The Sirius Project

The Sirius Project
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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Kassope, an ancient city honouring of Aphrodite Kassiopaia

Located on top of the Zalongo Mountains, with a view worthy to the Greek deities, overlooking the Ionian Sea and Actium, we would like to take you to the ancient city of Kassope (Cassope), to walk with us along its fallen monuments and architectural ruins. It is described as the best preserved ancient Greek city in its entirety. Once more we return to the Greek landscape of Epirus, modern Preveza, following previous blogs on Nikopolis and Nekromanteion.

With archaeological records going back as far as Paleolithicum, this ancient city has its architectural roots in the 4th century B.C. (commonly placed at 360 B.C.), continuing to grow until the Romans destroyed it in c. 177 B.C. Years later, after Octavianus' (Octavian) victory over Kleopatra VII and Marcus Antonius (Marc Anthony), Kassope was finally completely abandoned, when its last inhabitants moveK further down to the city built in honour of Octavianus' victory – Nikopolis.

The small road leading up to the site is long and rather steep, and as so many other Greek mountain roads, it has many turns and angles. While the view for sure can take anyone’s breath away, it is a must to stay focused with eyes on the road. Before turning left at the very top you will see a more modern monument, honouring the women of Souli who firstly threw down their children, then jumped down the Zalongo Mountains rather than facing raw execution by Ali Pasha during the Ottoman occupation of the area in the early 19th century.

Returning to the Kassope, it is in many ways a typical ancient Greek archaeological site, preserved within the natural surroundings, with pines along its sides. It is a marvellous site to enter, once getting off whatever means one used to get up there (scooter in this case!). Naturally well protected this city was also protected by a circuit city wall, stretching 3 km, and its inhabitants could enjoy a safe period of c. 200 years of prosperity and wealth. Its monuments and buildings were laid out on a grid, in accordance with the so called Hippodamian system, which enables you as a modern visitor to still connect with the ancients and to visualise how it ones looked. Straight roads were laid out perpendicular to each other, thus forming clear squares for the buildings. Archaeologists, ever since the first adventurer appeared at the site in 1805 (English archaeologist William Martin Leak), have documented c. 500 houses, many of which had peristyle courtyards, and frequently two floors.

For a general visitor, the architectural remains consist of a mixture of grey and white limestone, some covered by moss or other features of nature, very similar in style and structure to the architecture described at Nekromanteion. Another common feature, although not ancient, is the shepherds strolling past you pushing their sheep forward. Among the public buildings, the ruins reveal a small theatre, stoas and temples. At its heyday the Odeion could hold c. 2000 spectators or members of an assembly, with the most magnificent view one can imagine. It has been said elsewhere, how could anyone concentrate on what was said with such a natural scenery? It is rather unfortunate, though, that there is very little preserved of this structure, but enough to enable one’s visualisation of how it once was.

Located close to Kassope’s Agora is a once two floored hostel, or an inn, the Katagogeion, which is one of the best preserved buildings on site. The Katagogeion dates to the Hellenistic period, built on top of a previous Classical building, and around a peristyle central court and surrounded by four stoas with twenty-six eight-sided pilasters with Doric capitals. Seventeen individual rooms form the back part of the stoas. It is believed that it hosted some of the more famous visitors to the city, but there are other interpretations that suggest that it was in fact a building used for commerce, thus directly connected with the Agora. Regardless of which, it is a building well worth consideration, and surely, each room has its own characteristics!

Also surrounding the Agora were exedras, once decorated with bronze and marble statues along the west and north. Located on the west side of the Agora is the Prytaneion with a central peristyle court with Doric columns and six individual rooms. Another thirteen columns are located on the east side of the stoa, while the front has a temenos with altars.
To the north is a stoa which was built during the Hellenistic period, supported by seventeen buttresses. Its inner part was divided in two by thirteen square pillars, and its front was made up by twenty-seven Ionic columns. Inscriptions date this building to the 3rd to 2nd centuries B.C.

Preserved is also a temple dedicated to Aphrodite Kassopaia, the divine protectress of the city. When walking further forward, past the charming shepherds and into an area which so many visitors fail to spot, the path will take you to a Hellenistic tomb well worth a visit. While the hostel is a personal favourite because of its complexity, this one comes on a good second place. The fact that the view once more provides splendid scenery is surely not a negative factor!

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