Gialiskari, Aghia Irini & Kephaia

From the road which follows the shore of the bay east of Korissi­a, the view back to the harbour makes the layout of Ancient Koresia clearer to comprehend. The road crosses the bed of the Elixos, full of luxuriant oleander and pampas, and in 2.5km reaches the attractive harbours of Gialiskari and Vourkari, which provide berths for small craft, beaches and good tavernas. Following the shore beyond Vourkari, you come in a further 500m to the prehistoric city at Aghia Irini on a low promontory in the bay. Be cause of its commercially strategic position between the Attic mainland and the Cyclades, and its privileged lo cation on such a sheltered site, this became one of the most important centres of Cycladic culture. In order to appreciate the extraordinary and unique finds which came from these excavations, it is important to combine a visit to the site with the museum in Chora. The site has no opening times, but is visible in its entirety from the perimeter fence.

Outline chronology

Settlement was established here between 3000 and 2700 bc on the western side of the area, just north of the present church of Aghia Irini. After a period of abandonment at the end of the 3rd millennium, the structures visible today were built over the ruins of the Early Cycladic settlement from c. 1900 bc on. The ‘temple’ building was first laid out in this period. The visible fortification circuit, with towers and a gate in the northeast corner, was erected around 1700 bc. The chief-dwelling of the community—Building ‘A’, in the area immediately northeast of the church—and most of the buildings and streets that we see today were erected between 1600 and 1450 bc. Towards the end of this period, the re markable cult figures of females were created for the ‘temple’. This period of expansion and prosperity seems to have been ended by an earthquake c.1450 bc. Some of the ruins were then cleared, and the buildings and temple adapted and reused in the 12th and 11th centuries bc. The site continued into Archaic and Classical times as a place of the cult of Dionysos. Excavations were first undertaken by John L. Caskey of the University of Cincinnati between 1960 and 1976.

The main buildings and features

first impression is of the fine construction and preservation of the urban texture: clear, narrow streets with drain age channels beneath a paved floor; carefully planned and executed walls in a variety of masonry; finely-constructed stone door frames for accommodating wooden doors and articulations; an overall urban organisation between builds, as well as an organisation of domestic spaces within buildings. Three structures are particularly conspicuous: from the road the rectangular corner bastion and fortification wall are clearly visible in the northeast corner of the area, dating from c. 1700 bc. South from here, between the shore and the east end of the church, are the two most important buildings. Immediately east of the church is the largest single structure uncovered so far, Building ‘A’, seat of the local ruler and of the community’s administration. The building had three levels: a basement divided into storage areas and workshops clearly visible today, a main floor with the main reception rooms, and an upper level, fragments of whose painted decoration have been found. The lower level appears to have included spaces for metal-working and stone-working, as well as stores of imported Minoan, Mycenaean and Island pottery. Along the northeast side of this complex was the main cult-centre of the community, the * temple-building, recognisable by its long rectangular form divided into chambers. The building’s origins go back to the second century of the 2nd millennium bc, but its present form and structure date from about 1600 bc. It is preceded (at the seaward end) by what was an enclosed court with stone benches to either side, with a later rectangular hearth in the centre; a doorway with stone jambs leads into a middle chamber with ancillary spaces to one side, which in turn leads into an inner sanctum at the western end. In the interior, the shattered pieces of the terracotta female figures were found: they were probably damaged, together with the building in an earthquake around 1450 bc. Fragments of them were found and venerated afterwards by later inhabit ants.
   Cemeteries of rock-cut tombs, containing burial jars and funerary offerings, have been found both to the west and the east, outside the fortification wall.

Beyond Aghia Irini the road curves round the north shore of the bay, passes by the late 19th century Michalinos coaling-station for steamships, and ends at a narrow isthmus, where there is a small monument to Lambros Katsonis (1752–1804).
   Between 1778 and 1792, with the tacit support of Catherine the Great, Katsonis who had participated in the Orloff Revolt in 1770 at the start of the First Russo-Turkish War, continued to harass the Ottoman fleet in the Aegean from a base in this bay. He escaped from a Turkish blockade in 1790, as the monument here relates, by dragging his boat with the help of the islanders across the narrowest point of the isthmus and fleeing under cover of darkness, without the Turks apparently noticing. In Turkish reprisals after the event, Grigorios Migadas, Bishop of Kea, was hanged; his memorial is by the church of Aghia Irini. Katsonis married a woman from Kea; he died in the Crimea on an estate given him in gratitude by Catherine the Great, after the defeat of his fleet at Porto Kagio in the Mani at the hands of combined French and Ottoman forces.

From the isthmus, a path leads to the lighthouse on the promontory. A couple of finely formed marble blocks at the west corner of its platform suggest that it may be built on the site of an ancient structure. The Bronze Age town at Aghia Irini was preceded on the island by an earlier settlement of the Late Neolithic period on the peninsula of Kephala at the most north westerly point of the island. (Reached by taking the track uphill and inland from the coast-road at Aghia Irini, bearing to the right past some lurid luxury developments, and continuing by foot over the hill to the promontory.) The most important finds have come from the cemetery of 40 or so small circular graves—one of the earliest examples in the islands of a well-organised cemetery—at the foot of the south-facing slope of the head of the peninsula, as it joins the isthmus. The settlement was founded around 3300 bc, but appears to have been abandoned within little more than 100 years, at which point the centre of habitation on the island moved to Aghia Irini.

Giali Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.

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

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