Monday, March 24, 2014

Kourion Archaeological Site

Kourion Archaeological Site is located near Episkopi Village, about 19 km west of the city of Limassol, within the Limassol district of Cyprus.  It's considered one of the most impressive archaeological sites on the island.

Kourion, also known as Curium, was once an important city-kingdom in Cyprus.  According to tradition, it was originally founded by Argives, and it survived through the Hellenistic, Roman, and Christian periods.  Kourion was destroyed in the 4th century, due to a series of massive earthquakes.


While the ancient city of Kourion is quite vast, the Kourion Archaeological Site only includes several of city's highlights, such as the House of Eustolios, Ancient Theater, Earthquake House, Agora, Early Christian Basilica, Public Baths and Nymphaeum, Early Christian House, House of the Gladiators, and House of Achilles.

To access the sites, drive to the first little building at the archaeological site to pay, and then continue driving up to the top parking lot.  Walking through the visitor’s center leads to the House of Eustolios.





The House of Eustolios contains complex baths and mosaic floors from the 5th century.  This building was initially a private Roman residence, and then later used as a public recreation center during the Early Christian period.

 According to a sign at the site, "This building, excavated around 1938, was originally thought to be a palace....  It follows the usual Roman peristyle type of private house architecture."

The mosaic inscriptions indicate that the owner, Eustolios, was a Christian.  One mosaic inscription translates to: “In place of big stones and solid iron, gleaning bronze and even adamant, this house is gift with the much-venerated signs of Christ.”  Another mosaic inscription translates to: “Eustoloios, having seen that Kourians, though previously very wealthy, were in abject misery, did not forget the city of his ancestors but first having presented the baths to our city, he was then taking care of Kourion as once did Phoebus [Apollo] and built this cool refuge sheltered from the wind.”

According to another sign at the site, "The public use of the building and its connection with Christian worship is demonstrated in this inscription in the southeastern corner of the peristyle according to which Eustolios is giving strength to the structure through Christian symbols rather than by large stones, iron, copper or diamonds.  Other rooms to the east and south have simple limestone paved floors which have been destroyed by surface erosion.  These were perhaps areas for private use and housing for poorer citizens."

The House of Eustolios is located at the southeast end of the Kourion Archaeological Site, and it’s situated under a covered structure.










The Ancient Theater is located next to the House of Eustolios.  Even though the ancient Hellenistic Theater was originally built in the 2nd century BC, the current structure dates back to the Roman period with 2nd and 3rd century additions and restorations.  In the 3rd century, it was modified, by removing the first three rows of seats, to accommodate gladiatorial contests.  Within the same century, it was restored to its original use.

In the 4th century, the Theater was destroyed, due to massive earthquakes.  Before its destruction, the theater seated 3,000 spectators.  It was once a full-height auditorium that was enclosed, but today, only the foundation remains, which has been restored.  According to a sign at the site, "The theater as we see it today is the result of reconstruction work by the well-known Greek architect Antonis Travlos, an expert in restoration, in the middle of the last century."

Today, this ancient open-air amphitheater is utilized for musical and theatrical performances, such as Shakespeare at Kourion.

 



Shortly after leaving the Ancient Theater, there is a small path to the left, which leads to a private house, called the Earthquake House (also known as the Roman Private House or Earthquake Stricken House). 

It was constructed in the 1st or 2nd century and remodeled in the 4th century, before being demolished by a massive earthquake on July 21, 365 AD.

 During the excavation, a small ring with the Monogram of Christ inscribed on it was found, which indicated that this was the home of a Christian family or at least Christians were visited this home at the time of the earthquake.  The ruins of the Earthquake Stricken House reveal life in Kourion at the time of this destructive earthquake. 

The items found during excavation are displayed at the Kourion Archaeological Museum in Episkopi Village, and this museum will be featured in another blog post.

After returning to the main path, there is a little covered gazebo on a hill, which provides nice views of the archaeological site, as well as a resting spot, if necessary.




Past the gazebo, the Agora (or the marketplace) ruins are located straight ahead.  In its present condition, the Agora consists of a series of public building that were built in the 3rd century, during the Roman period.  There are also structural additions from the Early Christian period.

However, the Roman Agora was initially built on ruins from the Hellenistic period, which are considered to be the most ancient monument found in Kourion.  These ruins consist of the foundation of one outer wall and several small inner walls.  Porticoes with marble columns, from the 2nd century, line the Agora on both sides.





