The Early Christian basilicas
In the early Byzantine period the pagan sanctuary, with its (by now) abandoned twin buildings, was substituted by a centre of Christian cult further up the hill which curiously was to develop similarly into a ‘double sanctuary’—namely, a pair of *contiguous basilicas of the 5th century ad. The area was originally a cemetery in late Antiquity: then, for some reason—perhaps because of an important burial or a martyrion—a focus of cult appears to have formed at the point on the site which is now occupied by the sanctuary and apse of the northern basilica (the first one you encounter). At the same time, between 400–425 ad, a large three aisled basilica with apse and narthex was built (the southern basilica) nearby: its aisles were divided by rows of simple columns in local marble and a monumental ambo stood half way down the nave to the southern side. The base and fragments of the elaborate decoration of this ambo are visible today. This must have been a grand and luminous place of worship.
At the end of the 5th century, the small chapel to its north, covering the sacred martyrion, was demolished and a new basilica (the present northern basilica), also with three aisles separated by columns, was erected in such a way that it now had the martyrion at the centre of its sanctuary: this was surrounded by a decorated marble screen with columns, the remains of which are still clearly visible in front of the apse. This had probably become by now a focus of pilgrim age, and so a large atrium and narthex area was constructed to its west for receiving pilgrims, including a baptistery and funerary chapel between the atrium and the basilica proper. The fact that this northern basilica was built approximately seventy years later and its positioning was determined by the pre-existing martyrion, perhaps explains why it is built in such a way as to slice into the northeast corner of the earlier basilica.
In the west end of the south basilica is an ancient in scribed stele, which bears a small image of Hercules, resting from his tribulations. This may be related to the marble quarries which start to extend southwards from the very apse of the basilica. The hard-labouring hero, Hercules, was sometimes seen as a special protector of quarry labourers.
Thasos Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island Group, Greece.