The Heraion of Samos was a large sanctuary to the goddess Hera, in the southern region of Samos, Greece, 6 km southwest of the ancient city, in a low, marshy river basin near the sea. The Late Archaic Heraion of Samos was the first of the gigantic free-standing Ionic temples, but its predecessors at this site reached back to the Geometric Period of the 8th century BC, or earlier. The site of temple's ruins, with its sole standing column, was designated a joint UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the nearby Pythagoreion in 1992.
The core myth at the heart of the cult of Hera at Samos is that of her birth. According to the local tradition, the goddess was born under a lygos tree (Vitex agnus-castus, the "chaste-tree"). At the annual Samian festival called the Toneia, the "binding", the cult image of Hera was ceremonially bound with lygos branches. The tree still featured on the coinage of Samos in Roman times. Many construction phases are known, identified in part through fragments of roof tiles, the first phase dating to the 8th century BC.
The first temple, the Hekatompedos, was roughly 100 feet (30 m) long and narrow; it consisted of three walls and an interior central line of columns to support a roof structure. A much larger temple was built by the architects Rhoikos and Theodoros ca. 570-550 BC. The temple stood opposite the cult altar of Hera in her walled and gated temenos. It was a dipteral temple, that is with a portico of columns two deep, which surrounded it entirely (peripteral). It had a deep square-roofed pronaos in front of a closed cella.
The Heraion served as a quarry through Byzantine times, so that it was eventually dismantled to the very foundations. Little information has survived in literary sources. Pausanias missed Samos in his Periegesis of Greece. Scattered mentions by Herodotus do not provide a satisfactory substitute. With the exception of the open-air altar and the great temple no other feature of the temenos is mentioned in a classical source.
The first Westerner to visit the site was Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, commissioned by Louis XIV to travel in the East and report his findings. Tournefort visited Samos in 1704, and published his drawings of the ruins as engravings. Massive siltation deposits obscured, yet protected the site from amateur tinkering in the 18th and 19th centuries. Reedbeds and thorny brakes of blackberry canes provided daunting cover, and the water table, risen since Antiquity, discouraged trench-digging at the same time that it preserved wooden materials in anoxic strata.
Thus the first preliminary archaeological excavations were delayed until 1890-92, under the direction of P. Kavvadias and Th. Sophoulis, from Athens, and the full extent of the third temple's foundations were not revealed until Theodor Wiegand's campaign of 1910-14. Rubble demonstrated that there had been a previous temple.