Archaeological site of Dodoni

Sites & Monuments Archaeological Site of Dodoni

Τhe oracle

The archaeological site of Dodoni lies in the valley below Mount Tomaros. It was a religious center related to the cult of Zeus and the oldest oracle in Greece according to Herodotus and the references by Homer in his epics. Α small prehistoric settlement had been developed οn the site since the Bronze Age. The earliest cult was dedicated to the Great Goddess, a deity of euphoria and fertility, connected to tree worship and divination. The new religion of Zeus merged with the old one and the God of The Sky was worshiped as a couple with the chthonic goddess, who was thenceforth called Dione. The extent of the influence of the sanctuary is attested by the votive offerings that pilgrims from various regions of Greece offered.

The giving of oracles was carried out through the interpretation of sounds -natural or not- related to the sacred oak, such as the rustling of its leaves, the murmuring of the water that gushed from its roots, or the cooing of the pigeons nested in its branches. Furthermore, from the sound produced by the bronze cauldrons that were placed on its trunk, or the Corfu scourge, the famous bronze structure dedicated to the sanctuary by the citizens of Corfu in the 4th century BC. Pilgrims’ questions were recorded on lead tablets, numerous of which have been found, that constitute a source of valuable information about the political history of ancient Greece, society and law, language, as well as everyday life and human feelings.

The monuments

Until the end of the 5th century BC the sanctuary of Dodoni was outdoors and the religious ceremonies were held around the sacred oak (fagus). Only in the early 4th century BC a small temple of Zeus was built. The sanctuary thrived/flourished at the beginning of the 3rd century BC, during the reign of King Pyrrhus, who executed a grandiose building program with the construction of new temples dedicated to the cult of Themis, Aphrodite and Hercules. At the same time, the construction of public buildings (the bouleuterion, the prytaneum, and the theater) expanded the function of the place, both as an administrative center of the Epirotes and a venue for the Naian Games held in honor of Zeus. After its destruction by the Aetolians in 219 BC, the sanctuary was repaired and took its final monumental form with the reconstruction of the colonnades and the enclosure. After the Roman conquest in 167 BC the buildings continued their function, while the theater’s orchestra was converted into an arena. The oracle continued to attract worshipers until the 4th century AD, when the sacred oak tree was cut down and in the place of the ancient ruins a three-aisled Christian Basilica was founded.

Projects that promote the site

The projects for the protection and promotion of the archaeological site began in the late 1990s on two axes: a) the reconstruction of the archaeological site by modernizing its infrastructures (buildings for reception and public service, public utility networks and network of routes) and b) the preservation and restoration of the ancient theater, which showed extensive damage, mainly due to the fragility of ancient material. The primary concern was the preparation of a series of plans for surveying, documentation, preservation and restoration, which were tentatively started being implemented through a pilot program for the restoration of the first eastern kerkida of zone A. After the evaluation of the results of the pilot program, the projects have been going on within the framework of co-financed programs. At present, the restoration of the nine kerkides and the supports of the lower zone of the monument has already been completed.

Paraskevi Giouni – Hara Kappa

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