Samos - ANCIENT SAMOS - The Temple of Hera



The remains of Polycrates’s unfinished temple are on your left as you enter; its predecessors were situated about 30m to the east of its east front (now covered by the more visible remains of an Early Christian basilica), and the chronological succession of altars stood about 30m further east of that. Archaeological exploration has provided considerable information about the development of the principal sacred building here, which, since it spans the fast evolving period from the 9th to the 6th century bc, encapsulates on one site much of the evolution of the Greek temple-form in general:

   *In the 10th century bc, the site would probably have consisted principally of a stone altar in front of a Sacred (Willow or Chaste-) Tree. The focus of cult, the ‘σανις  αξοος’, or ‘un-sculpted board’, in Callimachus’s words, was probably beneath or beside the tree; or could even have been the tree stump itself.

   *Temple 1: With time, this ‘image’ and others that were added, needed protection from the elements. There was also need for a place where the more permanent gifts and offerings left in honour of the deity could be stored. As a result of these needs, one of the earliest, large temples in the Greek world was constructed be side the tree in the 8th century BC, in order to house the image: this was a long hall, 100 Samian feet long (hence its subsequent name, the ‘hecatompedon’) by 20 feet wide (c. 33 x 6.6m), with a row of 13 wooden columns down the middle to support the roof. Such a row of central columns inevitably hid the cult image from view, unless it were to be placed—unsatisfactorily—to one side.

   *Temple 2: Around 650 bc the hecatompedon was ebuilt, of the same size, on solid limestone foundations, but this time with a modified interior which resolved the problem of the placing of the image. The columns supporting the roof in the interior were now pushed back to both side-walls and the entrance wall, and formed thereby a running, interior colonnade on three sides, in the form of a Greek Ξ . The presence also of cylindrical column bases at the corners on the outside suggest that this was one of the earliest examples of a peripteral temple, i.e. with an external colonnade and columned entrance porch as well. This colonnade protected the temple’s adobe walls from the elements, and provided welcome shade for the crowds who gathered on feast days.

   *Temple 3: As the wealth and power of Samos increase dramatically, and the international fame of the Sanctuary grew, a much grander temple was planned and begun between 570–560 bc, designed by Rhoecus, and assisted by another artist, Theodorus—the first architects in Greek history, both Samian, for whom we have names. Less than a century had passed, and the conception of a temple had evolved out of all recognition, transforming itself from chrysalis to butterfly. It is not easy to explain the speed and degree of such a development: much has to do with Samos ’s close commercial and political ties with Egypt, and what the Samians had seen there. There was also theenuous desire simply to emulate, or even outdo, the greater and older culture of the Egyptians. For the first time in Greek architecture, the Temple of Rhoecus was an edifice in which beauty and grandeur far outpaced function. It was a cage of light and shadow, whose forest of fluted limestone columns, running now in double rows around the naos , and rising 18m in height, covered a base that was 105m long, by 52.5m wide—the area defined geometrically by two contiguous, equal squares. It buried the site of the old hecatompedon, and extended much further west. It was (as Herodotus claims of its successor) the largest temple of its day. It has itself no precedents, but it was to be the inspiration for a spate of building activity on a massive scale in the Ionian cities, which was then emulated half a century later by the cities of Magna Graecia. These grand buildings (as can be seen from the table below), make the Parthenon in Athens look tiny by comparison. Around 540 bc, the temple of Rhoecus either collapsed, or was shaken by an earth quake, or just became unsafe, and a little over 30 years after it was begun it was dismantled and immediately rebuilt in a modified form and new position.

   *Temple 4: These are the remains that are seen today. The fact that the new and final Temple of Hera, be gun by Polycrates, just after 540 bc and possibly built by the architect and engineer Eupalinos, was moved 40m to the west onto more solid ground, suggests that the earlier temple had manifested problems due principally to subsidence. The move also meant that there was now greater space for ceremony between the al tar and the front of the temple. The temple was only slightly larger (108.63 x 55.16m) than its predecessor and was of similar proportions and form; but the in ter-columniations were decreased, the columns were slimmed, and their total number increased from 104 to 155. They were almost 20m high, and the peristyle which they formed was two columns deep on the long sides, and three-deep at either end, thus breaking and refracting the light and shadow in a manner that was substantially different from the measured effect of a Doric temple, such as the Parthenon. Work on the temple was interrupted at Polycrates’s death in 522 bc, taken up again around 500 bc, went into abeyance once more after 478 bc, and resumed in the 3rd century bc, but never with sufficient momentum to complete the building. The columns were never fluted, and neither the floor nor roof completed. Strabo (Geog. XIV.1.14), writing in the 1st century ad, refers to the temple as ‘hypaethral’, i.e. open to the skies, leaving some doubt as to whether the temple was designed to have an open well of light in its naos , similar to the oracular temple at Didyma, or whether he simply meant that no roof had yet been built over it. On site it is not easy to make immediate sense of the temple remains: what is seen are the raised foundations for the rows of columns that were to bear the weight of the roof. These eventually would have been filled in between with beaten earth and stone and then covered by the marble floor laid above. This means that the steps visible at two points on the east and west of the naos may be no more than builders’ ramps which would later have been covered over. At many points it can be seen how the dis mantled material from Rhoecus’s earlier temple—most conspicuously, the beautifully turned column-bases with fine horizontal fluting—have been incorporated into the foundations of the new temple as filling. There is a mixture of two materials: a yellowy-white Samian marble (for details and important elements), and a grey local limestone (for walls and steps), predominantly used in the earlier building. The low depression of the central naos area, which would have been filled to support the floor, is roughly bisected by the foundations of the western extremity of Rhoecus’s temple. The solitary column, unfluted and dislocated by seismic movement, left from the 155 pillars of the original plan, stands only to about half its original height: it remains the only visual cue to the quite extraordinary height of the original building.


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


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

Book your Trip to Greece