Finds from the Hestiatorion.
Yannos Kourayos at the excavations at Despotiko.
Text: Maro Voulgari
Banqueting with the Gods!
Following the finding of the first “ritual hestiatorion” at Despotiko, archaeologist Yannos Kourayos tells us about the fascination of bringing together the history’s mosaic pieces, about the dream for an open-air archaeological museum at the uninhabited island and about the information we retrieve from under the sacrificial animals.
An imposing temple and adjacent to it a space for consuming the sacrificed animals are two of the numerous archaeological finds at Despotiko in the past 18 years. “A temple and a ritual hestiatorion standing in the same yard -something typical of an orthodox Monastery”, we are told by Mr Yannos Kourayos, archaeologist at the Cyclades Ephorate of Antiquities and head of the Paros Archaeological Museum. It is an impressive finding giving us many indications about the way they sacrificed and consumed the animals, as in the surrounding space we have found many bones of bovines, goats, pigs, poultry, dolphins, shellfish but also many vessels (fish plates, many drinking vessels, cups etc.). The uniqueness of the “ritual hestiatorion” at Despotiko lies in the fact that it was found to be adjacent to the ancient temple, bringing to mind an orthodox monastery where the faithful dine at the refectory after the service, having stew or legumes. In front of the temple, we also have a very big altar, a semicircular construction, with a front part made of marble where apparently the priest officiated, his face turned to the east. The sacrifices were held there and then they grilled and consumed the animals at what we call “hestiatorion”. It is now known that they ate the animals. In fact, five percent went to the God! We should also add that they had meat only in exceptional occasions -in feasts and sacrifices.
THE MEAL WAS A FEAST
At the University of Genoa, Mr. Kourayos adds, I was asked why we call it hestiatorion (i.e. restaurant, refectory). We reached this conclusion for many reasons. We have three consecutive rooms which have doors both in the west and the east, while the temple has doors only in the east. The entire temple is made of marble while the “hestiatorion” is of slate. Arrayed along the walls of these three rooms there are marble slabs at which the legs of the couches were probably fixed. As we know the people had their meals while reclining on couches. The meal was a feast of communication, euphoria, exchange and joy. They consumed the viands, drinking wine mixed with water and enjoyed the meeting and the ritual. In front of one of the rooms there was an altar where the sacrifices took place. Inside the 18 buildings we have found, there are ancillary areas used for keeping the animals before the sacrifice or for storing grain, oil and wine -anything that would be consumed at the rituals. So far, we have found four altars at which sacrifices or libations were held.
THE PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
We envisage a space open to visitors, a space which, under a rigorous conservation, will be protected from natural disasters and from any damage that might be caused by the visitors or animals. Information boards have already been placed and our architect has prepared a study -approved by the Central Archaeological Council- with the routes visitors should take so as to avoid causing any damage to the finds. So far, the excavation has been funded by sponsors (the Latsis Foundation, the Kanellopoulos Foundation, Thanassis and Marina Martinou). However, this year the Antiparos Municipality has promised to go ahead with some funding. Now, we raise the drums of the columns to give the space its third dimension. It is a 40 m. long “hestiatorion” and we believe that with its restoration this important monument will be animated and will impress visitors with its rarity and beauty.