2019 Greek Odyssey – Day 12 Part 1

DION – another museum and incredible mosaics

Today is my first tour out of Thessaloniki.  It is great to have Thessaloniki as a base because then I don’t have to worry about packing things for overnight adventures – I just have to worry about my cameras, batteries, passport and money.

Another early start, breakfast is wonderful with a stunning view and then I find myself walking back along the waterfront to the White Tower where I am to meet my guide.  Of course I am early so there is time to take some photos of the surrounds.  This is part of a wonderful park area that leads down to the waterfront and the statue of Alexander.  It is so quiet – a great start to the day.

Soon our bus arrives – it is a small group – only 15 of us. Our guide’s name is Christos and the driver is Psyches, well that’s what it sounded like to me. All aboard and away we go.

Our first stop will be Dion Archeological Museum, established in 1983 to display excavations unearthed in the area from a fortified city that once stood in its place from the 6th century BC to the 5th century AD.  It is only a small museum but it still has a lot to offer.

Below left is one of everyone’s favourites – Dionysus. Centre is Leda and the swan, a story of the Greek myth in which Zeus, having adopted the form of a swan, seduces the girl Leda and impregnates her with the child who will become Helen of Troy. Zeus certainly got around.

The museum is very deceiving from the outside – who would know that it housed so many treasures.  Below left is a relief from a sarcophagus from the Roman period. It shows the legendary gryffons. On the right is a group of statues from the 2nc century AD that are labelled as the Children of Asklepios – Machaon, Hygiela, Aigle, Panakeia, Akeso, Podaleirios.

Sometimes there is an unexpected find in a museum – instead of statues, busts, sarcophagus etc I find a musical instrument. The hydraulis is considered the oldest keyboard instrument in the world.

It was built in the 3rd century BC and invented by the engineer Ktesibios in Alexandria.   This is not the best photo but sometimes museums make it difficult when they have windows all over the place – good for looking – not good for photography.

The hydraulis of Dion is the first such instrument ever found in Greece – and the oldest found in the world.  It is the forerunner of the church organ and is very similar to the one invented by the engineer Ctesibius of Alexandria.

The sound produced would certainly be sweet and joyful if we could ever listen to it.  The height of the instrument is 120 cm, width 70 cm. The organ pipes are arranged in two rows and consist of 24 pipes with a diameter of 18 mm and 16 narrow pipes with about 10 mm diameter. They were decorated with silver rings.

The body of the organ was decorated with silver stripes and multi-coloured, rectangular glass ornaments.  Valves were opened by keyboard and the air flowing through the organ pipe generated the sound. The instrument is structurally classified between the water organ described by Heron of Alexandria and Vitruvius.

Next, an item that may seem macabre but it is such an eye catcher that you just can’t walk past and not stop.

During excavations from 1994 to 1996, in tomb 108, near Makrygialos, the skull of a young girl was found.  Archaeologists gave her the name “sleeping girl”.  She lived around 1400BC and for her burial she was decorated with an impressive bronze diadem on the head attached on cloth or leather.  Diadems of the kind the girl wore them were very rare as burial gifts for girls or young women. They underline the high social rank of the deceased.

Moreover, she wore bronze jewellery such as a bracelet, three finger rings and two medals on her belt.  In the grave was also found three Mycenaean clay vases which were offerings for the voyage that she was about to begin towards the Underworld.

I stood in front of her for quite some time thinking about her life those many years ago, what her family and her life was like; did she have many friends and how she died.  It’s a very sober situation when confronted with the remains of the dead – these were once real flesh and blood people – just like you and me.

It is now time to move on to the mosaics museum – the Archaiothiki.  This is a separate building just across the way.

Christos has told us that we must visit to see the incredible mosaic that was unearthed at the Villa of Dionysus. In the Summer of 1987 archaeologists found the most important  mosaic of the extensive excavation site – I read that excavations are still underway. Protected by the covering soil layer it was almost completely preserved.

It was decided that this precious find had to be protected but it should also be accessible to the public. The archaeologists decided to name the place where the mosaic was unearthed “Villa of Dionysus”. For over 20 years, the mosaic was sheltered under a roof structure. In order to be able to see the work from all sides, a footbridge was built, on which visitors could orbit it.

The roof helped against the rays of the sun, but it was powerless against water and general decay. From year to year the condition became worse: single mosaic stones dissolved from the ground, plants grew in the cracks, it was only a matter of time before this mosaic, which had remained largely intact for nearly two millennia, would be destroyed.

In the centre of the large mosaic, Dionysus is depicted in a chariot.  Next to him stands a mature Silenus, who is more a helper of the god than a driver. The carriage is drawn by two panthers while two centaurs hold their reins. On the left is a mature, bearded centaur carrying a vessel (Krater) that probably contains wine.  The other Centaur on the right carries on his shoulder a closed vessel in which presumably the sacred symbols of the Dionysus cult are located.

Below this main mosaic are three masks – – the middle of the three masks of the lower (eastern) side shows Dionysus with long curls (below left). The mask to the right of him shows a barbarian. The eyes sting, his eyes are lowered. Probably it is Lycurgus, King of Thrace, and an enemy of Dionysus. He pursued the young god, who threw himself into the sea and was saved by Thetis.

The mask to his left shows a mature satyr with a snub nose (below left).

The central mosaic of the epiphany of Dionysus has the dimensions of 220 cm by 150 cm.  The entire mosaic has a floor area of approximately 100 m².

Once everyone has finished looking it is time to meet up – I replenish my drinking supplies with some Iced Lemon Tea – and we head to the Archeological Park in our little bus.


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