The transformative power of the Mysteries is most palpably signaled today by the deployment of the innovative buildings that once framed the rites within the sacred landscape—a dozen extraordinary monuments, each distinct within the history of Greek architecture, each deftly positioned within the terrain to heighten the experience of the initiate, each archaeologically well-preserved although no longer standing. In concert with the landscape, they justifiably make Samothrace one of the most important expressions of Hellenistic sacred space in the ancient Mediterranean. We have developed the three-dimensional model of the Sanctuary to both as a research tool and as a visual demonstration.
In making the model of the Sanctuary, we aimed to address two fundamental questions, the first archaeological and the second experiential. Archaeologically, the model gives us a much clearer understanding of the terrain and the buildings in elevation. It serves as a valuable tool for clarifying certain abrupt changes in elevation between buildings, which tend to be elided on a two-dimensional plan. Experientially, we wanted to understand more explicitly how architecture was deployed across the dramatic terrain to heighten the experience of initiation.
The videos move with the pilgrim through the Sanctuary. Because the initiation took place at night, the videos entering the Sanctuary are set in darkness. Those exploring the path of the initiate after the ceremonies are set during the day. We chose 9:30 am on the 4 June 200 BC. The camera is set roughly at eye-level to mimic the vision of the pilgrim.
1. Entering the Sanctuary by torchlight: Those seeking initiation enter the sanctuary in the evening, proceeding through the Propylon of Ptolemy II, down a ramp and into the Theatral Complex on the Eastern Hill, a prominent site for the dedication of bronze statues.
3. Approaching the Hieron: The Hieron lay largely hidden from view behind the Hall of Choral Dancers. Those seeking initiation must cross over the Central Ravine, walk along the narrow path, and then cross back to approach the Hieron. On the way, there are glimpses of the Dining Complexes, where initiates feasted.
4. Ascending to the Victory: Just how visible was the statue of Nike, which crowned the hill above the Theater? Walking past the Hieron, the Hall of Votive Gifts, the Altar Court, and up the steps of the Theater, the Nike Monument comes into view.
5. Relaxing at the Stoa: The Stoa, which was 104 meters long, overlooked the whole sanctuary from the Western Hill. Under this portico, visitors seek shade while looking out across the Central Sanctuary and admiring the monumental dedications set up on the Stoa Terrace.
6. Admiring the dedications: From the Central Sanctuary, visitors approach the Intermediate Terrace, filled with rooms for banqueting and dedications such as the Neorion, a building which contained an entire ship dedicated to the Great Gods.
7. Returning home more protected: After a night of rituals and feasting, visitors return through the sanctuary; the light of day and the steep ascent offer a new perspective on the sanctuary to accompany the changed prospects the newly initiated now enjoyed.