The archaeological site of Vravrona (Βραβρώνα) Brauron (Βραυρών) is situated on the east coast of Attica, close to the Athens International Airport and 40 km from the center of Athens. It is located in a small valley formed by the river Erasinos. The estuary of Erasinos forms a wetland, which hosts a good variety of birds. The archaeological site is small but one of the most beautiful in the country. The visit can be short, making it a perfect day out for Athenians and visitors, who have a turnover at the airport. The Archaeological Museum of Brauron — located around a small hill 330 m to the ESE — contains an extensive and important collection of finds from the site throughout its period of use. It was renovated in 2009, and the exhibits were rearranged.
Visitors may buy tickets (valid for both the site and the museum) (Full: €6, Reduced: €3) either in the museum building or at the little kiosk at the archaeological site entrance.
Gary Corby's (an Australian author of historical mysteries set in the world of Classical Greece) mystery novel "The Marathon Conspiracy" is mainly set at the Brauron shrine.
Vravrona was one of the twelve cities of ancient Attica, which all later unified with Athens. Brauron is celebrated on account of the worship of Artemis Brauronia, in whose honor a festival was celebrated in this place. The cult of Artemis Brauronia connected the coastal (rural) sanctuary at Brauron with another (urban) sanctuary on the Acropolis in Athens, the Brauroneion, from which there was a procession every four years during the Arkteia festival. The tyrant Pisistratus was Brauronian by birth, and he is credited with transferring the cult to the Acropolis, thus establishing it on the statewide rather than local level. The sanctuary contained a small temple of Artemis, a unique stone bridge, cave shrines, a sacred spring, and a Π-shaped stoa that included dining rooms for ritual feasting. The unfortified site continued in use until tensions between the Athenians and the Macedonians in the 3rd century BCE caused it to be abandoned. After that time, no archaeologically significant activity occurred until the erection of a chapel dedicated to Saint George in the 15th century CE. A Christian basilica was built in the 6th century CE on the other side of the Erasimos valley using spoilage from the sanctuary.
As the Greek fleet was preparing to sail to Troy to force the return of Helen, they gathered in Aulis near the Euripus Strait. While there, king Agamemnon killed a stag sacred to the goddess Artemis. The enraged deity caused a contrary wind and eventually forced the king to agree to sacrifice his daughter Iphigeneia to ensure a favorable wind for the Greek fleet. In one version of the myth, a surrogate sacrifice was provided through the divine intervention of Artemis, and the saved girl then became a priestess of the goddess among the Tauri, a people living near the Black Sea in the Crimean Peninsula. After these events, Iphigenia returns from among the Tauri with the assistance of her brother Orestes. In Euripides' version of the myth ("Iphigeneia in Tauris"), the goddess Athena reveals that Iphigenia will make landfall in Brauron and there be the priestess of Artemis, die, and be buried.
ATHENA: And Orestes, learn well my commands – for you hear the voice of the goddess although you are not present – set forth taking the (sacred) image and your sister, and when you reach god-built Athens, there is a place on the outermost borders of Attica, a neighbor of the Karustia ridge, sacred, and my people name it Halai. Build a temple there and set up the wooden image – called for the Tauric land and for your struggles, which you endured wandering through Greece due to the goads of the Furies. And in the future, mortals shall sing hymns to the goddess Artemis Tauropolos. And set up this law: whenever the people keep the festival as a payment of your sacrifice, hold a sword at a man's throat and draw blood, so that by this the goddess may have her divine honors. And you, Iphigenia, beside the holy stairs of Brauron you must hold the keys for the goddess herself: where you will die and be buried, and – as a delight for you – they will dedicate the finely woven material of woven cloth which by chance women having lost their lives in childbirth abandon in their homes. I command you to send forth these Greek women from this land due to their correct intentions. Euripides, "Iphigeneia in Tauris" ( Ἰφιγένεια ἐν Ταύροις) 1446–1468.
Cult of Artemis Brauronia
The Arkteia festival was celebrated every four years and involved a procession from the shrine of Artemis Brauronia on the acropolis of Athens. At the isolated sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron, young Athenian girls approaching marriageable age formed groups consecrated for a time to Artemis as arktoi (άρκτοι-she-bears). They spent their time in sacred dances, wearing honey-colored saffron robes, running races, and making sacrifices. Vase paintings show that cultic nudity was an element in these preparations for womanhood. An epigram in the "Anthologia Graeca" concerns the offerings of childish playthings a nubile young girl dedicates to Artemis on the eve of marriage; many such tokens have been recovered from the spring at Brauron. There may have been joint worship of Iphegenia associated with a cult site or heroon that may have been located in the "cave" between the face of the rock spur and the fallen rock. The goddess Artemis was a danger to be appeased by women during childbirth and of the newborn: to her were dedicated the clothes of women who had successfully borne a child. The garments of women who died in childbirth were dedicated to Iphigeneia at Brauron.
