Long-lost temple of Dionysus may lie in Bulgaria

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The Independent Online

An epic of archeological excavation in the mountains of southern Bulgaria may prove to be the Sanctuary of Dionysus, a long-lost Greek temple that was of huge importance to the ancient world, many scholars believe.

Perperikon, in the Rhodope mountains, located along Bulgaria's border with Greece, is a vast complex of ruins that for many centuries was clearly a popular centre of pilgrimage and worship.

It is only slowly yielding its secrets, but the head of the archaeology team at the site, Nikolao Ovtcharov, says: "Since we began our research [three years ago], archeological evidence that we may have found Dionysus's Sanctuary has mounted."

A son of Zeus, Dionysus was the god of luxuriant fertility as symbolised by the vine, and the death in winter and rebirth in spring of the vine was marked by wild, orgiastic ceremonies. At Perperikon, thousands of wine presses were cut into the rock linked by stone canals, carrying the sacred juice that the frenzied worshippers used in their infamously wild rites.

The Roman historian Suetonius described "the Holy Mountain of Dionysus", where Octavian, father of Augustus (later to become Roman Emperor) was told by the oracle that "his son was to rule the world, for as the wine was spilt on to the altar, the smoke rose up above the top of the shrine and even unto the heavens". A similar effect was observed when Alexander the Great came to call.

But Professor Ovtcharov is hedging his bets. "This hypothesis will only be proved if we find a document that supports it," he said.

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