Dion Archaeological Site in Northern Greece – Sacred City of Alexander the Great
Near the mountain village of Litochoro in Northern Greece, you can visit the Dion Archaeological Site where you can admire one of the most interesting inventions of the ancient Greeks: the ruins of the heating systems of the Greek bath houses and the Roman baths.
This fabulous Greek park in Dion, with views on Mount Olympus, green lush vegetation, ponds, statues of ancient gods, sanctuaries, and theaters, is pretty unknown, but definitely one of the most beautiful and most interesting archaeological sites in Greece.
Ancient Ruins – Hypocaust Systems at Dion Archaeological Site
Ancient Dion was the sacred city of the Kingdom of Macedonia. It was famous for its sanctuaries and Greek bath houses. Alexander the Great came to Dion to relax, to celebrate his victories and to worship the ancient Greek Olympian God Zeus.
The ancient Greeks had invented ingenious hypocaust systems that were used to heat the public baths. They were excavated in Dion and can be admired in the Dion archaeological park.
Another important historic site in Northern Greece worth to visit is the ancient city of Aigai and the Vergina Royal Tombs. Aigai was the first capital of the Kingdom of Macedonia. The father of Alexander the Great, King Philip II, is buried in one of the Vergina Tombs. Read more about this spectacular archaeological site it in our blog post >> Vergina Tombs.
Central Heating in Ancient Greece
Central heating means that a single heating source takes care of the heating of an entire building. Primitive central heating systems were already used in ancient Greece.
The Greeks discovered how to propel warm air under the floor of a building using a wood-fired oven and applied this technique in the Greek bath houses. Remains of these central heating systems have been found in Greece and other places where the Greeks had settled.
The Greek Gymnasia
In classical Greece these gymnasia were huge complexes. Not only did the athletes train here, it was also a place where the mind was cultivated and where intellectuals socialized. Next to sport facilities, a gymnasio had spaces where lectures were given by famous orators, philosophers and poets. The gymnasia also contained the famous Greek bath houses and massage rooms that later inspired the Romans to build the Roman baths.
Greek Colonists spread Greek Bath Houses
The Greeks, who had colonized southern Italy and Sicily (which was called “Magna Graecia”, which means “Great Greece”) brought the Romans into contact with the Greek bath houses.
In 146 BC the Romans defeated the Macedonians and settled in Greece. The Romans were fond of Greek knowledge and culture and they further developed the primitive heating system. That’s why we see everywhere in the former Roman Empire (from the British place Bath to Africa) examples of a central heating system called hypocaust which literally means “a fire that heats from the bottom”.
At first bathing in the Roman baths was a privilege of the elite. Later gigantic public baths arose where the common people could bathe. This meant a huge improvement in hygiene among the people.
Roman Baths built over Ancient Greek Baths at Dion Archaeological Site
Often, the Roman baths were built over the ancient Greek baths, so many of the Greek bath houses have been lost.
This is also what happened in the ancient city of Dion. Over the ancient Greek ruins of the sacred city of the Macedonians, a Roman city was built and ten Roman baths have been excavated that used the hypocaust system.
The facilities are, given their age, in relatively good condition and are very interesting, as are the many other monuments in this beautiful archaeological park in Greece, that is considered one of the most interesting archaeological sites in Greece.
For families with kids visiting Athens we created the blog post 50 Things to do in Athens with Kids with many inspiring and relaxing activities.
Sacred City of the Kingdom of Macedonia
Before the Romans built their baths over the Greek ones in Dion, Dion was the holy city of the Macedonians. Here, Alexander the Great and his father KingPhilip II offered sacrifices to the Greek Olympian Gods of the nearby Mount Olympus, celebrated victories and relaxed in the Greek bath houses after their military expeditions.
Luxurious Roman Baths
As said, the Greek baths of Dion have not survived history, but the Roman baths on the south side of Dion must have been very luxurious. There were swimming pools, saunas, massage rooms and hot and cold baths. The baths were paved with marble, the rooms had mosaic floors and were decorated with statues.
The baths played an important role in the social life of the inhabitants of the Roman Empire who spent many hours a day here to meet friends and to do business, attending concerts and lectures.
Slaves kept the fire burning
The Romans also used this heating system in their villas. That’s why the hypocaust system was used extensively in the Roman Empire.
Hollow spaces were created underneath the buildings, the floors of which were supported by pillars of about sixty centimeters height. Slaves kept the fire burning in an oven to produce the warm air that could move through these underfloor rooms and double walls, so that the upstairs rooms were heated.
It was a labor-intensive method and cost a lot of wood, which is why central heating was not reserved for the common people. They had to do it with more traditional heating methods.
Roman Architect Vitruvius
Although the Greeks invented the hypocaust system it was probably reintroduced by the Roman Sergius Orata, an oyster farmer from Campania who later became a developer of luxury villas.
The Roman architect Vitruvius explains the hypocaust system in detail in his book “De Architectura”. He also explains how the rooms should be built for the most efficient use of the fuel.
He wrote this book around 25 BC as a guide for Emperor Caesar Augustus and it is one of the most important books on Roman construction methods.
Central heating, even underfloor heating, was therefore already applied by the Greeks and Romans. Then it fell into oblivion until the beginning of industrialization.
Opening hours Dion Archaeological Site
If you want to be absolutely sure about the opening hours, contact the museum or the Dion archaeological site. Phone numbers are below.
Winter hours: 1 November – 31 March
Dion Archaeological Site: Daily 08:00 – 15:00
Dion Museum : Tuesday – Sunday 08:30 – 15:00 (closed on Mondays)
Summer hours: 1 April – 31 October
Dion Archaeological Site: Daily 08:00 – 19.00
Dion Museum : Tuesday – Sunday 08:30 – 15:00 (closed on Mondays)
Phone Archaeological Site: +30 23510 53484
Phone Dion Museum: +30 23510 53206