Pythagoreion and Heraion of Samos
Pythagoreion and the Heraion of Samos are the remains of two impressive classical architectural structures.
Pythagoreion was an ancient fortified port with Greek and Roman monuments. It holds the Tunnel of Eupalinos, of 1,036 m length and built in the 6th century BC. The tunnel is the second known tunnel in history which was excavated from both ends, and the first with a methodical approach in doing so.
The Heraion of Samos was a sanctuary originating from the 8th century BCE. A temple stood opposite the cult altar of the goddess Hera. It was the first of the gigantic Ionic temples. It stood for only about a decade before it was destroyed, probably by an earthquake. After that, an even larger one was built approximately 40 m to the West. This temple has the largest known floor plan of any Greek temple.
Map of Pythagoreion and Heraion of SamosLoad map
This WHS on the island of Samos is not visited much by our community: it stands at #834 out of 1154, so it’s in the lower 30%. It also has by far the lowest rating of the Greek WHS. Still, Samos sees more than enough tourists as it is a charter flight destination, and it is even easily accessible from the Turkish coast (Kusadasi) on a day trip by boat.
The site has 2 locations, of which the Heraion (the Hera temple just beyond the airport) is the easiest one to distinguish, even from the air when flying in. Pythagoreion is a whole different story. I studied the map hard for what the core zone entails, and I think it is what is covered by a pinkish blob. That would leave out the harbour of Pythagorio and the excavated part of town next to the archaeological museum, and focus on the remains at Kastro hill such as the Tunnel of Eupalinos. Its location indicated on the UNESCO website, smack in the middle of the modern town, must be wrong.
My first day on Samos was a Tuesday when all its archaeological sites and museums are closed. I, therefore, did a pleasant 6km circular walk in the Pythagorio area that I found on the AllTrails app. Along the way I came across many remains of the ancient city, one even more dilapidated and overgrown than the other. I saw the theatre, an old villa, the market, the sports field, and Roman baths. At the port, a creative modern statue can be found of Pythagoras, the mathematician after whom this place was renamed some 2,450 years after his death.
The next day I went hiking again, but this time to the main components of the WHS. I set out from Pythagorio at half past seven to avoid the heat. The first goal was the Temple of Hera, about a 5.5 km walk so I would arrive there nicely around the opening time of half past eight. Just like the day before it was a fine walk on quiet roads. The temple complex lies somewhere among the fields, you can see its one remaining column from afar. The temple was connected to the town of Pythagorio via a Sacred Road, part of which can still be seen at the beginning of the site. A few pedestals of columns are scattered around, but beyond that, there is not much to see. There used to be a series of statues along the Sacred Road, but they have all disappeared into museums. This temple complex was still used in Roman times (and was made suitable for worshipping Roman gods). A mosaic floor with the image of two fishes reminds of that time.
I walked back mostly the same way but turned off slightly past the Pythagorio airport to a footpath uphill. This will take you to the Tunnel of Eupalinos, constructed in the 6th century BC as an aqueduct to provide Pythagorio with a stable water supply. It is recognized as one of the greatest engineering works of Antiquity. Digging started from two sides, a kilometer apart on either side of the mountain, and by geometric calculations, they managed to meet halfway.
A group of max. 20 people are allowed every 20 minutes to explore the first 185 meters of the tunnel. We were given helmets to wear because the ceilings are low and hold sharp rocks. I had read that the first few meters would be very narrow, but that it was not so bad after that. A man who walked in front of me couldn’t handle it already when he saw the tight entrance, so we all had to go back to the starting point as passing was not possible. After that first stretch indeed the tunnel became a lot more spacious. The attendant (not a guide, more someone who had to keep an eye on safety) advised us to keep walking on the right, over an iron grid. The stones on the other side were a bit wet and therefore slippery. Through the iron grid, the trench through which the water used to run was visible meters below us.
I then walked the last mile back to Pythagorio, where I went to the archaeological museum. This wasn't really worth it unless you're a big fan of ceramics or Roman statues. There is also an outdoor area, which shows the excavations that have come from under the modern city. Here too the remains are mostly Roman.
Overall, the sites lack anything that held my interest for more than a few minutes. While this can be attributed to their very old age and the dismantlement after they ceased to be used, more disturbing is that there isn’t even an interpretation of a quality that could make their history come alive. They are quite costly too – visiting the 3 main ones cost me 20 EUR (6 EUR for the temple, 8 EUR for the tunnel, 6 EUR for the museum).
