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All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to romapip@quipo.it. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page added in October 2010.


- Introduction and the Sanctuaries of Dion
(Mosaic portraying Dionysus at Dion)


Then to the palaces of heaven she (1) sails,
Incumbent on the wings of wafting gales;
The seat of gods; the regions mild of peace,
Full joy, and calm eternity of ease.
There no rude winds presume to shake the skies,
No rains descend, no snowy vapours rise;
But on immortal thrones the blest (2) repose;
(1) Athena; (2) gods
Homer - Odyssey - Book VI - Translation by Alexander Pope

Mount Olympus seen from a Rome-Istanbul flight in early April 2010

We owe to Homer's poems the identification of Mount Olympus as the seat of the gods' council; from there they watched the events of the War of Troy; from there Athena rapidly descended to help Ulysses' return to Ithaca. Because the origin of Zeus and his brothers Poseidon and Hades is associated with Crete, the placing of the gods' residence on a mountain which is located at the opposite end of the Greek world is regarded as a sign of the country having been invaded by tribes (the Dorians) coming from the north.
In more general terms initially the location of deities was associated with the deep of the forests (see a page on Dodoni), then with the highest mountains and finally with the clouds.

(left) 1900 Times Atlas of the World map showing Mount Olympus which at that time was located at the border between the Ottoman Empire (pink area) and the Kingdom of Greece (yellow area); (right) XVIIIth century engraving showing the Vale of Tempe and behind it Mount Olympus

The gods they (1) challenge, and affect the skies:
Heaved on Olympus tottering Ossa stood;
On Ossa, Pelion (2) nods with all his wood.
Such were they youths I had they to manhood grown
Almighty Jove had trembled on his throne,
But ere the harvest of the beard began
To bristle on the chin, and promise man,
His shafts Apollo aim'd; at once they sound,
And stretch the giant monsters o'er the ground.
(i) the Giants; (2) another mountain
Homer - Odyssey - Book VI - Translation by Alexander Pope

Mt. Olympus is composed of a compact group of mountains; its highest peaks almost reach 10,000 ft; it is separated from Ossa, a lower massif, by the Vale of Tempe, a deep gorge which was the main passage between classic Greece and Macedonia; in antiquity the gorge was celebrated as one of the seats of Apollo and the Muses;
Emperor Hadrian visited it and in his Villa Adriana he built a nymphaeum inside a high wall in remembrance of the Pineios River which flows in the gorge.
The map shows the fortress of Platamonas which controlled the northern entrance to the gorge.

Mount Olympus seen from Dion; in the foreground the reconstructed Greek theatre

The northern side of Mt. Olympus gently slopes towards the Macedonian plain; according to tradition Deucalion built an altar to Zeus on a site which is named Dion. In the Greek myth Deucalion played the same role as Noah in the Bible; he built an ark where he went with his wife to escape a flood which Zeus let loose on the earth to wipe out the whole race of man.
Dion acquired importance in the Vth century BC when the Macedonian kings chose it to make their sacrifices to the gods.

Sacred pond linked to the Vaphyras River

In antiquity the coastline was closer to Dion than it is today and the town was linked to the Aegean Sea by a navigable river; the presence of some springs favoured the development of Dion as a privileged location for sanctuaries.

A view of the archaeological site with the sanctuary of Isis

Dion was very dear to the kings of Macedonia and to Alexander the Great who went there to sacrifice to Zeus before starting out his Asian campaign; hecatombs, the sacrifice of a hundred oxen, took place along a very long altar to Zeus Olympios; the altar and Dion were burnt down in the late IIIrd century BC by the Aetolians who were allied with the Romans in the First Macedonian War.
Dion returned to be an important town in the following centuries and in particular in the IInd and IIIrd centuries AD; the large majority of its monuments belong to that period; the city declined when the cult of the Olympian gods was prohibited; earthquakes caused its buildings to collapse and floods covered them with mud.
First archaeological explorations were made in the XIXth century by Leon Heuzey and Honoré Daumet; today the ruins of Dion are surrounded by a beautifully arranged park, which makes up for the lack of the imposing (and very often reconstructed) monuments of more famous archaeological sites.

(left) Sanctuary of Zeus Hypsistos (the "most high" God); (right) the original statue in the Museum of Dion

The sanctuary of Zeus Hypsistos was unearthed in 2003; the appellation is consistent with the role of Zeus in the Greek pantheon, but it is also indicative of a tendency to move from polytheism to monotheism which characterized the first centuries AD. The identification of Zeus as the supreme god, rather than a primus inter pares, was a step towards diminishing the relevance of other deities.
In this sanctuary archaeologists have found many reliefs portraying eagles, a symbol of Zeus.

Sanctuary of Isis: (left) detail of the sanctuary with the statue of a donor; (right) relief portraying Isis Lochia (she who protects young mothers) with sheaf and sceptre

The sanctuary to Isis dates back to the IInd century AD, a time when Egyptian deities were extremely popular throughout the Roman Empire; their iconography however had no longer Egyptian features; Isis was identified by a particular knot (tyet) in her garment, which represented the union of divine and human forces.

Sanctuary of Isis: (left) statue of Aphrodite Hypolimpidia (under Olympus); (right) ex-voto usually fostering or thanking for a safe return

The sanctuary replaced a previous one which was dedicated to Aphrodite, but this goddess was still honoured in a small nymphaeum adjoining the main temple, as traditionally the Romans placed statues of her at the centre of their fountains.

Sanctuary of Asclepius

In theory Asclepius, a son of Apollo, was a minor deity, but because he was the god of medicine his popularity did not suffer from the growing importance of deities from Egypt or other countries of the eastern Mediterranean basin; his sanctuary at Dion was located near a pond because ritual baths were part of the prescribed therapy; an enkoimeterion has been identified near the sanctuary; in this building the patients slept and then told the priests their dreams.

Other ancient oracles/shrines in this web site:
The Oracle of Delphi
The Shrine of Mysteries at Eleusis
The Asklepion of Pergamum
The Asklepion of Kos
The Shrine of Dodoni
The sanctuary of Venus at Afrodisia
The Oracle of Didyma
The sanctuary of Poseidon at Cape Sounion
The sanctuary of Apollo at Delos
The sanctuary of Apollo at Hierapolis
The Artemision at Ephesus
The sanctuary of Leto at Letoon
The sanctuary of the Great Gods at Samothrace
The sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia at Palestrina
The Asklepion of Epidaurus
The Shrine of Ba'al at Baetocece

Roman Theatre

Dion had a theatre excavated out of a small hill; in the IInd century AD, most likely at the time of Emperor Hadrian, the need for another theatre arose; this second theatre was entirely built with stones, bricks and mortars; it was not very large; it is possible that the old theatre was dedicated to gladiatorial fights, while the new facility was reserved for music and poetry contests.
The sanctuaries, the theatres and a stadium were located in an area to the east of the town.

Move to
page two to see the town of Dion or to page three which covers the Fortress of Platamonas.

Clickable Map of the Ionian and Aegean Seas with links to other locations covered in this website (opens in a separate window)

SEE THESE OTHER EXHIBITIONS (for a full list see my detailed index).