The Archaeological Site
Temple of Artemis
The first known temple at the sanctuary - dating to the late 6th century BCE - rests on a low rock spur south of the river and is aligned toward the east on a foundation measuring c. 11 by 20 m. Little is preserved beyond partial lower courses and cuttings in the bedrock for the same. A few remains of the architecture allow a specific identification of the temple as being of the Doric order. The Persians destroyed the sanctuary structures in 480 BCE and took the cult statue back to Susa. The temple was reconstructed in the 420s BCE. Although the temple is poorly preserved, it can be rebuilt to have had four columns in the cella (naos) and an adyton (innermost chamber of the temple) at the rear of the cella. The presence of an adyton is asserted for the temple of Artemis at Loutsa (Artemida), 6.1 km to the north, and the temple of Artemis at Aulis 67 km northwest. This feature may also be shared by the 6th century BCE Temple of Aphaea on Aigina. Most probably, the shared characteristic of an adyton was a typical, regional practice in the cult of Artemis. There is disagreement on whether the temple has been hexastyle-prostyle (6 columns across the front only) or distyle in antis (2 columns between projecting walls) in the plan. There is a stepped retaining wall on the northern side of the temple platform.
The Doric stoa wrapped around three sides of a central courtyard (20 by 27 m) and faced south toward the temple of Artemis. The foundations extend to the west wing for 38 m, the north wing for 48 m, and the east for 63 m. Only the north colonnade of the stoa (11 columns) and one column of each of the two wings are standing today. Behind the colonnade, there was a passageway containing many votive stelae (some with votive statues of children at top) and doorways into nine roughly square rooms (c. 5.5 by 5.5 m) on the north and west sides of the structure.
These doorways were off-center relative to the rooms, each of which had raised platforms extending from all sides. Many cuttings (some still containing lead) are on these platforms designed to hold dining couches — eleven couches for each dining room. Some of the rooms preserve small stone tables situated in front of the location of the couches. These structures are among the most paradigmatic examples of Greek dining rooms known. The walls of these rooms were constructed of a single course of massive limestone ashlar blocks that have no cuttings on their upper surfaces. The walls were thus completed in mud brick to the level of the roof. On the western side of the stoa, there was an entrance with wheel ruts worn into the stone floor and in line with the Classical bridge.
The stoa was built of local limestone covered in marble stucco, except for the Doric capitals, the metopes, the lintels, and the thresholds produced from marble. A highly atypical feature of this design was the use of two triglyphs in the inter-columnar interval instead of the typical single triglyph. This was done to lower the total height of the entablature while allowing the metopes to remain square in form. In addition, the returning angles of the frieze demanded the architectural accommodation of corner expansion (as opposed to the corner contraction seen on many temples) to harmonize the intervals of the triglyphs, which could not be placed dead center over the corner column.
Immediately north of the stoa and sharing a common wall was a structure of unknown function with elaborate entrances on both west and east sides. Its long axis measured 48m (equivalent to the stoa) and was c. 11 m wide. Along the northern wall of this structure, there was a series of slotted bases for narrow (perhaps wooden) planks; these planks are hypothesized to have held the garments dedicated to Iphegenia, as discussed by Euripides in his drama "Ιφιγένεια ἐν Ταύροις".
This stone bridge is the only known example of a Classical period bridge in Greece. It uses the standard post and lintel construction of its time rather than arches as later bridges do. It measured c. 9 m wide with a span of c. 8 m that consisted of four rows of lintel blocks resting on five rows of posts (the two endpoints and three intermediate supports). Wheel ruts are cut into the bridge's stones at an oblique angle toward a simple entrance on the west side of the stoa; these cuttings do not go toward the elaborate propylon (monumental entranceway) of the structure north of the stoa as might seem more likely.
A spring emerged from the northwest end of the rock spur running down from the acropolis hill to the site's southeast. This spring was the focus of cult activity from the 8th century BCE forward. The first activity on the area known after the Bronze Age is thus linked to cultic practice at this spring. Dedications were made by throwing objects into this sacred spring, located immediately northwest of the later temple platform.
About 12m southeast of the Temple of Artemis, a small shrine (Μικρον ιερον) of c, and 5.5 by 8 m was built into the space between the face of the rock spur and a mass of fallen rock measuring 25 m in length. The c. 6 m wide space between the front of the rock spur and the fallen rock is densely packed with structural remains of uncertain function. This area has been associated with the propitiation of Iphigenia, perhaps in the form of a heroon. Some of these structures were probably in place before the rockfall. It is possible that the small shrine replaced a cult site (perhaps for Iphigenia) destroyed by the collapse of the rock overhang under which it was built. The area between the face of the rock spur and the fallen rock has been termed a “cave” in some publications. There is another cave higher on the rock, approximately over the entrance to the archaeological site. This was converted into a makeshift chapel of St. George, possibly several centuries ago.
