Dodona | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Dodona

Tristan Hughes

20 Feb 2021

About Dodona

Situated in northwest Greece, Dodona boasts an illustrious ancient history that stretches more than a millennium in length.

Dodona history

An important religious centre since the 2nd millennium BC, Dodona was regarded as home to the oldest oracle in the Hellenic World. This was the Oracle of Zeus, situated within a sacred grove filled with oak trees. According to Herodotus, the Oracle of Zeus at Dodona was the second most important in the Greek World, the first being Delphi. Before Zeus was worshipped at Dodona, it may well be that this Oracle shrine was dedicated to the mother goddess Gaia (known as Dione at Dodona).

Offerings to Zeus and Dione have been uncovered dating to as early as the 8th century BC. Overtime however, Dione’s importance decreased and Zeus became the main deity venerated at this site.

Dodona’s importance grew during the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, when the sanctuary became a critical component of the Kingdom of Molossia, the dominant power in ancient Epirus. In c.334 BC, the legend goes that King Alexander I of Molossia consulted the oracle at Dodona about his upcoming expedition to Southern Italy. The Oracle warned Alexander that he would meet his end by the city of Pandosia and the River Acheron. As both of these places were in Epirus, Alexander believed that this meant that his campaign would be a success.

What Alexander didn’t realise was that there was also a river called the Acheron and a city called Pandosia in Southern Italy. Predictably, that was where Alexander I was killed a few years later.

Dodona’s importance increased further during the reign of Alexander I’s more famous successor: Pyrrhus. Pyrrhus underwent a great ‘Hellenisation’ project of his domain during his reign, particularly at the religious sanctuary of Dodona. Here Pyrrhus constructed several monumental buildings, most notably an astonishing theatre. The theatre has been well-preserved throughout the centuries and can still be seen today.

Dodona was the religious heart of Pyrrhus’ kingdom, but it enjoyed a chequered history following Pyrrhus’ demise in the early/mid 3rd century BC. Both the Aetolians and the Romans sacked the sanctuary in the following century, but the site’s importance remained and it was rebuilt after both occasions. Roman emperors visited Dodona and its oracle as late as the 4th century AD for advice, although its importance diminished thereafter with the rise of Christianity.

Dodona today

Today, Dodona’s remains can be visited among the picturesque landscapes of Northwest Greece. Similar to Delphi, the surrounding landscape is beautiful, with mountains clearly visible to Dodona’s north and east.

When visiting Dodona, make sure to see the theatre right at the heart of the archaeological site. Though we remember him mainly for his costly battles against Rome, this monumental construction is one of King Pyrrhus’ most enduring legacies.

These mountains belong to the Pindus Mountain Range, one of the most impressive being Mount Tomaros, which you can see rising to the south of Dodona. The archaeological site of Dodona is situated very close to the modern village of Dodoni.

Getting to Dodona

For those travelling from Athens, prepare for a long journey as Dodona is roughly a 4/5 hour car journey from the capital. Dodona is, however, very close to Ioannina, one of the largest cities in northwest Greece. Bus links to Dodona aren’t the greatest, so travelling to the site by either car or taxi are alternate options for anyone visiting from either Ioannina or the nearby coastal city of Igoumenitsa.

Parking is available outside the archaeological site.