Ancient tower at Aghia Triada

Much of the wealth of Arkesine depended on its protected and cultivable hinterland—especially the alluvial Kato Meria plateau, now occupied by the modern settlement called Arkesi­ni (19.5km), and formerly referred to as ‘Chorio’. Such an area, with its relatively good soil and hidden location, was of great value in the Cycladic Islands. Evidence that its cultivation and produce needed adequate protection is provided by the conspicuous presence in the middle of the area of a large tower with an attached complex of fortified, farm-buildings. The * Hellenistic tower at Aghia Triada (20.2km), 700m north of Arkesi­ni, is impressively large and well-preserved and is one of the most signal monuments of its type in the Aegean. It dates probably from the late 4th century bc— the same period as the (circular) tower and complex of Heimaros in southern Naxos , to which it bears some similiarities.

The complex has overall a T-shaped plan—a large, multi functional rectangular block (25.3 x 11.4m) in front, with a strongly fortified tower (7m x 7m) protruding from the centre of one of the long sides. The whole construction is a monument to the precision and eloquence of Hellenistic masonry. On the front façade, the massive blocks of the lowest courses merge into more regular, parallel, interleaved courses of isodomic masonry above, rising to a height of 5.6m in the tower. The corners, as always, are perfectly drafted. The design of the masonry varies intriguly: the west wall of the tower, for example, incorporates large trapezoidal blocks which alter the effect of its overall design. The walls are of double thickness, lined with an inner shell in smaller stone blocks. The front rectangular area is articulated into several divisions and must have had two floors, as the steps on the south side indicate. A number of the threshold-blocks are single monoliths measuring up to 2.8m in breadth: most bear the swing-post holes for what were clearly very substantial doors. Security was foremost in every consideration.
   The tower block is once again constructed with double walls, and is entered by a door whose frame and lintel-block cannot fail to impress. In the lateral jambs the bolt-bar holes indicate the size of the transom which secured the door. The lower level of the tower is filled solid, except for a square space immediately in front of the door. This would have accommodated steps leading up to the main level; but it also created a defensive feature, in that any intruder would be caught vulnerably in the bottom of a stair-well on entering. The tiny apertures on the upper level are shaped as embrasures—an early example of the use of the feature. In the corner is a small niche: not a chimney—perhaps a small aedicule for an image.
   Impressive as these towers are as pieces of humanenuity, we know little about how they functioned. This tower had no use as a look-out or advance defence post, because it is constructed in a declivity encircled by hills. There are no mines or quarries for minerals in the vicinity here, which might have justified such doughty walls for secure storage of valuable materials. Affording protection to valuable agricultural produce is one explanation put forward for such buildings; yet the fertility of this area is hardly such as to merit the considerable human effort involved in raising such a massive building. The tower will most probably have functioned as a fortress or place of refuge for the entire rural community that worked the fields in the area. They were some distance away from the safety of their city (Arkesine) and were closer to the shores and inlets by which danger could arrive. A tower such as this was a ‘local acropolis’ for them. Its size and strength tell us two things: the rural community was quite large, and the expected danger was great.

Due south from the tower at Aghia Triada rises Mount Korax (524 m). On its eastern shoulder, at ‘Pyrgi­’, was an other rectangular tower of the Hellenistic period, whose base is visible, incorporated into a later farm-building. This must have communicated with the larger tower in the valley and functioned as its look-out post. On the discrete rise further to the east, at Kastelas, an Early Cycladic acropolis has been identified.

Amorgos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.

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