Writing a Site Guide for Polis (Part 1)

One of this summer’s projects is to write up a few sections that contribute to a new guidebook for the site of Polis Chrysochous on Cyprus. The site is currently undergoing adaptation to accommodate visitors in a more structured and informed way and the site guide will be part of this larger undertaking. Fortunately, we have a great writing team and I’ll collaborate with Scott Moore and Amy Papalexandrou to describe some sections of the sites and Joanna Smith is gamely marshaling others to bring this entire thing together.

This morning, I thought I’d prepare a draft describing the site of EF1. It’s a fun challenge because not only is it visible from the main road connecting the village of Polis to a popular beach, but it also is only partially excavated and its function is uncertain. Fortunately, I only need to produce 850 words so this is not a major component to the guide, but since it is a site that attracts some curiosity (and one that my colleague Scott Moore and I have worked on lately), I want to try to introduce casual visitors to the complexities of archaeology at Polis.

So here goes:

There are a small pair of rooms situated on the east side of the road from the village of Polis to beachside camping site. The site is known as “E.F1” based on its designation in the Princeton excavation grid system and it stands on the edge of the coastal ridge overlooking the flatter plains and the sea. It seems possible that an ancient road ascended from the coast in this area. 

The walls visible at the site represent three different Late Antique phases dating to the 6th and 7th centuries. The remains of a doorway facing the road is part of the earliest phases at the site and probably dates to the 6th century AD. It provides access to an east-west hallway that is visible to the east of the door, but is now interrupted by a later, north-south wall. 

The north-south wall is part of the second phase at the building as is the east-west wall visible on the northern side of of the site. A doorway preserved in this wall stands at a significantly higher elevation than the door near the road indicating that it is almost certainly later. It appears that the drain running through the eastern part of the building dates to this phase as well. The presence of a drain here suggests a renewed interest in controlling the flow of water down the coastal ridge and hints at changes to water management in the ancient city upslope. It may be that erosion at the site led the builders to reinforce the structure by thickening the walls. A similar strategy of wall thickening is visible at the South Basilica and in Medieval churches throughout the area. Despite these efforts, it appears that the building collapsed at some point in the 7th century. It may have been already abandoned as the drain was clogged with debris and a layer of rubble, including a well-preserved glass window, covered floors that were largely devoid of artifacts.   

With few artifacts associated with the building’s use, it is difficult to understand its function in antiquity. The excavators found a significant quantity of slag during their excavations that they originally speculated might reflect an industrial function for the building. Most of this slag, however, appeared in the lowest levels of excavation and probably represents industrial activities in this region prior to this building’s construction. In fact, early maps of the area show a “heap of slag” that likely dates to antiquity and the presence of workshops in Roman levels surrounding the South Basilica likely accounts for the presence of industrial debris in the area. Of course, this does not provide us with any particular insights into the function of the Late Roman phase of the building. The well-preserved window glass and the nicely designed doorway, however, hints that these rooms may have been part of a domestic structure which would have been well-situated to catch seas breezes and to have a clear view of the coast.

At some point after the building’s abandonment and collapse, a woman was buried along the south side of the site immediately to the east of the large north-south wall. She was buried with a lead sealing inscribed with the name Stephanos, a local aristocrat known from other seals dating generally to the early 8th century. The sealing presumable sealed a document of some importance to the deceased and since the seal must predate the burial, it suggests a mid-8th century date for the abandonment of the site. It may be that this burial along with those surrounding the North and South basilicas mark the transformation of the northern side of the city into a cemetery precinct. 

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