Samothráki – Samothrace - Σαμοθρακη
The island of Samothráki or Samothrace is situated in the northern Aegean sea facing mainland Alexandroupoli approximately 40 kms away. It is in the nomos or department of Evros. It is mainly a windswept, mountainous granite island covered with forestland and with hot springs near the north coast. The island is approximately 178 sq. km with just under 2,800 inhabitants and its highest peak is Mount Fengari (Phengari) (1611 metres). There is a section of the island's coastline that is not accessible by road from Pahia Ammos to Kipos. Anyone wishing to view this section of the coastline make take advantage of the many excursions to that area.
Its essential nature reflects Edmund Burke's and 18th century concepts of the sublime – it rises from the sea huge, dramatic, imposing, overwhelming, wild. Often, the island is shrouded in mist or fog and often the Fengari (Phengari) peak barely visible until quite near thus adding to its natural mystery. It is not difficult to immagine, threefore, that Samothráki was a natural observation point for Poseidon to watch the battle of Troy and a fitting location for the Sanctuary of the Great Gods located near Paleopolis and to which pilgrims flocked in antiquity. However, due to the lack of natural resources and its infertile land it was of little political importance. It is also known for the mysteries of Cabires, a rite the content of which remains unknown to this day. Samothráki, the wild, mysterious, strange, occult, a spiritual stronghold of ancient Greece!
The island of Samothráki joined the Delian League c.425 BC ¹ and came under Macedonian rule in 340BC. The Romans captured the last Macedonia King on Samothráki and then made the island a fee state. In Mediaeval times it fell under the control of the Franks and later of the Genoese who held it till the year 1457. In 1457 it fell to the Turks but became part of Greece once more after World War I. However, when the Nazis conquered Greece in 1941 they ceded Samothráki to the Bulgarians.
¹ The Delian League was a confederation of city-states of the Aegean that voluntarily submitted to the leadersip of Athens. It was constituted after the Greek victory over Persian forces. The Delian League was named after the island of Delos and one of its objectives was to protect Greek citizens in Asia Minor and curb the power of Persia.
Visitors to the island are mainly German or Scandinavian, understandably therefore it is something of an advantage to know German.
The capital of Samothráki, Hora, sometimes also written Chora (both transliterations of the Greek Χωρα), has interesting remains of a castle.
The port of arrival Kamariotissa seems to be the focal point for the little night life entertainment there. It is also the focal point for island transport. The cultural focal point is further north mainly due to the archaeological remains at the Sanctuary of the Great Gods near Paleopolis.
Kamariotissa is useful as a base to visit the island as accommodation is concentrated mainly here.
Folklore Museum entrance free
Paleopolis was the ancient capital of Samothráki and is dominated by Mount Fengari. It was from here that Poseidon observed the siege of Troy. Nothing remains of the ancient ciry save the wall and two medieval towers erected by Gattilusi from Genoa. The main interest in this ancient town was, of course, due to the Sanctuary of the Great Gods known to have been visited by the Spartan King Lysander, Herodotus, Philip of Macedonia and the Roman emperor Hadrian and Alexander the Great's parents met there. All of these dignitaries had all taken part in the secret rituals. These illustrous visitors testify to the enormous importance of the Sanctuary in ancient times.
In the Sanctuary the Great Gods were worshipped. In pre-Greek times these were the great Mother Earth Goddess Axieros, the male fertility god Kadmilos and the Kabeiroi. The Great Gods here were later assimilated with those in the Greek pantheon: the Great Mother became Demeter, Kadmilos became Hermes and the Kabeiroi became the Dioscuri (Dioskourioi), the twins Castor and Pollux. These were the twin sons of Zeus protectors of those venturing on the sea. The apostle, Paul called at Samothráki and, given his missionary zeal, might well have used beliefs in these gods to further the cause and beliefs of early Christianity as he once did with the belief in the "unknown" Greek God. Interestingly St Paul was saved from shipwreck! St Paul was on his way to what was then called Neapolis, now Kavala.
A path leads from the Achaeological Museum to the Sanctuary, which mainly consists of the Anaktoron (The Hall of the Lords) used for preliminary rituals and dating from Roman times, a circular building, the Rotunda of Queen Arsinoë (Arsinoeion) (ca. 285 BC) built on the orders of the wife of King Lysimachus Queen Arsinoe of Thrace and apparently for the use of ancient VIPs. There was also the festive open air enclosure, Temenos (ca. 340 BC) where torch bearing stones were discovered, this has later been renamed as The Hall of the dancing Maidens after a stone frieze of dancing girls (Frieze of the Temenos). An image of this frieze appears on the web page of the Archaeological Museum (see below). The most imporftant part is the inner sanctuary or great temple, the Hieron where the final stage of the ritiual was enacted, where those who had already passed through the Anaktoron were finally admitted. Along the walls inside can be found remains of seating where the spectators followed the unfolding of the rituals. The five columns in this part of the site have been erected once again in their original upright position.
The Santuary of the Great Gods flourished until the adoption of Chrstianity throughout the Roman Empire.
Little of the theatre remains. The stones seats no longer there but only a depression in the soil marks the original place whre spectators sat.
Behind the theatre lies the small building where the winged Nike was housed. This sculpture was made of marble from Paros and is now to be found in the Louvre. The marble figure is an angel poised on the prow of a ship. At the base of this was a basin of running water, a sort of fountain. The sculpture commemorated the victory of a naval battle in the second century BC. Nothing further seems to be known about this marble figure except that the right hand of the figure was subsequently discoverd in 1950.
Archaeological Museum Admission charge
Sanctuary of the Great Gods. The ticket purchased for the museum is valid here, too.
Kamariotissa has a pebble beach. Therma (Loutra) has sand and pebble beaches. There are more sandy beaches in the south but these are less accessible; fine examples are Pachia Ammos and Kipos.
How to get there:
Ferries to Samothráki leave from Alexandroupolos and, in high season, also from Kavala. From Alexandroupolos the time for the crossing is approximately 2 hours and from Kavala 4 hours.
Ferries from Samothráki to other islands:
Ferries leave twice a week in high season to Limnos (ΛΗΜΝΟΣ / Λημνος ) and Lesbos (ΛΕΣΒΟΣ / Λεσβος ).
The telephone code number for Samothraki is 25510
Port of arrival Kamariotissa:
Port 25510 41305
Police 25510 41203
Port Police 25510 41305
X Rentals 25510 42272
Kyrkos Rent a Car: 25510 41620 / 25510 69728 / 25510 39231 check on the net different dates
Rent a Motor Bike 25510 41057
Hanou Brothers 25510 41511
Niki Tours 25510 41465 from here you can reserve a car, purchase ferry / plane tickets
Transport on the island:
Buses leave from Kamariotissa to Hora, Paleopolis, Loutra (Therma) and Lakoma and Profitis Ilias 4 daily.
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