Ancient Greeks turned to mystery cults when seeking greater meaning in their lives and, in the case of Samothrace, protection at sea. Initiates kept the rituals of initiation secret, but we can gain some idea of the experience by following their path.

Prospective initiates entered the sanctuary at night, passing through a grand gatehouse that divided secular from sacred space. They then descended a plunging ramp that crossed a deep ravine to arrive at the Theatral Circle, where they were made ready for the rites of initiation that would take place in the valley below.

After undergoing preliminary rituals in the Theatral Circle, initiates proceeded to the heart of the sanctuary by descending the steep Sacred Way. They would first catch a glimpse of the great Rotunda of Arsinoe on the right, and then the slender Ionic columns of the Hall of Choral Dancers, so named for its elegant frieze of dancing women. This marble building, the earliest monumental structure in the sanctuary, had two deep chambers and interior installations for both sacrifice and liquid offerings to the gods. Behind these closed doors, the rites of initiation unfolded.

Read This Next

Battle to control America’s ‘most destructive’ species: feral pigs

How coffee can help forests grow faster

The forgotten fossil hunter who transformed Britain’s Jurassic Coast

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet