Samothrace Sanctuary of the Great Gods – Paleopoli, Greece - Atlas Obscura

Samothrace Sanctuary of the Great Gods

Paleopoli, Greece

Temple complex that once housed the famous statue of Nike. 


The small Greek island of Samothraki is easily overlooked in the allure of the surrounding Aegean Sea. Covering only 180 sq. km and accessible only by ferry, the ancient ruins here lie mostly undisturbed by tourists.

The modest ruins belie their Hellenic glory. The island is home to one of the highest mountains in the Aegean named Mt. Phengari, (translated as Moon Peak), a peak Homer claimed was the grandstand for Poseidon as he watched the beginning of the Trojan War.

The island is also home to a Pan-Hellenic temple complex located in the northeastern part of the island that has come to be called Samothrace Sanctuary of the Great Gods.

The mystery cult of the Great Mother (Meter Theon Idaia or Mother of the Gods) was at the center of worship here and many historical figures are said to have been initiated into it. These include the historian Herodotus, the Spartan Lysander and perhaps most famously, Phillip II of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great. The temple was also host to Roman emperors such as Hadrian but the fall of Rome brought worship at the complex to an end.

Excavations were undertaken during the 1700 and 1800’s leading to the discovery of one of the most famous statues of the Hellenic period by French Consul Charles Champoisea.

Known as the Victory of Samothrace, or Nike of Samothrace, this statue with its missing arms and head became a source of inspiration for succeeding generations. The hood ornament of a the Rolls Royce vehicles and the name of the largest sports apparel manufacturer, Nike, utilize the imagery of the statue as a symbol of victory and success. Today the famous statue stands at the head of the Daru staircase in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France while a replica stands in a local Archaeological Museum on the island of Samothraki.

Know Before You Go

From Kamariotissa, take the road towards Therma. Park at the small church in Palaiopoli and follow the path up.

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