer size of the remains of the 6th century bc temple of Hera, which was the last of many temples on the site, and which was begun, and left unfinished, by the tyrant Polycrates. Its predecessor on the site, of comparable dimensions, was already the largest structure of its kind in the Greek world: only the great Temple of Artemis at Ephesus—minimally larger—was to exceed it. It was faced by a magnificent altar and surrounded by a multitude of other sacred buildings which it dwarfed; to a visitor arriving from along the Sacred Way, it would have been glimpsed at the end of a long avenue of votive monuments and dedicatory sculptures, which were to be counted, not in their tens, but in their hundreds—amongst them the giant Kouros now in the museum in Vathi. The sound of peacocks that wandered freely through the sanctuary would have been audible from a distance. Though unknown in Homer’s time, peacocks came into the Ancient Greek world shortly after, from India through the medium of the Persian Empire. They were sacred to Hera, and shared with the often brooding and vindictive goddess, a potent combination of consummate beauty and the sound of embittered complaint.

The cult of Hera

    It is not known at what point the cult of the Great Mother Goddess, widespread in Asia Minor, was first established on the edge of this plain; but it was probably already 500 years old when Ionian colonists settled here shortly before 1000 bc, and gave to the pre-existing ‘Mother Goddess’ a more precise identity as ‘Hera’. The myth had evolved that she was born amongst the osiers that lined the edge of the imbrasos River: Pausanias says that in his time (the 2nd century ad), the ‘Sacred Willow’ under which she was born was still to be seen at Samos (Decrip. VII.4.4), and he reckoned it to be the oldest tree of any of the Greek sanctuaries (ibid.VIII.23.5)—older even than the Sacred Oak of Zeus at Dodona. The tree may have been what is known today as a Chaste Tree, the Vitex agnus-castus, a tall, fragrant shrub with lilac flowers which grows in similar habitat, and whose name derives from the fact that it was believed since Ancient times to be a calmant of sex ual appetite and a promoter of chastity—though this marries oddly with Hera’s favouring of female fertility.

   The early Mother Goddess was apparently venerated not in a statue or idol, but in a piece of wood—a xoanon, or ‘wooden image’, described as ‘not made by the hands of man’. This was a not uncommon state of affairs: the 3rd century bc poet, Callimachus, mentions something similar in reference to the early cult statue of Athena at Lindos—namely that her statue was an ‘un-worked wooden board’ (Fragment 105). This in itself is an indication of consider able antiquity and has obvious resonances of earlier tree-worship. Whether the xoanon here was a piece of drift-wood with an unusually evocative form, or a board of wood whose natural veining appeared to delineate an image of the divinity, or whether it was simply the stump of a sacred tree, we do not know: there is an understandable reticence among poets and writers to describe such sacred objects exactly. In later, historic times, according to Pausanias (Descrip. VII.4.4.), there was an image which was the work of a certain ‘Aeginetan, called Smilis ‘¦ who was a contemporary of Daedalus’; it must there fore have been a figure-image at least by that stage. Whatever its exact form, it was the focus of cult; and its presence gives rise to the complex history of the architecture in the sanctuary.


Samos Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island Group, Greece.

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Samos Island, Greece.

By air: Domestic flights are frequent from Athens – four to five times daily with Olympic Air and twice a day in summer with Aegean Airlines.
There also direct flights by charter from destinations outside Greece.
By boat: Sea access to Samos is also plentiful, but a little confusing because it is split between three separate ports: Karlóvasi and Vathy, on the north coast, for the larger ferries plying the northern and western routes to Piraeus, Chios, Lesbos, Ikaria, Thessaloniki etc;
and Pythagóreio, on the south coast, for the Dodecanese and southern routes,
i.e. the F/B Nisos Kalymnos (4 days per week)
and hydrofoils (daily in summer) to Patmos, Lipsi, Leros, Kalymnos, Kos, and on to Rhodes , with the Nisos Kalymnos stopping at Agathonisi and Arki in addition, before calling at Patmos.
The summer hydrofoil service to Fourni and Ikaria (4 times weekly) also leaves from Pythagóreio. Crossings to Turkey (Kus¸adasi) run daily from Vathy, during the summer season only (Easter to mid October); thereafter more infrequently.

Samos Travel Guide


Samos Island, Greece.

In Vathy, Christos (two blocks in from the water-front, and north of the main square) serves Asia Minor specialties, interesting salads, and good, fragrant wine.
The village of Vourliotes has several tavernas offering good mountain food in its picturesque plateia: less contrived, and more popular with islanders, is Pera Vrysi, at the entrance to the village. On the shore below, at Avlákia, the Mezedopoleío "Doña Rosa" has a pleasing touch of eccentricity, but nonetheless prepares excellent Greek dishes with localredients and good presentation.
Further west at Palaio Karlóvasi, the Oinomageireío "Dryousa", in the plateia where the paved road ends, is family run, providing fresh, home cooking.
The last true tavernas in Pythagóreio closed some time ago; the best remaining eatery there, with a pleasant view from its position at the beginning of the harbour mole, is Varka. For sunset views, however, few can match Balkoni tou Aigaiou at the south end of Spatherei;
while the taverna at Koutsi, up and west from Pyrgos, though not remarkable for food, is an unforgettable and cool refuge on a hot day, beside a spring below plane trees in the hills of central Samos .
Pure comb honey of high quality can be found at Melissa – a small supply-shop, a few metres up the main street of Pythagóreio from the harbour.

Samos Travel Guide

further reading

Samos Island, Greece.

Graham Shipley, A History of Samos 800-188 BC (Oxford University Press, 1987); Hermann Kienast, The Aqueduct of Eupalinos (Greek Ministry of Culture, Athens, 2005).

Samos Travel Guide

practical info

Samos Island, Greece.

831 00 Samos & 832 00 (Karlóvasi): area 477 sq. km; perimeter 163 km; resident population 33,999; maximum altitude 1,434 m. Port Authority: T. 22730 27890, 27318 (Vathy); T. 22730 61225 (Pythagóreio); T. 22730 32343, 30888 (Karlóvasi). Travel and in formation: ; By Ship Travel, T. 22730 25065 (Vathy), 61061 (Pythagoreio), 92341 (Kok- kari), 37100 (Marathókambos) & 35252 (Karlóvasi).
Samos Travel Guide

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