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Friday, August 27, 2010

A TRAVEL WRITER'S DAY ON SAMOS ISLAND

My last two days on Samos were intended to be 'working' days where I would tour the sites and get new ideas for stories, in particular stories that related to history.  My first writer's day was quite successful in Samos/Vathi town when I went to the archaeological museum and then spent some pleasant time at the Samos Wine Museum.  The next day  I set off for Pythagorian where ancient Samos really had it's beginnings and there are two very important archaeological sites to visit.
Kouros, Samos museum


In my previous posting I explained how that day turned out to be quite frustrating and exhausting with a lot of pointless walking about in the hot sun.  Aside from my visits to the old castle and museum, the other two sites I had hoped to see didn't turn out so well.  One of those frustrations a travel writer has to face and make the best of it.

Samos island has a very interesting history dating back to very early times.  The name Samos is from Phoenician meaning "rise by the shore" and this green, mountainous island rises out of the sea like at lovely gem. It has always been famous for it's wine trade and also the red pottery produced there. It was the centre of Ionian culture in classical antiquity. Being close to Asia Minor, the Samians have been known to worship both the gods of the East and the 12 Olympians. The most worshiped deity of the island was Hera and her temple is one of the most significant monuments of ancient Greece.  Because of the distance between Samos town and the temple site they made a road known as the 'holy road' (Hiera Odos) that was decorated with many statues and votive offerings.  Every spring there was a march of believers going to the temple for a feast that lasted 3 days.  It was this temple, The Hereion, that I wanted most to visit.  There had been a temple on that site where rituals were performed since the 8th century BC but in the beginning of the 6th century a great temple was built that was later destroyed in an earthquake. During the reign of Polykrates an even greater temple was started with a55 columns, 20 meters in height. Unfortunately it was never completed because of the political and economical collapse of the state after Polykrates' death.  Most of the votive offerings given at the temple in the 3r and 2nd century BC were stolen by the Romans.  during the 1st and 2nd century AD many temples devoted to other gods were built.

I am disappointed I didn't get to the Temple site because of mis-direction and lack of transportation there.  However I did manage to make my way eventually to another famous site, the Tunnel that Polykrates had built under the mountain to transport water to Samos. This is the earliest tunnel in history to be dug  from both ends, extending 1 km.  It is now regarded as one of the masterpieces of the ancient world and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Of course, Samos is also famous for being the birthplace of Pythagoras who lived there until he was exiled by the tyrant, Polykrates.  The town of Pythagorion is named for him and there is an impressive statue of him at the harbour.  On the road from Pythagorian leading to the site of the Hereion, there are a number of ruins of temples such as one to the Nymphs.  This was likely part of the Holy Road.  There were also ruins of a theatre and old village up near the tunnel but I missed seeing them because I was riding there by taxi.

I was glad, at least, to have had the experience of going down into that amazing tunnel, of only for a few minutes.  And I managed to get a few photos so I'll be able to write a story about it later.

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