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Griffins, giants and gold in the fascinating museums of Samos

Giant giraffes, mini horses, a 16ft tall stone man, a tyrant and numerous philosophers. They all have their place in Samos’s amazing history and the island’s museums take visitors back to those times.

The story begins in a prehistoric age when the early ancestors of elephants, rhinos and huge giraffes with short necks were among the animals roaming around what is now Samos. The fossilised bones of these ancient creatures, that have been studied by world experts, are among the exhibits in the Natural History Museum in Mytilini.

Scroll forward a few million years and temples to Hera, the goddess of women and marriage, were being built on the island. The remains of the sanctuary still on the site date back to about 600BC. Samos was a prosperous place with a powerful navy and was under the control of a tyrant called Polycrates. Several philosophers, including Pythagoras, the man who invented the geometry theorem, lived there.   

The Imvrsasos River passes through Heras temple in Samos

Artefacts from those days are on display in the island’s two archaeological museums.

The stone figure of a naked young man unearthed from beneath paving stones on the Sacred Way leading to the temple is the main feature of the Samos Archaeology Museum in Vathy. The figure, known as a kouros, was found in three parts. A knee was found in 1912, the torso in 1980 and the head four years later.

Among many fascinating items in that museum are the bronze heads of griffins made to ward off evil spirits, a breast plate picturing Heracles fighting the three-headed dog of Hades and a collection of gold coins found by someone paddling in the sea. Part of the museum’s building was once the home of the Prince of Samos.

More finds from the Heraion sanctuary are in the Pythagorion Archaeological Museum, which opened in 2010. They include Neolithic finds from the top of one of Samos’s mountains, a clay tablet depicting Nike, the winged goddess of victory, in a chariot, a marble statue of the father of tyrant Polycrates, and a collection of silver coins minted 2,200 years ago found under a floor.

Heraion sanctuary
The Heraion of Samos was a large sanctuary to the goddess Hera

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