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To the archeological site of Dion

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Tuesday 20 June, to the archeological site of Dion

The temple of Demeter, Dion Figurine in the temple of Demeter, DionWe leave at around 8 PM Olympiaki Akti, quite early for us. Before it gets too hot, we want to visit the excavations at Dion, a large archaeological site with remains of a city from classical Greece. The city lies at the foot of the Olympus and the name Dion refers to Dios, the Greek name for Zeus, the supreme god who had his throne on the Olympus.
According to the Greek Flood story, only Deukalion and Pyrrha survived the great flood. and they would have established here the first altar for Zeus and his daughters, the Muses.
They were looking for an oracle to ask how humanity would survide. After they understood the enigmatic message they got, they picked up rocks from the ground and threw them behind them. The stones of Deukalion became men and those of Pyrrha became women. An efficient way to prevent inbreeding. But given all the myths about a great flood in many cultures around the world, you would start to think that something so impressive has ever happened that it has settled in human memory.
A dragonfly at the archaeological dig DionThe city lies in a fertile area, partly because of the river and the many springs that are abundant here, ideal for a big city. Only from 1928 onwards systematic excavations were started but discoveries are still being made. The site is now a 150-hectare large park with walking paths and bridges between the remnants of houses, public buildings and temples. The city was inhabited, destroyed and reconstructed in different periods of time and the ruins that are now seen date from different times. Probably the city was founded in the 5th century BC and was abandoned in the 5th century AD after heavy earthquakes and flooding.
A small Roman bathhouse near Dion The Greek amphitheater in DionIn cities that were destroyed and rebuilt, it is sometimes difficult to imagine what a city has looked like in a certain period of time. They have found city walls here and the remains within their borders are mainly from Roman and early Christian times. Outside the walls were mainly Greek temples and a Greek and Roman theater found. It may well be that under the Roman layer also parts of the older Greek city can be found. The Greek theater is much larger than the Roman and built against an artificial hill with the Olympus as an impressive backdrop.
Statues at the Roman bathhouse in Dion The large Roman bathhouse near DionBoth the Greeks and Romans had public baths that not only had a hygienic function but also a social one, you came across all the important people of the city. The Greeks started late with heated baths and used coal fires or put heated stones in the water. The Romans invented around 100 BC the hypocaust, a heating system in which the floor rested on a multitude of small brick pillars of about 60 centimeters high. The air between them was heated by an oven and hollow bricks were often used for the walls so that the heat also came from the walls.
Mosaic of a bull in the Roman bathhouse in DionThe most important temple in Dion was traditionally that for Dios or Zeus and probably in Roman times for Jupiter. Most Roman gods did have a Greek counterpart and some may have been taken directly from the Greeks. When the Romans became acquainted with Greek culture, of which they were quite impressed, their own gods began to take over more and more properties from the Greek gods and gradually they were identified with them. The gods could of course disguise themselves in all kinds of forms, and one of the guises of Zeus is the bull with which he lured Princess Europe to sit on his back to kidnap her (and to beget some children).
Path along the city wall of Dion Villa of Dionysos in DionIn Roman times the paths of the city were paved with large stones as you can see on the left picture, during the Greek period the roads were probably of hardened earth.
Very special on the excavation is the villa of Dionysos where in 1987 a beautifully intact mosaic was found. A roof was built over it, but after 20 years the mosaic was already decaying and it was decided to move it to a special building to restore it. Now there is only an image of the moziek on an information board.
Statues in the museum of Dion Statues from the cemetery in DionBut we still have to look at the museum that is in the present village and where some of finds of the excavations are displayed. For such extensive grounds it is a modest exhibition but there are very nice things from different periods. I tell Elisabeth that she should not be too close to the images but she would like to see them up close. And yes, there you have the attendant who follow us suspiciously, as if we intend to commit serious crimes against these images, for example by touching them. We often meet these gruffy, suspicious attendants in Greek museums; they are probably cheaper to hire then to put something around the museum pieces so you have to keep your distance.
According to various websites access to the site would be free but we had to pay 8 euros per person for access to the park and the museum. It is a large park, beautifully situated in nature and certainly worth a visit. We have taken dozens of photos and of course there is much more to tell about the place than we do here.
Restoration of the mosaic of Dionisos in Dion Restoration of the mosaic of Dionisos in DionWhen we walk out of the museum we see a building opposite it with the text Mosaics or Dionysos on it. The doors are open and we walk inside. This is the building that has been specially built for the mosaic of Dionysos. In the autumn of 2015, a group of archaeologists and curators started to reassemble the mosaic here and at the moment they are just doing the very last repairs. We can walk around it but also take a good look at it from the upper floor. In the middle of the mosaic stands Dionysos, god of wine and some other things like drunkenness and religious ecstasy, on a chariot.
The mosaic of Dionysos in DionThis central detail is 220 by 150 centimeters, the whole mosaic is almost 100 m². Of course, it could not be transported as a whole and carefully everything was loosened and moved on a trailer here. They first made an exact image of the mosaic on the ground so that it was easier to put it back and restore it again. The stones were cleaned and glued to the floor using cement. What a job! If you want to know more about how they have done it, take a look at this movie which is 7 minutes long.
After this impressive visit to both the excavation and the mosaic house we need a break and there is a deserted restaurant nearby where only a boy with a dog plays. When we walk in, an elderly man arrives and in my best Greek I order coffee, which is not so difficult. He knows no English but immediately starts a conversation with me in Greek and then I have to do my very best. A safe subject is that I find the language very difficult and the old boss tries to teach me the 7 different words for 'stone' in Greek. His grandson is also busy learning new words and joins in enthusiastically naming things he sees in Greek.
The sea at Klithro Tamieftiras Kalamakiou reservoirThen we travel further south through the mountainous area that runs along the coast. We want to drive as close as possible to the coast, but that is not so easy and we also take a piece of motorway around the mountains. Towards Volos, the largest city in this area and the gate to the Pelion, we leave the highway and after Volos the road becomes a lot narrower and winding. The Pelion is a peninsula named after Mount Pilio that dominates the area. On the way we meet goats, horses and turtles on the road.
View of Volos Teije at our apartment in KalamosWe have booked an apartment in Kalamos, a village on the west coast of the peninsula. The last kilometers we have to descend a narrow, winding road, it is like a Scottish single track but of very poor quality. When we finally reach our apartment we can not find anyone but fortunately there is a phone number that we can call and not much later Yannis appears, the enthusiastic owner of the building. We get a spacious room with a view of a canal from the terrace and he invites us to have dinner in the restaurant of his son.
After we have installed ourselves we walk there, it is in the adjoining building. There are no shops in the village and we do not have much shopping with us, so we would like to eat something. When Yannis discovers that I am learning Greek, he asks me if I like it when he teaches me an hour every evening while we are here, because he has been a teacher. Fantastic, I think that's a very good idea and after dinner I get my first lesson. There is no better way than this to learn a language!


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