The Sanctuary of Apollo and the churches of Christ of Jerusalem and Aghia Sophia
Less than 1km from Chorio, along the main road to Panormos, almost on the watershed of the sloping valley, is the site of the island’s most important centre of cult in Antiquity, the sanctuary of Apollo Dalios (a Doric variant of Δήλιος, ‘Delian’). In the Early Christian period two basilicas were built over the sanctuary, one of which, known as the church of Christ of Jerusalem, incorporates a mass of important ancient inscriptions and architectural elements in its construction. These were observed by Charles Newton as early as 1854/5 on his visit to the island; he removed a number of them that were lying in the area and brought them back to the British Museum in London. The site was more systematically uncovered by the Italians in 1937, and ongoing excavations by the Greek archaeological authorities are bringing to light new material each year. Two colossal cult statues of Asklepios and Hygieia, have been found in recent years, as well as a fine, dressed Kouros of the 6th century bc.
The ancient temple of Apollo was surrounded by a dense grove of sacred bay-trees; the visitor needs to imagine, in lieu of today’s sounds of traffic from the road, the vibrant chatter of birds in these trees, especially at sun rise and sunset—moments particularly sacred to Apollo, as divinity of the sun’s light. There was a small theatre, where competitions of song and music were held; and the sanctuary would have been thronged with votive sculptures, especially in the form of kouroi—sculptures of young men (mostly nude), as if in the likeness of Apollo himself. The base of the temple is visible to the south of the standing apse of the church of Christ of Jerusalem, below the line of the subsidiary road. Once again there is a conscious variety of colours of stone used in the buildings being uncovered here. This was probably a 4th century bc building, even though the cult of Apollo here goes back to the 7th century bc and carried on through into Roman times. It would have been a small tetrastyle Ionic temple; parts of an entablature with carved triglyphs, and fluted columns, near the ruined apse almost certainly be longed to it—as did also the fragments of a fine cornice with deep dentils on the rear exterior of the apse. The building was oriented north/south, which is unusual for a dedication to Apollo: these mostly faced east—even though the great temple of Apollo Epikourios at Bassae is another notable exception.
The huge standing central apse of the basilica of *Christ of Jerusalem is one of the most evocative Early Christian remains in the Greek Islands, giving a rare feel for the size and majesty of these strangely heterogeneous buildings—part brick, part stone, assembled from randomly compiled elements, pulled down from pagan predecessors. Here the seats of the synthronon in the apse are adapted from those of the ancient theatre, and the walls and the floor are composed of inscribed stelai and pieces of entablature, some mounted sideways, some up side down, some religious in character (e.g. the beautiful inscription mentioning the dedication to Apollo Dalios, on the north side), some political in nature (e.g. the public decrees, citizen lists, arbitration texts and dedications of different periods, to the south side), some purely decorative (e.g. the running, tendrilled flower motif on the projections to both sides)—all jumbled together with imperious indifference. The church’s long nave, which would have extended west of the apse, was flanked by fluted columns separating the space of the aisles to north and south, and roofed with wooden beams and terracotta tiles. Legend holds that the church’s foundation goes back to the visit of the Emperor Arcadius (395–408) on his way back to Byzantium from Jerusalem: the building’s grandeur would certainly suggest a founder of such importance.
Fifty metres to the east of the apse—across an area of chicken-coops and heaped ancient fragments—are excavations which are revealing the mosaic floors and walls of another Late Roman or Palaeochristian building, referred to either as the Basilica of the Evangelistria or of Aghia Sophia. The mosaics are mostly in the bold abstract de signs typical of the late 5th and early 6th centuries; those in the long west ‘narthex’ are distinguished by their depictions of fish, camels, mythological beasts and plants, similar in style and execution to those at Nimboreio on Symi. The exact form of the building remains problematic until more of it is excavated: the presence of an unusual semicircular ‘apse’ in the middle of the south wall suggests that it had no ordinary basilica form. Currently, there are the low walls of a small chapel (Aghia Sophia), hastily erected from a mixture of rubble and large, rusticated ancient blocks over the main eastern apse, with the marble base of the original templon screen visible inside. Buildings here have clearly been raised and destroyed more than once, and, until the northern side is revealed by excavation, the overall history and nature of the site remain obscure.
Tombs from Hellenistic and Roman times, often with precious or informative grave goods, have been found widely in the area of this valley, while on the slopes of the hill opposite the sanctuary of Apollo to the north, on a rise between two ravines, are excavations revealing the Hellenistic settlement of Damos, where residential insulae and stepped streets are currently being uncovered. Further west, towards Panormos, and northeast of the church of Aghios Antonios, have been discovered late Roman thermae.
Kalymnos Island is part of the Dodecanese Island group
Chorio and the north of the island. The Sanctuary of Apollo and the Churches of Christ of Jerusalem and Aghia Sophia.