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Paphos

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The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East What is This? Provides comprehensive coverage of the history and scope of archaeology in the Near East.

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Paphos

ancient city on the southwest coast of Cyprus (34°42′ N, 32°35′ E), situated on a low hill above the coastal plain, fewer than 2 km (about 1 mi.) from the shore. The original settlement was also called Paphos, but since the end of the fourth century BCE has been called Old Paphos (Gk., Palaipaphos; Lat., Palaepaphus), to avoid confusion with the recently founded harbor town of New Paphos (Nea Paphos), some 19 km (12 mi.) along the coast to the northwest.

The ancient name of the city was lost during the Middle Ages. In the sixteenth century, the Swiss traveler Ludwig Tschudi (1519) and the Venetian official Francesco Attar (1540) discovered that the ruins outside the village of Kouklia marked the site of the renowned Sanctuary of the Paphian Aphrodite. The first excavations at Palaipaphos-Kouklia were carried out In 1888 by an expedition from the Cyprus Exploration Fund. After an interval of more than seventy years, the British Kouklia Expedition (1950–1955) initiated a systematic archaeological investigation of the city and the sanctuary. Since 1966, regular excavations have been conducted under the auspices of the German Archaeological Institute and the University of Zurich.

Paphos represents the only capital of the ancient kingdoms of Cyprus whose history dates to the early third millennium BCE. The site was inhabited in the Chalcolithic period (c. 2800 BCE). Greek immigrants began to appear in the extensive Late Bronze Age settlement at Paphos (late twelfth or early eleventh century BCE). The city remained the capital of the Kingdom of Paphos from the Iron Age until the conquest of Cyprus by the Ptolemies, In 294 BCE, who abolished the island's local monarchies. The city of Palaipaphos, however, continued to function as a noted place of worship throughout antiquity.

A local fertility cult is attested at Paphos as early as the third millennium. It seems that the Greek immigrants transformed it into the worship of the Paphian Aphrodite, whose cult later also adapted elements of the Syrian Astarte. The shrine at Paphos, situated close to the spot on the coast where the “foam-born” goddess was believed to have risen from the sea, gradually became one of the most famous sanctuaries of Aphrodite in the Greek and Roman world. The sanctuary therefore formed the chief architectural feature of Paphos. The first monumental sanctuary buildings date to about 1200 BCE. Basically, they represent a type of Near Eastern court sanctuary, combining a small, covered hall with a large, open temenos (a sacred precinct), originally filled with altars and votive gifts. The hall probably housed the idol of the goddess in the shape of a conical stone, a symbol of fertility. The aniconic worship of Aphrodite at Paphos throughout the sanctuary's history was a legacy of the original autochthonous cult.

In the large Late Bronze Age city of Paphos, workshops produced refined pottery, jewelery, and ivory objects that exhibit a characteristic fusion of Cypriot, Aegean, and Levantine traditions. Yet, probably the most flourishing phases in the history of the city were the Archaic and Classical periods, as shown by the large number of tombs of the wealthy and by an architectural heritage. In the sanctuary itself, a thorough Roman remodeling destroyed the LB buildings, but the cult's continuity is amply attested by more than four thousand fragments of Geometric, Archaic, and Classical terra-cotta votives. An imposing Late Archaic or Early Classical ashlar building most likely served as a royal residence. It is modeled on Achaemenid prototypes and exhibits a certain monumental elegance. A large Late Classical peristyle mansion, discovered a few years ago, may have served a similar purpose in the fourth century BCE. Another important feature of the Classical period is the vast chamber tomb Spilaion tis Regainas, the burial place of two fourth-century kings of Paphos.

The city of Paphos was defended by a circuit of walls built in the Early Archaic period and maintained until about 300 BCE. The northeast gate, which forms a sector of these fortifications, represents an important and, in some respects, unique monument of military architecture. Elaborate siege and countersiege works excavated on the site allow a detailed reconstruction of the siege of Paphos by a Persian army during the Ionian Revolt In 498 BCE. In order to amass the materials to construct a vast siege ramp, the attackers destroyed a sanctuary outside the walls. This debris contained several hundred fragments of sculptures and votive monuments that include some of the finest Archaic Cypriot statues known. These finds testify to a considerable local school of sculptors whose work combines Egyptian trends with Greek and Phoenician influences; they also provide a key date for the art history of ancient Cyprus. The potter's craft also lived on in the Iron Age, as shown by a large number of remarkable vessels decorated in the rather severe Paphian style that relies mainly on austere geometric patterns.

At the beginning of the third century BCE, when a considerable part of the population was transferred to the harbor city of Nea Paphos, the importance of the old city of Paphos declined, but it did retain its fame as an important religious center in the Hellenistic and later the Roman world. The sanctuary was rebuilt in about 100 CE, possibly after a destruction caused by the earthquake of 76/77 CE. This Roman sanctuary, which incorporated part of the LB buildings, was not in the classical Greco-Roman design. The building retained the basic Oriental character of an open-court sanctuary, reminiscent of the cult's Near Eastern antecedents.

The shrine with the longest cult tradition on Cyprus did not survive the final outlawing of all pagan religions by Emperor Theodosius I (391). Yet, several centuries later, at the beginning of the twelfth century, Palaipaphos (then named Couvoucle) regained some of its former importance. The royal manor house was erected adjacent to the sanctuary site, incorporating a thirteenth-century hall that is one of the finest surviving monuments of Gothic secular architecture on Cyprus. The manor served as a center of cane sugar production. On the coastal plain below it, a large and fairly well-preserved cane-sugar refinery was discovered and excavated. Erected in the late thirteenth century, it represents a so-far unique example of a medieval industrial plant; it remained in use until the end of the sixteenth century.

[See also Cyprus.]

Bibliography

  • Maier, Franz G., ed. Ausgrabungen in Alt́-Paphos. 4 vols. Konstanz, Germany, 1977–1986.
  • Maier, Franz G., and Vassos Karageorghis. Paphos: History and Archaeology. Nicosia, 1984.
  • Maier, Franz G. Alt-Paphos auf Cypern. Mainz, 1985.
  • Maier, Franz G., and M.-L. von Wartburg. “Reconstructing History from the Earth, c. 2800 B.C.–1600 A.D.: Excavating at Palaepaphos, 1966–1984.” In Archaeology in Cyprus, 1960–1985, edited by Vassos Karageorghis, pp. 142–172. Nicosia, 1985.

Franz Georg Maier

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