The small island of the Ionian, famous all over the world due to king Odysseus, is still a witness to the history of the Homeric hero who made Ithaca a symbol of hospitality. Monuments from the Mycenaean era, where both Homeric epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, the walls of the ancient cities of the island, ancient fountains and springs, sites with clear references to Homer’s narrative, make visitors even after a simple walk on the island, to feel that they are walking in the footsteps of the rich king of Ithaca.
Besides visiting the archaeological sites, toponyms, and the two archaeological museums of the island, the most observant visitors will notice that even the names of the locals have references to Homer’s great epic: Nowhere else will you find so many ‘Odysseus’, ‘Penelope’, ‘Telemachus’ or even ‘Laertis’ and ‘Erikleia’!
The statue of Odysseus
He will welcome you on the island, as it adorns the central square, at the port of Ithaca. The statue is double-sided: on the one hand, a young and strong Odysseus looks at the sea and what the future holds for him. On the other side, an old and tired Odysseus pulls a heavy paddle on the difficult return to Ithaca. The statue is work of the sculptor Korina Kassianou who is from Ithaca and took the job after she submitted her plans to the Municipality of Ithaca. The composition renders the Homeric hero to a maximum degree and impresses the visitors, who are rushing to be photographed with it. The face and body of the rich king of Ithaca attribute important elements of his character: harsh, relentless and persistent.
If you are in north Ithaca then your first contact with Odysseus will be in the small park in the center of Stavros, the biggest village of the region. The bust of Odysseus is in the middle of the park where imperious and grim he watches today unfolding in front of him. On the front of the bust there is the inscription «ΕΥΧΗΝ ΟΔΥΣΣΕΙ» which means ‘Prayer to Odysseus’. The inscription was found on a pottery fragment which was found during the excavations in the Loizos cave. It was part of a female bust (2nd – 1st century BC) and it is one the most important findings since it shows that Odysseus was worshiped as a god for many years. During your walk in the park, you can see the two major maps showing the travels of the Homeric hero until his return to homeland, as well as the archaeological sites that can be visited today in Ithaca, in correspondence with Homer’s narrative. Finally, do not forget to look at the architectural representation of Odysseus’ palace. Archaeological finds and Homer’s descriptions in the epic of the Odyssey led the Italian architect Bruno Mazzali to create an impressive mock-up of the palace of the famous King. The market, the throne room, the royal apartments, the queen’s dormitories, the workshops as well as the outer walls and gates of the palace are all very clearly distinguished in the impressive work. According to archaeological research, Odysseus’ palace was located near Stavros, in the “Homer School” location: In the area today one can see its ruins and easily match it with the construction of the Italian architect.
Agios Athanasios – Homer’s School
It is the most important archaeological site of Ithaca, as the latest scientific reports indicate that the palace of Odysseus was in Agios Athanasios. The site was systematically excavated from the University of Ioannina until recently and today the visitor can see the ancient walls and ruins of buildings, floors and structures of the Mycenaean period, according to the researchers.
Cave of the Nymphs
It is also called Marmarospilia and it is identified as the Homeric Cave of the Nymphs, as the findings of archaeological research convey that there was worship of the Nymphs taking place in the cave. Moreover the shape and location of the cave correspond to Homer’s description: It is located at an altitude of 190 meters above the bay of Dexa (the Homeric port of Forkina), where the Faiakes left the sleeping Odysseus after his long return to home. According to Homer, the hero hid the gifts of king Alkinoos, not wanting to be first presented with his true identity, after twenty years of absence.
Pilikata is the hill north of the village of Stavros. Archaeological excavations at the site indicate that the city was the city of Odysseus’ time, as signs of occupation date back to the Early Helladic period, and according to Homer the palace of Odysseus was at a spot that had three seas and surrounded by three Mountains – the description fits in the area, at the boundary of which is the location of Agios Athanasios, where the palace of Odysseus is located.
Loizos Cave ss located at one end of the bay of Polis, in northern Ithaca. As it was a religious center of the Mycenaeans, excavations unearthed artifacts that are now exhibited in the Archaeological Collection of north Ithaca. Among them the bronze tripods stand out and they were used during the religious rituals. Another important find was a pottery fragment with the inscription «ΕΥΧΗΝ ΟΔΥΣΣΕΙ» which means ‘Prayer to Odysseus’ insuggesting that Odysseus was a real person.
A spring of fresh water, in the middle of the slope of the steep cliff below the plateau of Marathia in southern Ithaca is the Arethousa Krini. This is Homer’s name, while the locals also call it “Pera Pigadi”. It is essentially a well with an opening in the rock. Homer refers to it as one of the water springs in Ithaca, the kingdom of Odysseus. The Odyssey also mentions that Arethoussa was killed at this point when she learned that Korakas, her son, was killed a little further. According to mythology, Arethousa was a nymph of springs and forests, a companion of goddess Artemis and daughter of Nireas and Doris.
Ithaca Archaeological Museum
The museum is located in Vathi, behind the beach, in the region of Metropolis. It hosts items from the excavations in the southern part of the island, from the Geometric Era to the Roman Years. More than 1000 intact vases, small objects dedicated to Apollo’s temple in the area of Piso Aetos, and a small bronze bust of Odysseus are among the objects exhibited in the showcases.
Among the most important exhibits is a ring-shaped vase with angular walls, decorated with thin strips on the sides of the ring, triangles on the neck and metopes with a cross on the handle dating back to the late geometric period, the votive inscription mentioning Athena and Hera found in the Cave of the Nymphs, dating back to the late Archaic period and a number of geometric pots.
Archaeological Collection of North Ithaca
It is located in the village of Stavros, in north Ithaca, in the area of Pilikata, near the site where excavations of the Early Helladic settlement took place. It houses findings from all the excavations that have taken place in northern Ithaca from the early 20th century to the present day, dating from the Proto-Helladic to the Roman period. Most of them come from the excavations in Loizos Cave and Pilikata from the English Archaeological School of Athens. The most important find is a fragment from a female pottery bust of the 2nd century BC with the inscription «ΕΥΧΗΝ ΟΔΥΣΣΕΙ» which was found in Loizos Cave.