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Nekromanteion of Acheron

Necromanteio of AcheronThe most famous nekromanteion (or nekyomanteion), or oracle of the dead, of the ancient Greek world lies near the northwest shores of the Acherousian Lake, where Acheron and Kokytos, the rivers of Hades, meet. Ancient literary sources describe the Acherousian Lake as the place where the dead began their descent to Hades, and associate Ephyra, the Epirote city located further north, with the ancient cult of the god of death. The nekromanteion attracted people wishing to meet the souls of the dead, as these were able to foresee the future after having left their body. Homer provides the earliest reference to the nekromanteion of Acheron in his Odyssey, when Circe advises Ulysses to meet Teiresias, the blind seer, in the underworld in order to get an oracle for his return to Ithaka (k, 488, etc). Homer also gives a vivid account of the mortal Odysseus's descent to Hades (l, 24, et.c.). The resemblance between the setting described by Homer and the site of the nekromanteion is astonishing, a fact also noted almost one thousand years later by Pausanias, who argues that Homer had visited this area (1.17.5). Other Greek heroes also attempted the descent into Hades: Orpheus seeking to bring back his beloved Eurydice, Hercules in his search for Cerberus, the tree-headed dog guarding the exit from Hades, whom King Eristheas had asked for, and Theseus with Peirithos in order to seize Persephone.

Three Mycenaean children's graves (fourteenth-thirteenth centuries BC) with a small number of grave gifts are the earliest traces of activity on the hill, where the nekromanteion was established. Pottery sherds and fragments of terracotta figurines from the west foot of the hill dating up to the mid-seventh century BC indicate that a sanctuary dedicated to the Earth goddess was later founded in this area. The remains of the actual nekromanteion date from the Hellenistic period. These comprise the sanctuary's main building, erected in the early Hellenistic period (late fourth-early third century BC), and an annex of the late third century BC, which consisted of a central courtyard surrounded by rooms and warehouses. The sanctuary operated in this form continuously for approximately two centuries, but was burnt down and ceased to function after the Roman conquest of Macedonia in 167 BC. The sanctuary's courtyard was occupied once again in the first century, when Roman settlers arrived in the plain of Acheron. The convent of Agios Ioannis Prodromos and its cemetery were established over the ancient ruins in the early eighteenth century.

Excavated in 1958-1964 and 1976-1977 by the Archaeological Society at Athens, the nekromanteion of Acheron was the first sanctuary and oracle of the gods of the underworld to be brought to light.

The nekromanteion of Acheron was built on a hilltop specially flattened for this purpose. A rectangular enclosure in polygonal masonry, entered from the north, surrounds a square building, the main temple, which two parallel walls divide into a central hall and two side aisles. Underneath the central hall is a rock-hewn subterranean room, the dark palace of Persephone and Hades, whose ceiling was supported by fifteen poros arches. Archaeological evidence dates the temple to the early Hellenistic period (late fourth-third century BC). A group of rooms and warehouses surrounding a central court was added to the original building in the late third century BC, during a second building phase. The new annex was used for lodging priests and visitors.

Architecturaly the building resembles a mausoleum, or grandiose funerary monument, like those built for various monarchs in Asia Minor and the East in the late fifth century BC (e.g. the monument of Mausolus at Alikarnassus). Made of excellent polygonal masonry, it had iron-clad gates and was divided internally into corridors, adapted to the chthonic cults and their rituals. During these rituals, the followers entered a dark hallway and were led by the priest to the appropriate preparation chambers, where they fasted and underwent catharsis, before performing a sacrifice. They then entered a large dark hall, where they met the souls of the dead.

Hundreds of vases containing offerings, lamps, and smaller vases, often decorated in the Athenian West Slope style, were discovered during excavations. Millstones, sea-shells, farming and construction tools, and figurines of Persephone and Cerberus were stored in the warehouses.

Administrative Information




Official Unit:
33th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities

Mesopotamos (Prefecture of Preveza)

Telephone: +30 26840 41.206, 26510-25.490, 35.498, 39.348, 35.371






Tickets
Full: €2, Reduced: €1
Free admission days
Sundays in the period between 1 November and 31 March
The first Sunday of every month, except for July, August and September (when the first Sunday is holiday, then the second is the free admission day.)
27 September, International Tourism Day
Free admission for:
University students from Greece and the E.U.




Open

Winter:
From 01.11.2007 to 31.03.2008
08:30-15:00
Single duty

Summer:
Daily: 08:30 - 15:00

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