The interest to find ancient Dodona was mainly due to references to the site from Aeschylus, Sophocles, Plato, Pindarus, Homer, Hesiod and others, as due to legends of tradition. The epic poems of Homer is the oldest reference to Dodona, where at first the Gaea (goddess of the earth) was worshipped (3.000 BC). The sacred bull that made the earth fertile was sacrificed to honour her. The Selloi (a Thesprotian tribe), who lived in Ellopia, brought to Dodona the cult of Zeus and the sacred oak tree (1900 – 1400 BC).
The first buildings were built in the 4th century BC, for example the temple of Zeus (some outbuildings were built in various periods until the 2nd century BC). In the 3rd century BC king Pyrros built the theatre, one of the biggest in Greece with 18.000 seats. He also established the cult of Molossoi (the Olympian gods), the ‘Naia celebrations and gymnic games every four years.
All the buildings suffered subsequent disasters: by the Aetolians in 219 BC (king of Macedonia Philip II rebuild them), by the Romans under Aemilius Paulus in 167 BC (Augustus restored the damages and used the theatre as an arena). In 391, on Theodosius the Great, the sacred oak tree was cut, the oracle ceased to run and two Christian basilicas were built. New disasters followed and finally the inhabitants abandoned Dodona.
Starting from 1875, excavations began in the area between Manoliassa and Mt. Olitsika (Tomaros), 22 km southwest of Ioannina. The temple of Zeus (the ‘Sacred House’) revealed with finds that date until the Bronze Age. Prehistoric pottery, arms, brooches, coins, necklaces, inscriptions, statues were the first finds now exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
In the 1950’s systematic excavations were carried out and the theatre and other finds (pottery, statues, coins, now exhibited in the Archaeological museum of Ioannina) came to light. The theatre and the stadium were restored at the same time.