The Temple of Dionysus at Iria

The area around the capital of the island of Naxos, Chóra, has been inhabited for millennia. Excavations show that from the Early Bronze Age (Cycladic culture) on a significant settlement (excavation Grótta) existed in the same place as today’s city, which was also densely populated during the Mycenaean era. In the following Archaic period (about 8th till 6th century BC), just as today, the settlement in the Chóra was the largest settlement on the island. The significance of the Chóra during the Archaic period is emphasized by the erection of the large temple dedicated to Apollo with its gigantic temple gate. The ancient historian Herodotus reported the existence of a second large temple near the Chóra, which was said to be dedicated to the main god of the island, Dionysus, and located near a river called Byblos.

The plain of the Livádia. In the background you can see the airport area and the peninsula of Stelída. The Temple of Íria is located just to the left of the center of the picture.

For many decades, attempts by archaeologists to locate this temple of Dionysus remained fruitless. An important clue for the search provided a small Byzantine church situated in the middle of the Livádia, the plains next to the Chóra. When the archaeologists mapped the lintels of Byzantine churches on the island in the late 1960s to find the missing lintel of the temple of Demeter near Sangrí, they discovered an ancient lintel in this church, which however did not fit the temple of Demeter. The name of a field near this church attracted further attention: Íria. It was assumed to be an abbreviation for “Jyrotychía”, that is boundary wall (the name of the location of the temple in Sangrí, Jyroula, has the same origin). Test drillings in the field quickly reveiled the remains of the missing temple of Dionysus.

From 1986 to 1991, the temple area was excavated by Greek and German archaeologists (from the Technical University of Munich). No standing remains existed, but only a labyrinth of pillar bases and wall foundations. These could be assigned to four different temples overlaying each other for a few decimeters each (plus a Christian church into which the temple had been transformed around 500 AD). The excavators managed to reconstruct the architecture of the individual temples except for a few details with the help of parts of the temple that had been used in church constructions in the area.

Only the foundations of the temple, but no standing remains were preserved, and these as well were covered by a several meter deep layer of earth.

Next to the temple complex lie these remains of a “dining room”, where presumably the ritual feasts were held.

The area of the temple of Dionysus had been used as a sanctuary since the Mycenaean period (about 1300 BC). In the lowest strata the excavations revealed a large, carefully smoothed marble bowl with a feed channel and a large gneiss plate together with potsherds from the Mycenaean period. The marble bowl and the gneiss plate were filled with fertile mud during the floodings caused by the nearby river (the Byblos of antiquity).

The four successive temples lay closely on top of each other. Today some of the remains of the columns have been erected.

The panel shows the location and layout of the four temples (the first in brown colour, the next two in brownish red and grey, and the last one in yellow).

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