Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Aegean port of Ancient Corinth. Kechries

In ancient times, Kenchreai was one of the two ports of the inland city-state of Corinth. While Kenchreai served the eastern trade routes,Lechaion on the Corinthian Gulf served the trade routes leading west to Italy and the rest of Europe. SItuated on the eastern side of the Isthmus of Corinth, Kenchreai sat at a natural crossroads for ships arriving from the east and overland traffic heading north and south between central Greece and the Peloponnese. The origin of Kenchreai is unknown, but it must have been inhabited from early times, probably in prehistory, on account of the deep natural harbor that was favorable for landing ships. The area is endowed with abundant water sources, a massive bedrock of oolitic limestone that excellent building stone, and several defensible positions with good viewpoints. The name of the site seems to derive from the ancient Greek word for millet, and the area's capacity for agricultural production is still evident.
The earliest textual sources for Kenchreai, an epitaph of the Late Archaic period (late 6th-early 5th century BC) and references in historical and geographical writings of the Classical to Hellenistic eras (5th-2nd centuries BCE), reveal that there was a permanent settlement and a fortified naval station. Few archaeological remains survive from this early settlement, but it seems to have been located westward form the modern coast, along the prominent ridge that borders the modern village to the north.

Panoramic view of the area of Cenchreai
Kenchreai flourished during the Roman Empire, when the settlement was focused around the crescent-shaped harbor enclosed by massive concrete breakwaters and protected by sea-walls. The local community was small but prosperous, and it was distinguished by its social, cultural, and religious diversity. Ancient literature and inscriptions from the site attest to the presence of cults of Aphrodite, Isis, Asklepios, Poseidon, Dionysos, and Pan. Christianity also arrived at Kenchreai early in the religion's history. According to acts 18:18, the Apostle Paul stopped at Kenchreai during his second missionary journey, where he had his hair cut to fulfill a vow. He mentions the place and a deaconess named Phoebe in the local assembly in his epistle to the Romans . A later ecclesiastical tradition recorded the existence of a bishop at Kenchreai, but the veracity of these accounts is hard to establish.
the ancient harbor
The ancient harbor was partly excavated in 1962-1969 by a team sponsored by the American school of classical studies under the general direction of Professor Robert Scranton. Excavations have uncovered several buildings that attest to the commercial vitality of the port throughout the Roman Empire and into the 7th century, when maritime activity and local habitation apparently diminished. The most impressive buildings located at the north and south ends of the harbor include blocks of rooms near the waterfront (probably warehouses); fishtanks; monumental complexes decorated with sculpted marble, mosaic pavements, and wall-painting (either sacred structures, lavish seaside villas, or rich public benefactions); and a small Christian basilica.=
Since 2002, survey and excavation jointly sponsored by the American School and the Greek Ministry of Culture has explored the area immediately north of the harbor on the low coastal ridge called Koutsongila. These new investigations have concentrated on a vast cemetery of Early Roman chamber tombs and Roman to Early Byzantine cist graves, an opulent residential quarter facing seaward, and other large structures overlooking the harbor. The bountiful artifacts and structures found both at the harbor and on Koutsongila reveal the considerable wealth of local residents, including several objects of exceptional artistic quality, and a connection to points of production and exchange to the east in the Aegean islands, Asia Minor, and the Near East.
Historical and geographical texts of the Byzantine and post-Byzantine eras indicate that Kenchreai was still used by travelers and Imperial expeditions. While the ancient harbor could still receive ship traffic after antiquity, the archaeological evidence for medieval occupation is thin, and any permanent settlement must have been smaller than in ancient times. A small harbor facility operated during early modern times, mostly serving to export local produce, including grains, citrus fruit, and tomatoes.

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