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The acropolis of Amphipolis and its secrets

Amphipolis is more than just the tumulus of Kasta. The fascinating monument justifiably hijacked the show during the unveiling of 2014, especially after the frenzied news coverage and the politicization of the find, skyrocketing the visitation to the on-site archaeological museum. But beyond the unique finding, which has not yet been presented to the public nor adequately to the scientific community, Amphipolis is a wider archaeological site that has been excavated for years, at times more intensively and other times occasionally. 

The acropolis of Amphipolis and its secrets
Aerial view of the Basilica C with the Hellenistic building below it. In the middle of the basilica
 there are outstanding mosaics of the 5th century AD [Credit: Kathimerini]

The focus of this is the ancient city with the impressive walls 7.5 km long, enclosing scattered monuments: timber piles - pillars of the Classical wooden bridge on the river Struma, the best preserved Gymnasium in the Greek area, part of a Hellenistic house with walls painted in bright colours, like the slightly later houses in Roman Pompeii.

Of particular archaeological interest is the acropolis, a few kilometres away from the tumulus of Kasta. There one can understand the strategic importance of the city from the time of Thucydides, when the Athenians were trying to dominate the area where the river Strymonas flows. The point where they chose to build the city (437 BC) was not accidental. It ensured full control over the river that connects the coastal areas with the hinterland, inhabited by Thracian tribes, to the sea and to the imposing mass of the Paggaio mountain, from where Philip mined gold for the minting of his coins. 

The acropolis of Amphipolis and its secrets
View of Basilica C, constructed primarily of ancient building material
[Credit: Kathimerini]

The archaeological site of the acropolis is a jewel that archaeologists have been investigating for two years. Visitors can see the Byzantine monuments and the inner wall of the Acropolis, which were revealed by the excavations of the Archaeological Society of Athens in the 1960s and 1970s. Four early Christian basilicas with impressive mosaics and an octagonal building, probably the seat of the bishop, characterise the site, but the wall surrounding them is peculiar in its construction. 

"When I visited the acropolis with the head of the Ephorate, Demetria Malamidou, in 2018, following her invitation for a five-year research project, I was impressed by the amount of embedded architectural material from earlier times. The use of older parts of buildings that were no longer in use is usually a practice of the late Roman period, an era in which part of the fortification of Amphipolis was rebuilt", says Dimitris Damaskos, Professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of Patras, who has been conducting archaeological research in Macedonia for the last twenty years.

The pre-Christian city

Building material from buildings of the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods is not only embedded, but much of what has been uncovered in excavations lies in the ground: broken Doric columns, triglyphs and metopes, bases with inscriptions, visible remains of the pre-Christian city. What do we know about ancient Amphipolis that extended to the top of the hill? "Archaeologically, little," explains Mr. Damascene. "Surviving inscriptions and literary evidence mention public buildings of political and religious character that formed the core of Amphipolis. Some of them are located under the ruins of Christian buildings." 

The acropolis of Amphipolis and its secrets
Doric column drums and triglyphs from earlier excavations in the Acropolis of Amphipolis
[Credit: Kathimerini]

Archaeologists will attempt to reveal the hidden secrets of the pre-Christian acropolis with a five-year research program (2019-2023) designed by the EFA Serres in collaboration with the University of Patras. The excavation research started from the remains of partially excavated buildings. A large Hellenistic building, apparently public, is located under the Early Christian basilica C, built mainly of ancient building material. 

The architectural and photographic recording of its hundreds of parts is an extensive project for which the excavators are seeking financial support. This work, however, will provide information about "buildings that were central to Amphipolis during the time of Alexander, where he launched the campaign in the East, and Philip V, who lived there for several years and died there in 179 BC. The emperor Augustus is also honoured as the saviour and builder of the city, but we are unaware of what he contributed to the city to be awarded these titles." 

The results of the two-year research were presented by the excavation team at the 33rd Scientific Meeting on the Archaeological Project in Macedonia and Thrace (AEMTH)

Author: G. Myrtsioti | Source: Kathimerini [trsl. TANN; April 22, 2021]

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