By Kathleen Mcilvenna
Lying in the eastern Aegean Sea and off the coast of Turkey is an unassuming Greek island called Samos. It could be easily dismissed as just another beautiful Greek island, abundant with lush olive groves and secluded bays, but Samos has a surprising history and a legacy that every British GCSE student can appreciate.
With such a strategically important position Samos’ history has been somewhat turbulent, but loyally Greek. The island has been ruled by a number of different empires, and after the fall of the Byzantine Empire and a number of earthquakes the island was left virtually empty by the start of the sixteenth century. Samos was slowly re-inhabited which resulted in many towns adopting names related to its populations’ place of origin. However the island’s national identity developed into aligning itself with Greece. This meant that the condition of the London Treaty of 1830, that brought an end to the Greek War of Independence but gave Samos over to the Ottoman Empire, was strongly opposed in Samos. A revolutionary movement reached its peak in 1912 and Samos was officially united with Greece in 1913.
With such an unsettled history it’s surprising that so many features from Samos’ ancient past still survive. These include the ruins of the temple of Hera at Ireon and the tunnel of Eupalinos near the town of Pythagoreion, both declared UNESCO world heritage sites in 1992. Samos is said to be the birthplace of the Greek goddess Hera, and the site of her ancient temple dates back to the eighth century BC and was later also the site of a Christian basilica. Most of the sites artefacts are in the Archaeological Museum in Samos’ modern capital, Vathy, though other artefacts are also housed in Pythagorio’s Archaeological Museum.
The Eupalinos tunnel was rediscovered in the nineteenth century and is a popular tourist attraction today. It dates back to the sixth century BC and is an astounding piece of Ancient engineering. Acting as an underground aqueduct, it was designed to transport fresh water from an inland spring to the ancient coastal capital, today called Pythagorio. What is notable about this tunnel, apart from its ancient origins, is that is one of only two that are known to have been dug out from both ends to meet in the middle, and was the first to do so with a geometric approach. Commissioned by Samos’ tyrant leader, Polycrates, the tunnel was designed by Eupalino from Megara, and took ten years to build. Its achievement was even acknowledged by the ancient historian Herotodus.
Though these ancient echoes invite interested modern visitors, Samos is most famous for one of its Ancient Greek sons, Pythagoras. Pythagoras was born in Samos in 580 BC and was a philosopher and Mathematician. His triangle theorem, regarding right-angled triangles, is still an important part of GCSE maths courses in Britain. Pythagoras didn’t stay in Samos but his link is greatly celebrated, the town of Pythagorio is named after him and has a commemorative monument. Furthermore the ‘Just Cup’, reported to be a design by Pythagoras as he got fed up with the inaccuracy of measurements, are on sale throughout the island.
Like most of the Greek islands, tourism is important to their economy, and Samos’ legacy to the history of science is at the heart of its offer to tourists today. I’ve only covered a small part, and among the numerous small towns there are a number of museums dedicated to all sorts of topics. These include the Natural History Museum, the Folklore Museum and the Museum of Wine. With such a glorious climate and such friendly and generous inhabitants I would heartily recommend a visit.