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2,000-year-old banquet hall unearthed in ancient city of Nea Paphos

A team of researchers from Poland and France has been studying the southern part of the Fabrika hill in the area of the ancient city of Nea Paphos since 2017. It was an area with a sacred character. The discovery of the site of ancient banquets in honour of the gods occurred right next to the highest point of the hill, where the remains of an ancient temple are located. These are simple outlines carved in the rock - its walls have not survived to our times. The square-shaped temple was preceded by a courtyard on a rock platform, in front of which, a few metres away, there was a monumental altar, also carved from the rock. The body of the building did not resemble typical Greek temples flanked by soaring columns.

2,000-year-old banquet hall unearthed in ancient city of Nea Paphos
The hall was designed as an open air facility with a courtyard built on a rock platform
and a  monumental alter that stood just a few feet from the sacred temple
[Credit: Anna Kubicka]

According to the Polish Press Agency, the head of the research, Prof. Jolanta Młynarczyk from the Faculty of Archaeology at the University of Warsaw, the ramp leading from the temple was adjacent to a bench carved in the rock.

"This was an open-air sacred banqueting place, whose characteristic semi-circular outline is referred to in archaeology as a stibadium. Its central point was a circular hollow with a drain, used for libations in honour of the deity," says the researcher. She adds that similar structures are known from the Nabatean city of Petra (the Nabatean kingdom existed in the last centuries of the first millennium BC and in the first century AD) in southern Jordan, where they accompanied both tombs and places of traditional worship.

"However, no such installations were known from Cyprus, this is a unique discovery," Prof Mlynarczyk stresses.

According to the archaeologist, in ancient times feasting in honour of the gods, sometimes combined with the consumption of sacrificial meat and always with the drinking of alcoholic beverages, was a common ritual custom not only in Cyprus, but in many Mediterranean cultures. Figurative scenes on monuments showing open-air feasting in the stibadium are known, for example, from the village of Golgoi in Cyprus.

2,000-year-old banquet hall unearthed in ancient city of Nea Paphos
The banquet hall was constructed near a temple that once stood in the ancient city of Nea Paphos,
which was settle on in the southwestern region of the island at the end of the 4th century BC
[Credit: Anna Kubicka]

The researchers believe that the temple and the place of drinking functioned in parallel at the same time - between the 2nd century BC and the middle of the 2nd century AD. The earthquake around 150 AD probably put an end to the site, after which the place of worship may have been moved closer to the formal city centre.

It remains a mystery to archaeologists who was worshipped on the hill. They suppose that it was the patroness of this ancient city - Aphrodite of Paphia.

"Our archaeological team now faces further tasks, related to a comprehensive survey of the sacred area at Fabrika, leading to the final identification of the cult of the deity or deities worshipped here during the Hellenistic and early Roman periods," - Professor Młynarczyk points out.

The project manager stresses that this year's research season - which has just ended - was particularly difficult due to pandemic restrictions.

2,000-year-old banquet hall unearthed in ancient city of Nea Paphos
The banquet hall and temple were unearthed at the highest point of Fabrica hill, which is situated
near Saint Paul's Pillar and the Ancient Theatre Ruins in the city of Kato Paphos
[Credit: Sergey Galyonkin/Flickr]

"When we started our work in the last decade of May, Cyprus was still under the regime of anti-covid restrictions, which, however, did not prevent us from making discoveries of crucial importance for the knowledge of the ancient culture of the island," she emphasises.

The mission she is leading operates under the NCN Harmonia 8 grant in cooperation with the University of Avignon (France).

The ancient city of Nea Paphos is one of the most important archaeological sites in Cyprus. It was founded in the south-western part of the island at the end of the 4th century BC. During the Hellenistic period it belonged to the Egyptian kingdom of the Ptolemies, after which it came under Roman tutelage. From c. 200 BC to c. 350 AD Nea Paphos served as the capital of the island.

Polish excavations initiated by archaeologist Prof. Kazimierz Michałowski at Nea Paphos - a site included on the UNESCO World Heritage List - have been ongoing for 56 years. Polish missions from the University of Warsaw and the Jagiellonian University in collaboration with other Polish and foreign institutions have been working there. 

Author: Szymon Zdziebłowski | Source: PAP - Science in Poland [trsl. TANN; July 15, 2021]

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