Raise a glass to the city of Dion on the eastern slopes of Mount Olympus, considered by the ancient Greeks to be the divine place where Zeus ruled.
And while we’re at it, raise a glass to Zeus’ son, Dionysus, god of fertility and theatre, and most famously, wine:
…hail to you, Dionysus, god of abundant clusters! Grant that we may again rejoice in this season and from this season for many years to come. – Homeric hymn to Dionysus
In the summer of 1987, archaeologists excavating near the modern village of Dion uncovered a mosaic of thousands of stone tessars depicting “Ivy-crowned Dionysus, the loud-weeping god, the beautiful son of Zeus and the famous Semele”, holding up a drinking horn as he rides naked in a chariot drawn by sea panthers.
A few years ago, she decorated the floor of a luxurious villa’s banquet hall.
The villa was destroyed by fire, probably due to an earthquake, but a layer of rich Diosian mud preserved the mosaic in amazing condition for almost two millennia.
A roof with a footbridge around the perimeter was built over the rediscovered mural, providing excellent views to the public for over twenty years.
Exposure to the elements inevitably began to take its toll, with individual tiles melting into the ground and plants growing in the joints.
With funding from the Onassis Foundation, the mosaic was rehabilitated and relocated to a specially designed, environmentally sound building.
The Onassis Foundation’s non-narrative video above provides insight into the process, reducing what at times must have been a most nerve-wracking two-year effort to a pleasant seven-minute meditation punctuated by birdsong and a calm, coordinated group effort. .
For those who prefer a more specific blow-by-blow, Rion Nakaya’s A child should see it breaks the efforts of the conservation team to split the mural along the grid using drills, flat steel blades and adhesive cloth, before the sections are sandwiched between steel and wooden boards for transport to their new home.
(We found the moment the protective substance is vaporized to be a particularly harrowing thrill.)
Those who would like to explore Dion’s treasures in depth might like the Onassis Foundation exhibition catalog Gods and Mortals on Olympus: Ancient Dion, City of Zeusedited by the late archaeologist Dimitrios Pandermalis, below.
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– Ayun Halliday is the chief primatologist East Village Incas zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and A creative, not famous, activity book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.