Raise a glass to the city of Dion on the Eastern slopes of Mount Olympus, considered by the ancient Greeks a divine location, where Zeus held sway.
And while we’re at it, raise a glass to Zeus’ son, Dionysus the god of fertility and theater, and most famously, wine:
…hail to you, Dionysus, god of abundant clusters! Grant that we may come again rejoicing to this season, and from that season onwards for many a year. — The Homeric hymn to Dionysus
In the summer of 1987, archaeologists working at an excavation site near the modern village of Dion unearthed a mosaic of thousands of stone tessarae depictng “ivy-crowned Dionysus, the loud-crying god, splendid son of Zeus and glorious Semele,” raising a drinking horn as he rides nude in a chariot pulled by sea panthers.
1800 some years earlier, it had adorned the floor of a sumptuous villa’s banquet hall.
The villa was destroyed by fire, possibly as the result of an earthquake, but a layer of rich Dion mud preserved the mosaic in astonishing condition for nearly two millennia.
A roof was erected over the rediscovered mural, with a footbridge on the perimeter affording the public excellent views for over twenty years.
Exposure to the elements inevitably started taking a toll, with individual tiles melting into the earth and plants springing up in the cracks.
Using funds from the Onassis Foundation, the mosaic was rehabilitated and relocated to a specially designed, environmentally-secure building.
The Onassis Foundation’s narration-free video above provides a peek at the process, reducing what must, at times, have been a supremely nerve-wracking 2‑year endeavor to a pleasant seven-minute meditation, punctuated by birdsong and calm, coordinated group effort.
For those who prefer a more specific blow by blow, Rion Nakaya’s The Kid Should See This breaks down the conservation team’s efforts to divide the mural along a grid using drills, flat steel blades, and adhesive fabric, before sandwiching the sections between steel and wooden plates for transport to their new home.
(We found the moment when the protective fabric is steamed away to be a particularly harrowing thrill. )
Those who’d like to explore Dion’s treasures in depth might enjoy Onassis Foundation’s exhibition catalogue Gods and Mortals at Olympus: Ancient Dion, City of Zeus, edited by the late archeologist Dimitrios Pandermalis, below.
- Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.