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ANCIENT THERA

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The ancient capital of Thera.

It is located on the S.W. part of the island, 15km. S.E. from Fira or 10 km. S.E. from Kamari, built on a rocky slope of Mesa Vouno, at an elevation of 350 meters. The length of the ancient city (archaeological site) is not more than 800m., while its width approaches 200m. The archaeological site, the way it is shaped now, is an oblong area traversed by a central road and its branches.

The German archaeologist Hiller V. Gaertingen excavated the area during 1895-1903, on his own expense, and brought to light the ancient capital of Thera, the city of the mythical King Theras.

The city of Thera was the centre of the island for a whole millennium. The buildings, the temples, the vases, the pottery, and the coins that have been found, record accurately the thousand-year long history of the island, from the age of the Dorians to the age of the Roman Empire.
The choice of location must have not been random. It may be connected to the defensive needs of the inhabitants of the island during the first millennium B.C.. This interpretation is supported by the partly preserved strong walls that surrounded the city.

A road paved with flagstones led from the capital to its port, ancient Oia (today’s Kamari). A visit to the archaeological site may start from Fira, Kamari, or Perissa. The excavations that took place along the road between ancient Thera and Kamari brought to light tombs of the Heilenistic and Palaeochristianic periods, which were hewn into the rock. The various artifacts founds there, including clay vases, pottery, and gravestones, are exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Fira.

If we enter the ancient city from the left side, we see the small Byzantine church of Aghios Stefanos. This small church was built in the place where the palaeochristianic church of the Archangel Michael stood, as a marble inscription on the left wall informs us. Following the ancient road south, we meet the temple of the hero Artemidorod, an admiral of the Ptolemies. Engraved on the rocks are inscriptions, holy animals, the Ptolemaean eagle, the lion of Apollo, and Neptune’s dolphins. Above and to the right of the dolphins, the head of Artemidoros is discernible. The symbols of the Dioscuri, Hecate, and Priapos are also distinguishable. Following the road to the edge of the city, we reach the church of Evangelismos tis Theotokou (“Annunciation of the Virgin”). Τhe tomb of some hero is next to the church. From here, following the uphill road, we reach the archaic temple of Apollo Karneios. Α temple of the Doric style, without an external colonnade, with a court and a room for the priest, a portico, a sanctuary, and two small shrines. An external doorway is preserved. On the walls and rocks a large number of names of gods is discernible, written in the ancient Theran alphabet of the 7th century B.C.. Next to the temple there is something resembling a raised court or terrace (‘’doma”), where the “orcheiseis” (dances) took place when the Dorians honored the god Apollo on his 9 day long festival, the “Karneia”. S.E. of the temple we find the Gymnasium of the Epheboi, a building of the 2nd century B.C.. Here we also find inscriptions praising the manners and the customs of the Dorians. The holy cavern of Hermes and Heracles is located here. There are the remains of a bath near the west side of the Gymnasium. Following the main road of the city towards its center, we see the remans of private residences right and left. The Agora is located on the center of the city. On its west side we find the Vasiliki Stoa (Royal Portico), a Roman building, very probably if the reign of Augustus. It had an internal colonnade of 12 columns which supported the roof of the building, and a separate space for the statues of the imperial family. Next to the portico is a small temple of the Hellenistic period dedicated to the worship of Dionysos. At this temple, during the reign of Augustus, the emperor was worshipped. To the south of the Agora the ruins of the city’s theatre, of the Hellenistic period, are preserved. The theatre was also used for assemblies. During the reign of Caligula, statues of his mother Agrippina, as Hestia Voulaia, and of his father Germanicus, as Zeus Voulaios, had been erected there. West of the theatre a Hellenistic building with a column-supported court may have been used as a place of assembly for the religious cult of the “Valistes”, who worshipped the King.

The temple of Pythios Appolo, which was later converted to a Christian church, is behind the house of the Valistes. Also the temples of the Eguptian deities Isis, Serapis, and Anubis. To the N.W. side of the city are the “barracks” and the “Gymnasium” of the Ptolemies. Among others, private residences, hot baths, and a temple of Ptolemy III have been uncovered.

A little to the north there is an ancient temple which was converted to a Christian church, the Sotiras tou Christou (“ Christ Saviour”). It is also called Christoulaki ( Little Christ). Next to the church, in a natural cavern, there are the temples of Demetra and Persephone.

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