“Cruising the Dodecanese” is Peter Sommer Travels’ last scheduled cruise in Greece in 2017. This year, to give an impression of the experience, we are providing a diary of sorts on our blog. Rather than describing every day in detail (you can check our itineraries on www.petersommer.com for that), every day we will pick one image we took that day, accompanied by some explanations and thoughts.
I am writing this in Leipsoi (or Lipsi), a small islet not far from Patmos. Yesterday's post was written - in the evening - on Samos, and today we explored that island's great ancient history in detail.
We might have spent another night on Samos in ideal circumstances, but the forecast promises a short period of strong winds, convincing us to continue to this rather remote but very convivial spot so as to keep our options open for the onward journey. That, too, is part of our job: to assess the circumstances, weigh our options and make decisions, always in conjunction with our captain, to make sure we can offer our guests the best and most interesting experience possible.
Thus, Maria and I had the task of presenting a place of immense importance in terms of history, archaeology and art in one day. What that means in reality is that we took our guests to four key places today: the Heraion, the Tunnel of Eupalinos, the Archaeological Museum of Pythagoreio and the Archaeological Museum of Vathy.
- The Heraion of Samos (our picture shows the altar and the surviving column of the temple) is the central sanctuary of the goddess Hera, and thus one of the most significant religious sites in ancient Greece. It was said to be the place of Hera's birth and of her wedding to Zeus, the king of the gods, an event that was repeated annually as a major religious festival. It is one of the most important archaeological sites in the country and, set in swampy terrain close to the sea, it is very atmospheric. It also featured the first of the monumental temples of Ionia.
- The Tunnel of Eupalinos is a masterpiece of ancient engineering. Dating to the mid-6th century BC, it is a 1.036km-long (that's 0.64 miles) tunnel dug through sheer bedrock, its purpose being to supply the polis (city-state) of Samos with water from a spring separated from the city by a mountain chain. Rediscovered in the 19th century, it has only been made fully accessible over the last few years, to be reopened for the public in 2017. We were able to make our way to the very mid-point, where two tunnelling teams, one from either end, finally met at some point about 2550 years ago.
- The Archaeological Museum of Pythagoreio (the town occupying the place of the ancient city of Samos) is one of the newest in the region and it is superb. It is dedicated to presenting the ancient city as a whole: its history, its cemeteries, its sanctuaries, its economy, its art and its daily life. Our guests were excited to see a state-of-the-art museum exhibit, presenting one of the most important ancient cities in the region in all its aspects.
- After a lovely village lunch, we finished with the Archaeological Museum at Vathy, housing the finds from the Heraion, in other words one of the most extraordinary collections of Ancient Greek (and more) material in the world. It includes items dedicated to Hera throughout many centuries, and originating from Greece and the Greek World, but also from the Middle East, North Africa, the Black Sea, the Balkans, Italy and Spain. The museum houses some of the best surviving pieces of Archaic Greek sculpture, including a Giant Kouros worth a post for himself, an astonishing array of bronze (and other metal) votives (objects dedicated to Hera), a unique collection of items carved in wood (having survived because of the swampy conditions), and a surfeit of carved ivory, including a piece I have written about on this blog.
That was Samos. We could stay there longer and add a lot more stories - another time. Now we are in Leipsoi. Tomorow will bring new adventures.