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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 03 August 2019
16 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 3 AUGUST 2019 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Work at the site is a colossal task. Yannos Kourayos brings Despotiko to life in revival of Greek antiquity in the Cyclades MARKELLA CHATZILAMPROU D espotiko, a small island in the Cyclades, has drawn the attention of archaeology enthusiasts in recent years, after excavations uncovered a religious site of major significance, dating from the Archaic Period. The site encompasses a large temple dedicated to the Greek god Apollo along with other ceremonial buildings, and is now considered to have been of equal, if not greater, importance to the famous sanctuary of Delos. The excavation project is headed by Yannos Kourayos, a Greek archaeologist with vast experience and rich knowledge of the area. Kourayos began his excavation at Despotiko in the summer of 1997 but before him, the first exploration was led by archaeologist Christos Tsountas in the 19th century and another one was conducted by Nikos Zafeiropoulosin 1959. Kourayos discovered in 1997 an extensive archaic shrine devoted to Apollo, thitherto unknown from any written ancient source until then. These excavations in Mandra (Despotiko) have brought to light a vast religious complex devoted to Apollo which was completed in the Late Archaic Period. Religious activities are believed to have been taking place at the same site since the Geometric Period. Despotiko is one of the three islets situated west of the island of Antiparos and is mentioned by Pliny the Elder and Strabo as Prepesinthos. It is in fact situated almost exactly at the centre of the Cyclades. The only way to visit the islet is by boat from Agios Georgios in Antiparos and it sits at just 700m off the coast, which makes it perfect for a quick visit during your stay in Cyclades. This islet has been uninhabited since ancient times, but current excavations indicate that there was possibly an isthmus that may have linked Despotiko and the other two islets with Antiparos until at least the Hellenistic period. In the Archaic period, the people of Paros built a sanctuary in Despotiko devoted to the cult of Apollo, as well as his sister Artemis and the goddess Hestia. The reason behind the choice of this specific location for the religious complex probably lied in the effort to establish their dominance in the Aegean, especially as part of their rivalry with the island of Naxos. In the Classical period, the Athenian Miltiades, under the pretext that the people of Paros had supported the Persians during the Persian invasion of Greece, Yannos Kourayos spoke to Greek News Agenda on the importance of the site as well as the challenges posed by this demanding task. You seem to have a connection with the islands of Paros and Antiparos for over thirty years now; how did this start? What was it that first made you say "I The discovery of this temple has altered our perception of Cyclades’ archaeological landscape... “ led an unsuccessful Athenian campaign against the island of Paros (which also encompassed Antiparos and Despotiko) which had been conquered by the Persians. The islet was also partially burnt down by French pirates in the 17th century. According to the archaeologists working on the site, the islet of Despotiko will be gradually turned into an open-air museum, as is the case with Delos, and it will become accessible to the public. Excavation Head want to start from there"? I started 33 years ago when I had just finished my military service and was working at my brother's jewellery store when a friend informed me I could apply for an archaeologist's position funded by the European Union. This is how it began and I remained with the Ephorate of Antiquities of Cyclades, where I have worked very hard, on several different islands such as Naxos, Delos, Paros, Ikaria, Rineia and elsewhere, both on excavations and at local museums. On account of tourist growth, we carried out several excavations on the island of Paros during the 1990's that were of course very productive. Do you consider the excavations in Despotiko to be your life's work? (If yes, then) How do you connect personally with it? Surely anyone who has worked on a project for more than twenty years would feel attached to it. The Despotiko project is certainly my life's passion and purpose, as it would be for any conscientious archaeologist. An archaeologist must excavate, protect as well as shape an archaeological site. Despotiko has of course rewarded me with new edifices being discovered every year, but the most important task is the restoration of the temple of Apollo and the ceremonial hestiatoreion. You've discovered a ceremonial hestiatoreion (banqueting hall), which is placed next to the Apollo Sanctuary and is considered to be three thousand years old. Did you expect to make this kind of discovery when you first started on this journey? Do these findings affect our perception of the site's history? And in what ways? Obviously, the discovery of this temple has altered our perception of Cyclades' archaeological landscape, due to its sheer size and multiple innovative elements, such as the ceremonial hestiatoreion, the semicircular shrine on front of the temple, the various auxiliary buildings and the bath that was used for purification. Recently, after the latest archaeological discoveries, Despotiko's historical importance has been weighed against that of Delos. Is there any point in such comparisons? What are the main differences between the two sites? We now know that this is a temple of the Archaic Period larger than the one in Archaic Delos. Delos was under the influence of Naxos and later Athens. Although we have discovered many offerings, meaning sculptures, from Paros. After all, what we now see in Delos is a Hellenistic Yannis Kourayos has made Despotiko his life’s work. Students from all over the world visit the field school.
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