Said to be the oldest in Greece, the Dodona oracle flourished from at least the 8th century BC until the 4th century AD, when Christianity succeeded the cult of Zeus. Homer, in the Iliad, mentions "wintry Dodona," where Zeus's pronouncements, made known through the wind-rustled leaves of a sacred oak, were interpreted by priests "whose feet are unwashed and who sleep on the ground." The oak tree was central to the cult, and its image appears on the region's ancient coins. Here Odysseus sought forgiveness for slaughtering his wife's suitors, and from this oak the Argonauts took the sacred branch to mount on their ship's prow. According to one story, Apollo ordered the oracle moved here from Thessaly; Herodotus writes that it was locally believed a dove from Thebes in Egypt landed in the oak and announced, in a human voice, that the oracle of Zeus should be built.
As you enter the archaeological site of Dodona, you pass the stadium on your right, built for the Naïa games and completely overshadowed by the theater on your left. One of the largest and best preserved on the Greek mainland, the theater once seated 17,000; it is used for summer presentations of ancient Greek drama. Its building in the early 3rd century BC was overseen by King Pyrrhus of Epirus. The theater was destroyed, rebuilt under Philip V of Macedon in the late 3rd century, and then converted by the Romans into an arena for gladiatorial games. Its retaining wall, reinforced by bastions, is still standing. East of the theater are the foundations of the bouleuterion (headquarters and council house) of the Epirote League, built by Pyrrhus, and a small rectangular temple dedicated to Aphrodite. The remains of the acropolis behind the theater include house foundations and a cistern that supplied water in times of siege.
The remains of the sanctuary of Zeus Naios include temples to Zeus, Dione (goddess of abundance), and Heracles; until the 4th century BC there was no temple. The Sacred Oak was here, surrounded by abutting cauldrons on bronze tripods. When struck, they reverberated for a long time, and the sound was interpreted by soothsayers.
Two buses leave daily (except Thursday) from Ioannina's Bizaniou Station, one at 7 am and the other at 4 pm. The most efficient way to get here from Ioannina is with a rented car or a taxi; the driver will wait an hour at the site. Negotiate with one of the drivers near Ioannina's clock tower or ask your hotel to call a radio taxi service. Hours may be reduced from October to May.