In 2018 the Norwegian Institute at Athens conducted the first season of a 5-year (2018-2022) project of archaeological excavations at the site of Gourimadi in southern Euboea, Greece. The project is organized under the aegis of the Norwegian Institute of Athens with a permit from the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports. The project is directed by Dr. Zarko Tankosic and co-directed by Drs. Fanis Mavridis and Paschalis Zafeiriadis.

Topographic map of Gourimadi (Author: Denitsa Nenova)

The site of Gourimadi is located in southern part of the island of Euboea, near the Katsaronio village, c. 6 km from the modern town of Karystos. The site was discovered during an earlier survey of the area (Norwegian Archaeological Survey in the Karystia, NASK) and immediately recognized as important, based on the composition of the artifacts collected from its surface (e.g., large quantities of obsidian including more than 50 projectile points, pottery that indicated the existence of multiple chronological strata, metallurgical remains in form of small quantities of slag and an excellently preserved bronze axe, etc.). Particularly in chronological terms, the surface pottery scatter indicated the habitation at the site during the final Neolithic-Early Bronze Age I (FN-EBA, respectively) transition, which is elusive both in the Karystia and the Aegean. The location of the site was also indicative of its importance, as it forms a natural hillfort with excellent vistas of not only all access routes but also of the entire region, including most sections of southern Euboea, east Attica, and the northern Cycladic islands of Andros, Tinos, Giaros, and Kea.

According to the size of the archaeological material surface scatter, the maximum extent of the site is c. 4 ha, although it is likely that the actual subsurface remains cover a somewhat smaller area. The site extends on the summit and north, west, and south slopes of a natural rock (schist) outcrop called locally Gourimadi, which means ‘large rock’ in the local Arvanitika dialect. In terms of surface artifact density, the southern slopes, especially those below the main summit of the hill, is where we encountered the thickest concentrations of the material during the survey, followed by the summit and the western and northern slopes.

In 2018 season we began the excavation of two trenches: trench 1 (7X4m) covering the top of the summit and trench 2 (4X4m) on the southern section of the summit, in the area where the ground begins to slope.



309715_270067999703328_109569782419818_747078_956228222_nRemains of the church complex from the south. Photo: David Hill

The Norwegian Naxos survey started in October 2010 with a campaign to survey and record the archaeology of Kastro Apalirou: The fortified mountain town that might have functioned as the capital of Naxos in the mid to late Byzantine periods. The project is a collaboration (synergasia) between the Norwegian Institute (University of Oslo) and the Ephorate of Antiquities for the Cyclades. The project is also joined by teams from the Universities of Newcastle and Edinburgh.

About the project
The survey focuses on how economic and political changes can be seen in the landscape, and in particular the changes that occurred from the Middle Byzantine period (565 -1081 AD) to the Venetian period (1206-mid 16th century AD).

The main objective of the survey is to map and document Kastro Apalirou and to understand the relationship between settlement patterns, political authority and the economy of the island. The first task is to document the extant remains on Kastro Apalirou, which are made up of a fortified circuit wall, over 40 cisterns some of which are exceptionally large, a religious-complex, and numerous buildings. The main structures have been recorded by total station survey, and a plan of the site has been built up. A photographic survey has been made and extensive field notes have also been taken. In order to understand the function and form of the kastro there are several questions concerning the political, administrative and religious structure of Naxos that need to be answered. What functions did Apalirou have? Was it a refuge for the secular elite in times of threat? Or was it settled over longer periods? Was Apalirou a defensive site for Naxos alone? Or did it perform a wider role in the Cyclades? Whilst the main objective and focus is Kastro Apalirou we intend to expand our field work to the surrounding landscape and create a laboratory of historical and archaeological research on the transition from Antiquity to the Middle Ages.

The island of Naxos in the Cyclades has for long been renowned for its rich Byzantine heritage, and in particular the numerous, decorated churches. The settlement pattern of Byzantine Naxos has been far less studied, although some important centers have for long been known and structures are indeed still visible. In 2010 an archaeological team from The Museum of Cultural History and the Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History at the University of Oslo initiated a pioneer project of mapping and documentation of the most important of these centers, Kastro Apalirou.

In the aftermath of the 4th Crusade, the Venetian Marco Sanudo in 1206 or 1207 landed on Naxos and immediately laid siege to what seems to have been the main Byzantine fortress on the island, Kastro Apalirou.After a five-week siege, Sanudo conquered the site, took over the island and later expanded his realm to the neighboring islands to create a Venetian and Catholic Duchy in the central Cyclades. The Venetian conquest was followed by a feudal reorganization of the islands.
picture4When Kastro Apalirou was founded as the main fortified centre on Naxos is another and far more difficult question to answer. Since it is evident that this fortified hilltop site in the interior is far easier to defend than any coastal settlements on Naxos, a foundation in the 7. – century AD seems possible, at a time when the Byzantine empire had largely lost her supremacy at sea. Raiding and piracy grew out of control and as a consequence many coastal regions and islands in the Aegean were depopulated and left deserted until stable conditions returned.

Read more at the website of the University of Oslo.