P.S.: For an excellent selection of statues, great and small, from the Heraion, you'll have to go to the Archaeological Museum in Samos Vathy.
Read more from Els Slots here.
I stayed for 3 nights in Pythagoreio start of December 2021. The weather was rather unstable. I walked the 6 kilometers from Pythagoreio to The Heraion along the sea. The road runs along the back of the airport and is very quiet, later there is a bicycle track all the way to The Heraion which is more pleasant to walk than the pebble beach.
Entrance in winter is 3€ (€6 in summer) and I was accompanied by three kind stray dogs on my visit. There is not so much left but the explanations are good and with some attention the stones started to 'live'. There is just one pillar standing but to imagine the full temple consisted of 155 columns twice as high as the current one, one could imagine the awe Herodotus must have felt when he first saw this temple.
I got soaked on the way back and after changing clothes I went to the archeology museum in Pythagoreio, just a few hundred meters from my apartment. It is a modern museum (2005), full with objects found in Pythagoreio, and the exhibitions are well organized. Part of the museum are open air excavations with the remains of the Roman settlement and the start of the Sacred Way which led all the way to The Heraion. Even walking back from the museum for a few hunderd meters, I got soaked again and got wet shoes from wading through the water running through the streets. But of course, this is but a small price to pay for the noble cause of visiting a world heritage site.
Despite the well organized museum in Pythagoreio, I was more impressed with the old-fashioned museum in Vathy, which I visited next day by taking the bus. This museum is entirely dedicated to the finds from The Heraion, and costs €2 (€4 in summer). I spent over 2 hours here, closely followed by the friendly attendant who switched on and off the lights as I went through the exhibitions and the rain poored down from the black thunderclouds outside. I was particularly impressed by the wooden artifacts which apparently survived 2600 years of these rains and thunderstorms.
On Sunday morning the sun shone brightly and I climbed to both entrances of the tunnel of Eupalinos. I got soaked again, but this time from the sweat and humidity. The tunnel is only open until the end of November but I could peer through the fences, on the south side it seemed to be possible to see the aquaduct proper, on the north side the service tunnel, but perhaps this is a modern entrance, I could not be sure.
In Pythagoreio there are scattered remains in many places, Roman baths, early Christian basilicas and cemetries, the Agora, the castle and tower, the fortifications and walls on the hills but there is just an occasional sign, no explanations, so it is more or less just heaps of stones and it is hard to make out what was what. There are many signposted hikes on Samos, mostly on the more lush north side of the island, but hike number 31 focuses on Pythagoreio and passes past the entrances of the tunnel. Unfortunately I did not have enough time for the full 11 kilometer hike, but I saw signs pointing to an ancient quarry and the Roman aquaduct which seemed interesting too.
The Pythagoreion is named for the mathematician Pythagorous, whose birthplace is nearby. Other remains inbcluse the castle and Temple of Thermes, the Spiliani Monastery and the Eupalinos Tunnel (currently closed for restoration).
The Heraion is named for a Temple dedicated to Hera, wife of Zeus. However this has since been overlaid by other Greek, Roman and Christian constructions, none of which appeared readily identifiable.
I visited Samos in August 03 with my wife and 7 year old son. Samos in general is a particularly welcoming island; the people are warm and friendly and not jaded overmuch by tourism. It is, in general a 'quiet' island, avoiding the youthful excessess currently occurring on Rhodes.
This is a great island for families, especially those who like to experience breathtaking mountain scenery, beautiful bays, olive and pine groves, magnificent honey and of course, the renowned Samian wine.
The site of Hera's temple, just outside of Pythagoreion and a kilometre from the coastal resort of Iraion (brimming with delightful Tavernas along the waterfront) is quite stunning. The ruins are particularly ruined! Only one column survives (and I believe that was re-erected at some previous point) but the size and grandeur of the place are unmistakeable.
Open on Sunday and throughout the week, you will pay 8 euros at current prices for the priviledge of entering (about £ 5.60 sterling) which is a bit pricey for a family, but it is worth the wander around the stones. Every so often a holiday plane roars above taking you back to the 21st Century. You can grab a good photo or two through the railings if you dont want to pay the entrance fee. Take water and refreshments with you - none are to be had on site.
Although a spectacular area, I felt there were others more so on other islands and in particular on the mainland. However, if your visit is not merely academic, I commend Samos to you!
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