To the south of the Agora, there are the ruins of the Early Christian Basilica, which was most likely the Kourion Cathedral.   Within the Kourion area, there are three main basilica ruins, but only one is located within the Kourion Archaeological Site.  The other two basilicas are located next to the Kourion Stadium and along the Ayios Ermogenis beach.

Built on the ruins of Roman edifices, the Early Christian Basilica dates back to the 5th century, and it was altered in the 6th century.  It was destroyed during one of the Arab raids, around 654 A.D.  During the  7th century, the Early Christian Basilica was rebuilt and then abandoned in the 8th century.

The ruins indicate it was once a three-aisled basilica with a baptistery and bishop’s house.  It is considered to be one of the most important early Christian monuments in Cyprus.




Northwest of the Agora, there are ruins of the Public Baths and a Nymphaeum, which was a sacred place dedicated to water nymphs.  The Roman Nymphaeum was built in the 1st century and then destroyed in the 7th century, possibly during Arab raids.

According to a sign at the site, "The Nymphaeum of Kourion, the sacred place devoted to the nymphs, minor divinities--protectors of springs and waters--is a huge building measuring 45m in length and 15m in width.  It...separates the large complex of the public baths of Kourion in two units."

According to another sign at the site, "The original phase of the northwestern unit of the Public Baths of Kourion, dating to ca 50 BC to 100 AD, comprises the remains of a cold (frigidarium), warm (tepidarium) and a hot (caldarium) chambers....  To the second and third phase of this until (ca 100-365 AD) belong the remains of one simple and two apsidal rectangular Thermae (steam baths) with a complete hypocaust working system."



After visiting the Public Baths and Nymphaeum, the path leads to the ruins of the Early Christian House.  Dating back to the Roman period, these ruins include mosaics and columns, as well as a triclinium, which is a formal dining room in a Roman building.



Located between the Early Christian House and the House of Achilles, the House of Gladiators consists primarily of mosaic floors.  Built in the 3rd century, this private Roman house has a central courtyard and rooms on every side.  The ruins depict various mosaics, including a gladiatorial combat scene, which is quite rare in Cyprus.

According to a sign at the site, "The luxurious private house or alternatively a small public training ground (Palaestra) is...named after the subject matter represented on its mosaic floor.  According to the excavators it was constructed in the second half of the 3rd century, an era when the mosaic floor enjoyed considerable popularity."

The House of Gladiators, particularly the southern part of the building, was destroyed in the 4th century, due to earthquakes.  Today, it is under a covered structure with a row of benches that provide another resting spot, if needed.


The House of Achilles is located at the end of the path, on the northwestern edge of the hill that faces the road the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates.  Due to its location near the Kourion city entrance, this 4th century building was possibly used to greet officials or important guests.  Only part of the original building is viewable today. 

According to a sign at the site, "It was constructed during the early 4th century AD, at a period of artistic revival as regards the mosaic floors, with themes taken from pagan tradition.  This trend appears shortly after the religious tolerance decree, a vigorous renouncement of paganism in favor of the expanding Christianity."

There are several floors with mosaics, including one depicting the legendary Greek hero, Achilles.  According to another sign at the site, "The central scene portrays Achilles meeting with Odysseus in Lykomedes house where Achilles, disguised as a girl, was sent by his mother to avoid his participation in the Trojan War.  A scene depicting the goddess Thetis' mother of Achilles giving him his first bath, dating to the 5th century AD, also survives."

Since the House of Achilles is the last place to visit at this archaeological site, the path ends.  After turning around, the same path will lead back to the House of Eustolios.




The Kourion Archaeological Site is located on the top of a cliff, and it overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and Curium Beach, so the views can be spectacular, weather-permitting.  It's one of the major archaeological sites in Cyprus and definitely worth exploring by both locals and tourists.


Site: Kourion Archaeological Site. 

Category: Archaeological Site. 

Location: Near Episkopi Village, within the Limassol district of Cyprus. 

Phone Number: 25934250. 

Operating Hours: 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM on Monday to Sunday, during winter months.  8:30 AM to 7:30 PM on Monday to Sunday, during summer months.. 

Entrance Fee: €4,50. 

Date of Visit: 2010 and 2011.

2 comments:

  1. Excellent photos and descriptions. Wish I were on my way!

    ReplyDelete