We arrived in Pythagoreio yesterday, a port village built on the ruins of the ancient capital of Samos. Named after the island’s most famous son, Pythagoras. And make a mistake in interpreting a navigational structure on the harbour mole as an Antony Gormley statue in honour of the ancient mathematician. Even knowing I was wrong, I can’t help but still see the linkage. Here’s the structure closer to:
In any event, one high point of the visit to Samos was the Heraion, said to be the birthplace of the goddess Hera. I was fascinated to hear that because the massive shrine was originally built on a wetland, a marsh, liminal land, the buildings kept subsiding. The scale of the ritual slaughter that was practised here back in the day beggars the imagination. I wonder if there were animal liberation activists here back in the sixth century BC.
Afterwards, we visit the museum in the island’s modern capital of Vathi, which contains many fascinating finds from the Heraion site. Among them, a colossal kouros, or male nude figure. Then, the next day, 2 June, we visit the Tunnel of Eupalinos, on a hill overlooking the port. Dug in the sixth century BC, it is an engineering marvel, cut through solid rock for over a kilometre, and designed to be invisible to attackers and besiegers.
When it came to it, though, I chickened out. I put on a safety helmet and started down the rock-cut steps into the tunnel, but my age-old claustrophobia returned with a vengeance – and I decided to sit out this one with some older members of the party. The story of how the tunnel was cut from both ends simultaneously, and how they managed to meet in the middle, was some sort of ancient miracle.
One story that stuck in my mind was the, perhaps deservedly, grisly end of the tyrant Polycrates of Samos. He made the mistake of trusting another tyrant and went to the wonderfully named Magnesia. His fate is thought to have involved some combination of impaling and crucifixion, with one account suggesting that he may have been able to see Samos in the distance as he died. Perhaps wishful thinking on the part of his enemies?
Later in the day we set sail for Leros.