DESPOTIKO



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Despotiko - general

General

The remains that are being revealed by excavations year by year at the site of Mandra * on Despotiko are some of the most remarkable in the Cyclades, and well worth the trouble involved in getting to see them. The site, undisturbed by any later building, on an uninhabited island, between the sea and the hills behind, is wild and beautiful: and what is coming to light is of remarkable quality.
   It is not impossible that in prehistory Despotiko was joined to Antiparos via the islet of Tsimindiri (or Kimitiri) in the channel between. Certainly as recently as the 6th century bc, Tsimindiri and Despotiko were joined by an isthmus. Confirmation of this has come from the excavations, in which an altar inscribed ‘ΗΕΣΤΙΑΣ ΙΣΘΜΙΑΣ’ or ‘To Hestia of the Isthmus’ has come to light, suggesting that the two islands were linked by a spit of land. Strabo and Pliny both refer to Despotiko as Prepesinthos; but neither mentions a sanctuary on the island.

   No temple has yet been found, but the presence of potsherds bearing the name ‘ΑΠΟΛΛ’ would indicate that the buildings so far discovered were part of a sanctuary of Apollo. They enclose a rectangular area, at the centre of which is a semicircular base (? for votive statues) and, to one side, the altar of Hestia mentioned above—both clearly visible. The most interesting building, ‘Building A’, lies just behind at the southwestern edge of the excavated area. It is constructed in fine, well-preserved Archaic masonry of Parian marble. It has several rooms, and a portion of its north façade was constituted by a colonnade of eight Doric pillars (south end): the marks left by their bases can be seen. Equally well-preserved, but of later, Classical epoch, is the rectangular, paved build (to south) marked by a large stone bath-tub, a system of drains and circular stone rings for supporting water receptacles. This appears to have been a spacious and well-designed bathroom or washing area.
   The small, early 7th century bc, painted clay figurine of a female divinity, now in the museum in Paros (see p. 28) was found in Building A. Votive objects of Eastern Aegean, Rhodian, Cypriot and Egyptian origin have been unearthed, including seals in semi-precious stones, bronze and ivory adornments, metal weapons, and an (Egyptian) ostrich egg shell. A marble Archaic, perirrhanterion (a sacred water stoup), and fragments of Archaic kouroi have come to light. Interestingly, two lower portions of 6th century bc kouroi were found, reused as doorjambs in the later Classical constructions. A great number of architectural elements from an Archaic, Doric temple have been reused in later walls, too. This suggests that the Archaic temple, which was built at the end of the 6th century bc, was destroyed and its fragments used to build a subsequent version. The site appears to have functioned continuously from the 7th century bc into Roman times.

Several Early Cycladic cemeteries were found on Despot iko when Christos Tsoundas, the pioneer of early Greek archaeology, excavated here in 1898. On the islet of Tsimindiri (Kimitiri), foundations of large buildings are visible, and both Hellenistic and Roman burials have been located near the shore; while on the island of Strongyli, to the southwest of Despotiko, a ruined Byzantine church on the rocks directly above the shore is built with ancient columns and architectural elements in Parian marble. These islands may seem havens of tranquillity today, but their history is marked by the turbulent activity of the pirates who used them as bases for their operations from antiquity until well into the 19th century.


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


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access

Despotiko Island, Greece.

Boats across to Despotikó need to be arranged with the owner of the taverna which stands just above the jetty at Aghios Giorgios. He has a small craft which makes the journey in ten minutes and costs around €20 return: he will pick you up again at a pre-arranged time.

Despotiko Travel Guide

lodging

Despotiko Island, Greece.

For visiting Despotikó, Oliaros Studios at Aghios Giorgios, at the southern end of the island, is a delightful alternative (T./fax 22840 25304/5, www.oliaros.gr).

Despotiko Travel Guide

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