and the medieval castle
of Kefalos in Paros
Article: Athanassios Vionis, Professor in Byzantine Archaeology and Art in the University of Cyprus
One of the most striking features of the eastern coast of Paros is the hill of Kefalos with the monastery of Agios Antonios on its summit. Kefalos and his lower twin, Antikefalos, oversee the straits between Paros and Naxos while the white-washed monastery on the summit invites the visitor to climb up the hill.
So, on foot or by car, go for it. It’s worth it. Getting on top, you will discover much more than the amazing view; an ancient Corinthian capital by the church and the ruins of towers, cisterns, houses and churches surrounding the 17th century monastery. They bear evidence of the past when the Venetians built this castle during their 330-year rule of Paros. Since 1207 when Paros became part of the Duchy of Naxos under Marco Sanudo up to 1537, when the Ottoman marine under the command of Barbarossa attacked Bernardo Sagredo and took the castle of Kefalos and the whole island, making 6 000 prisoners from among the Parians. It was then that Cecilia Venieri, threw herself from the castle to avoid falling in Ottoman hands, closing in this heroic way the Venetian period in Paros.
The following passage is a précis of an archaeological study granted to us by Athanassios Vionis, Professor in Byzantine Archaeology and Art in the University of Cyprus.
The remains of the 13th-16th-century kastro of Kephalos lie today on the conical hill of Kephalos or Agios Antonios, named after the monastery dedicated to St Anthony, built around 1580. The site occupies the summit of the hill, which rises 230 m above sea-level with commanding views. Kephalos is similar in layout to other kastra of its period in the Aegean. The highest portion of the castle was once occupied by the Catholic cathedral church and the lord’s residence, with all the necessary structures that would ensure survival for the occupants of the site. The lower castle consists of two areas defended by an inner and an outer defensive wall, with rows of single-roomed houses built against them.
The inner and outer defensive walls of the kastro divide the site into an upper and a lower level. Two building phases can be securely identified, predating the construction of the monastic complex of Agios Antonios around 1580. The inner defensive wall with an average thickness of 1.20 m was constructed during the first building phase and it encircles an area of approximately 6,400 m2. Entrance into the area within the inner defensive wall was through a gate located close to the south-eastern corner of the wall. Part of the inner defensive wall encircles a platform of about 2,300 m2 on the highest point of Mount Kephalos. This is the area now occupied by the monastery, but once occupied by the residence of the feudal lord or governor of the island. The outer defensive wall with an average thickness of 1.50 m seems to have been built during the second building phase and encircles an area of approximately 28,400 m2. There are two gates in the outer defensive wall; the south gate was the main one, while there was another one on the west side. The outer fortification wall increased the total area of Kephalos to about 35,000 m2.
The presence of nine churches (three twin churches and three regular single-aisled ones) with associated domestic structures close to them determined the separation of the site into six ‘neighbourhoods’, each one focused around a barrel-vaulted chapel. House remains are to be found along the whole extent of the inner and outer defensive walls, while their condition and size varies. An old (originally medieval in date) paved path leading to the monastery runs through the entire kastro.
The remains of three water cisterns with their lining were identified in Kephalos. The largest one is located within the inner defensive wall to the north of the monastery, possibly formed the basement of the rather large multi-storey tower. The cistern provided water to the occupants of the lord’s residence, while the tower must have been associated with the lord’s residence itself or even the Catholic cathedral now lying under the church of Agios Antonios. The ruins of a second cistern were identified south-west of the chapel of Evangelismos, it is also plastered over but rather smaller in dimensions. The third water cistern is located close to the south gate, to the left side of the paved path. The inner and outer defensive walls were strengthened by towers located at certain corners and built with roughly cut stones lined with mortar.
Most areas within the kastro preserve a large number of humble structures built against the fortification walls, identified as houses occupied presumably by peasants. They must have had two storeys, making use of the fortification-walls’ height, and they seem to have had one or two rooms with doorways attached directly to the side-walls. Small wooden or stone external staircases must have led to the upper storey, the ground floor being used for stabling and/or storage. Houses are not regularly constructed and vary in size. The average size of houses ranges between 20 and 45 m2. Substantial ruins of houses in parts of the kastro suggest that their ground floors were vaulted.
After arriving in Paros, the Venetians built Kastro in Paroikia as their residence and the administrative seat of the island around 1260. The castle of Naoussa was constructed in the later 13th or early 14th century, while a circular tower with firing apertures was added at the entrance of its harbour around 1500. The kastro of Kephalos already existed as a fortified site when the Florentine priest Cristoforo Buondelmonti visited Paros about 1415-20, mentioning that the castle was located on a steep hill. The existence of the site in the early years of the 15th century is confirmed by the inscription above the doorway of the chapel of Evangelismos on Kephalos, which commemorates the names of the founders and 1410 as the date of construction.
It is not easy to suggest a definite date of construction for Kephalos on the basis of historical information, but archaeological evidence suggests that the first phase of the kastro could be placed in the later 13th century. Distribution of surface ceramics dated from the 13th to middle of 14th century show a remarkably well-defined concentration within the inner defensive walls of Kephalos. The outer fortification wall of the castle must have been constructed during the late 14th century under the authority of Nicolo I Sommaripa, who moved the administrative seat from the castle of Paroikia to Kephalos. The site was besieged and captured by Barbarossa in 1537. Indeed, surface pottery seems to suggest continuity of habitation in the late medieval and early post-medieval periods, from the late 14th to the late 15th and early 16th centuries outside the inner defensive walls. Kephalos was never reused as a habitation site. Instead, a monastery was built in the late 16th century on the peak of the mountain and started to operate in 1642.
The survival of structures against the defensive walls and the nature of the site suggest that the areas within the fortifications must have been fully exploited, housing a large number of people. The average size of its houses Kephalos is comparable with other defended settlements of the period on other islands. Moreover, given the total size of the castle (3.5 hectares), it would not be an exaggeration to suggest that 1,000 to 1,500 people occupied Kephalos at its fullest extent in the 15th to 16th centuries.