On the foothills of Mt.
Olympos only 5 km. from the Pierian shores, lies the city of ancient Dion.
In an area forgotten until now but provided with inexhaustible natural charm,
extensive archaeological excavations have been conducted by the University
of Thessaloniki to discover the sacred city o the Macedonians.
The Macedonians used to gather at Dion to honor the Olympian gods
with sacrifices and offerings. King Archelaos (414-399 B.C.) brightened these
festivals with athletic and theatrical performances. There Philip II celebrated
his glorious victories. Alexander, starting out his expedition, there sacrificed
to Olympian Zeus and there the famous bronze group by Lysippos, representing the
25 horsemen fallen at the Granikos battle, was erected.
Rich discoveries cast much light on the history of Dion and the history
of the Macedonians in general. Of particular importance were the results of the
study of the religious practices of the ancient Macedonians. The sanctuaries of
the gods, the Greek and Roman theatres and the stadium were found spread over
a large area outside the city walls. This, of course, is not incidental; it undoubtedly
proves that the sanctuaries were used not only by the inhabitants of Dion, but
also served the religious needs of a greater number of people, much in the same
manner as the great central sanctuaries, in the rest of Greece
which, during their festivals, received thousands of visitors. Various pilgrims'
offerings were placed in the sanctuaries of Dion. At the Sanctuary of Olympian
Zeus especially inscriptions were set up referring to important state affairs
such as peace treaties, regulation of boundaries, honorary decrees, etc. The Macedonians
who crowded these festivals could read these texts and be informed.
Investigating the areas of worship led the archaeological pickaxe
to the oldest known holy structures of the Macedonians. They are two small temples
of the "megaron" type that is a building with an open antechamber and
a cella. Various offerings have been found inside these structures, mainly idols,
lamps and vessels made of clay, glass beads etc. Most of the finds belong to the
Classical period and some date as far back as 500 B.C. According to all the evidence
an earth goddess of fertility must have been worshipped there. This hypothesis
was confirmed by an inscription found on a 4th century B.C. vessel referring to
the name of Demeter. The excavations also brought to light finds related to the
worship of other gods, such as a group of statues depicting Asclepius and his
family. Next to the theatre, at the Temple of Dionysos, sculptures, inscriptions
and more structures have been found. From the Sanctuary of Zeus come several inscriptions
and the base of a big statue of King Cassander.
Dion remained hospitable towards foreign gods as well. The worship
o Sarapis and Isis, advocated by the state propaganda of the Ptolemies of Egypt
had arrived there in the Hellenistic period. A Sanctuary of Isis was located in
1978 immediately outside the SE corner of the city walls.
The rare luck of finding this sanctuary intact, just as it fell down
after earthquakes tremors, is due to the mud of floods, which covered it immediately
after the final catastrophe. In this sanctuary the worship of the Egyptian goddess
Isis, as the inscriptions testify, succeeded the worship of Artemis to whom offerings
were found dating from the Hellenistic period. A small temple housed the worship
of another goddess, namely Aphrodite, who had in Dion a particularly characteristic
name: "Hypolympidia", i.e. Aphrodite worshipped below Mt.
Olympos. Ancient Dion was a well laid-out city. An elaborate network of roads
paved during Imperial times, demarcated the housing and allowed the free circulation
of pedestrians and vehicles. Fourteen roads have been located and excavated. The
most impressive of the latter is a complex of public baths that covers an area
of more than 4.000 m2.
This text (extract) is cited October 2003 from the Prefecture
of Pieria tourist pamphlet.