The Archaeological Museum
The Archaeological Museum of Vravrona and a vestibule.
In the vestibule is presented the history of the excavations in the sanctuary of Artemis in Vravrona (1948–1963) and the works for the restoration of the Stoa, the largest and best-preserved building that came to light.
In Room 1 are displayed the settlements, which were organized in the broader area of Vravrona from prehistoric times until the formation of the ancient municipality of Philaides (Δήμος Φιλαϊδών), whose religious center was the sanctuary of Artemis. The settlements in Pousi-Kalogeri (Πούσι-Καλογέρι), Pyrgos (Πύργος Βραυρώνας), the coastal hill of Vravrona and the Mycenaean cemetery on Lapoutsi (Λαπούτσι) hill give a complete picture of the prehistoric era from the end of the Neolithic Age to the Late Bronze Age. From the municipality of Philaides are exhibited findings from the small archaic sanctuary on the hill of Agios Dimitrios and the cemeteries of Kapsala and Karabamba (Καψάλα & Καράμπαμπα). In the same room are presented the monuments of the sanctuary of Vravrona. Finds are also exhibited from monuments of the wider area, the early Christian basilica, the medieval Tower of Vravrona, and the neighboring sanctuaries of the ancient municipality of Alon Arafinides (Temple of Artemis Tavropolos and a small beach sanctuary in Artemida).
In Room 2 are displayed findings on the founding of the sanctuary of Artemis, the worship services in honor of the goddess, and the qualities with which Artemis is projected in Vravrona. The most important exhibits are: The marble "Relief of the Gods" (which depicts the myth of the foundation of the sanctuary), votive reliefs of the 5th and 4th BC. with processions of families preparing to make a sacrifice, marble edges from worship statues of Artemis (which according to the inscriptions wear real clothes); and tiny craters (ritual vessels associated with the worship of Artemis). Also on display are clay votive tablets, clay figurines, and vases depicting Artemis with her various qualities as Artemis-Hecate, Tauropolos (riding a Bull), Hunter, and as a Protector of Animals.
In Room 3 are displayed the numerous statues of little boys and girls, as Artemis was the patron goddess of childbirth and children. The parents dedicated the statuettes to please or ask the goddess to protect their children. The toys (fish vertebrae, ankles, dice, small vessels, planks) were children's tributes to the goddess.
Room 4 presents tributes/personal items from women to the goddess on the occasion of their marriage or the birth of their children: caskets intended for the storage of cosmetics and jewelry, perfume containers, jewelry, and bronze mirrors. Artifacts related to the quality of Artemis as the patron saint of handicrafts and weaving and as the protector of women, marriage, and family life, are also shown.
The unique wooden votive offerings from the Sanctuary of Vravrona have a special place: figurines, vases, and pieces of furniture.
In the center of the same room dominates the large marble cylindrical altar (end of the 4th c. BC), which depicts the reception of Dionysus as a guest god in the sanctuary of Brauronia Artemis.
The penultimate showcase of room 4 includes paintings, banquet vessels (jugs, craters, goblets), and lamps, most of which were used to light the sanctuary. In contrast, others were probably offered as votive offerings. The last section of room 4 includes many female figurines dedicated to the goddess: archaic planks, "tanagreias", and anthropomorphic clay vessels.
Room 5 is dedicated to the history of the ancient municipalities and regions of the area (Μεσογαία): tombstones and finds from Paiania (Παιανία), antiquities of prehistoric and historical times from the area of Koropi (Κορωπί) and the ancient municipalities of Lamptres (Λάμπτρες) and Ois (Όη), representative exhibits from ancient Myrrinountas (Μυρρινούντας, today's Merenda Markopoulou), from the late Mycenaean cemetery of Perati (Περατή) in Porto Rafti (Πόρτο Ραφτη) and the geometric cemetery of Ag. Panteleimon of Anavyssos (Ανάβυσσος).
Beyond the Archaeological Site
Vravrona Signal Tower
The tower was within optical range of other similar buildings used to signal smoke during the day and fire during the night. Messages could be relayed very quickly, and it is said that an announcement could be transferred from the shores of Asia to the shores of Europe within an hour. The towers of Vravrona and Liada were also used to signal the appearance of pirates to the residents of the region. Local lore suggests that the tower was of Venetian origin (between 1394 and 1405). Still, archeological investigations show that it was probably built by the Burgundian Dukes De La Roche (1204–1311) at least one hundred years earlier.