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The Temple to Hera on Samos

This magnificent Samos temple once rivalled the Parthenon in Athens

The powerful and warlike tyrant Polycrates ruled the rich island of Samos for nearly 20 years from 538 BC and wrought havoc on the region with a navy of 40 triremes and an army of 1,000 archers.

But his reputation as a fierce fighter was somewhat mitigated by his public works that included the building of a massive temple to the godess Hera, the construction of a remarkable aqueduct that carried water to the capital city of modern Pythagorion and the building of a magnificent palace that was later to be rebuilt by the Roman emperor Caligula.

Eventually assassinated while on a trip to Sardis where his body was impaled on a cross after falling foul of the Persians. His legacy is a wealth of remarkable archaeological sites on Samos and a number of important engineering works such as the Tunnel of Eufalinos.

Possibly his greatest work no longer exists. A seven kilometre road was once built from what is now the port of Pythagorion along the coast to the Temple of Hera. Reputably lined with 2,000 statues the marble paved road the sight must have been magnificent, crowned as it was with the temple to the mother goddess Hera that, with its 134 columns, was said to rival the Parthenon at Athens.

Sadly, little remains today as many of the ancient sites have been demolished and covered with houses, hotels and roads. Even the Pythagorion airport runway was concreted over part of the ancient sacred road.

The temple to Hera was built at Ireon near the mouth of the river Imvrasos in an area that was once thick with the 'lygos' tree. According to the myth Hera was born under a lygos tree and in the annual Samos festival an image of the goddess is still bound in branches of lygos.

Only a single lonely column remains on the north-east corner of what was once the largest temple in Greece. Over the years the area has served as a quarry and the original building was pulled down to its very foundations.

As the cult of Hera was pretty much restricted to the island of Samos. The fate of the temple was closely bound up with the fortunes of its leader Polycrates and the site did not carry the clout of religious sites like Delos.

Barely mentioned in Greek literature, the temple was not excavated until 1890. Covered in brambles and blackberry canes, the full extent of the site wasn't unearthed until 1910. German archaeologists moved in again in 1925 but work was held up in World War II and not started again until 1951.