Despotiko in antiquity was connected to Tsimintiri through an isthmus.
In the background Antiparos, and below the reconstruction model of the sanctuary with the temple and the hestiatorion (refectory).

The sanctuary during the first years of the excavation; on the right the three rooms of the hestiatorion and left the bathroom with the bath tub and the latrines.

The restoration of the transversal wall between the temple and the hestiatorion was decisive for the stability of the monument.

Corinthian aryballoi and an ostrich egg from the treasury along with a plate from the hestiatorion.

The large size and fine artistic quality suggest that it is probably the cult idol of the original temple, representing Apollo himself.

On this remarkable head of a kouros from a Naxian workshop we see the perfect archaic smile!

Despotiko – site Mandra

Text: Avgi Kalogianni

Despotiko is a small island that lies west of Antiparos, across from Ag. Georgios and it’s only one out of 190 uninhabited islets and 30 major islands that form the Cyclades. This unique group of islands has given us some of the most exciting works of Greek art.

Under the strong Aegean light, the islands’ craftsmen carved, some 5.000 years ago, the Cycladic idols and continued with the archaic kouros, with their almond shaped eyes, the airy kores and the masterpieces of the classical period. Sculpture flourished on the islands and Paros held a leading part in it. Endowed with the best quality of marble, the island quickly developed a special relation to the beautiful rock, a relation still maintained. Thanks to the valuable material, the island became prosperous, created a remarkable school of sculpture and exported marble and sculptors to all the important centers of the time. The influence and power of Paros during the archaic and classical period is confirmed by the discovery on Despotiko of an important sanctuary that Yannos Kourayos has been excavating for more than 20 years.
“It seems that in this small island of Despotiko, which is situated among very important artistic and financial centres, there was a sanctuary with a Panhellenic brilliance that gathered worshipers from all over Greece. Apollo, god of light and music, symbol of lyricism and harmony, was the most worshiped deity in the ancient Cyclades. According to tradition there were as many as 22 shrines dedicated to the god Apollo throughout the Cyclades. One of them was probably the sanctuary on Despotiko”, mentioned in a lecture in the Museum of Cycladic Art, Yannos Kourayos, the man who in the last years has bound his name with the excavations on Despotiko.

This is not the first time archaeological excavations have taken place on Despotiko. First, Christos Tsountas in the late nineteenth century excavated two early Cycladic cemeteries of the 3rd millennium B.C. at the sites of Livadi and Zoumbaria. Later in 1959 N.Zapheiropoulos explored more graves of the same period in Zoumbaria. But now we have something different, something that proves that the island’s history goes beyond the Cycladic civilization at the site of Mandra. The island of Despotiko has been identified with ancient Prepesinthos mentioned by Strabo and Pliny and the Sigilo of the maritime maps of the 15th,16th and 17th century, when it was entirely destroyed by pirates and abandoned. In fact, there is an old story about how the famous French pirate Daniel persecuted by the Turks, turned to the inhabitants of Despotiko for help, but was handed over. To take revenge for his death, sometime later his companions slaughtered the inhabitants and plundered the island.

So, with the pirate’s ghost wandering around the island during the night and the goats happily grazing during the day, research began with great difficulty in 1997 whereas the systematic excavation started just in 2002, after the pier was built thanks to Yannis Patelis from Antiparos. It was then that a treasury of 600 objects was discovered, buried under the floor of one of the rooms of the temple. Then it became obvious that this was a sanctuary and a very important one. With the new finds that each year brings along, Yannos Kourayos has now cleared that this was a sanctuary dedicated to Apollo and the goddess Hestia, whose cult was introduced in the classical period as patron goddess of seamen. She was referred to as Isthmia because of the isthmus connecting in antiquity Despotiko to the neighboring island of Tsimintiri.

In the sanctuary there were buildings for worship and auxiliary structures for the needs of the priests and the visitors. In the middle of the 6th century B.C. the temple was built, consisting of two rooms and the “hestiatorion”, consisting of three adjacent dining rooms. It was beneath the floor of one of the rooms of the temple that the 600 objects mentioned above, were found. These were probably earlier offerings (7th-6th century B.C.) that were placed in the new worship area in order to be protected.

Since 2004 they have found their place in the Archaeological Museum of Paros. This remarkable collection includes Parian and Cycladic vases of excellent quality of the 7th century B.C. as well as pottery from Corinth and Asia Minor, clay female promotes, bronze and gold objects, pins and beads and an ostrich egg, like those that seamen still offer in the churches. The votive offerings, because that’s what they were, show the origin of the pilgrims: Cyclades, Corinth and Asia Minor, Cyprus and Egypt.

The most important among the finds is a statuette of the Daedalic style from a Parian workshop. Only the upper half of the figure is preserved, measuring 25 cm in height from the waist up, complete save for part of the left arm and the entire right arm. The big eyes, the lips and the hair are painted in dark brown in contrast with the pale skin. It wore a polos, a hat-like head-dress particular to deities, and had long hair framing the face in two triangles, with six spiral curls across the forehead. The dress was decorated with a lozenge pattern and it wore a dark cloak. The large size and fine artistic quality suggest that it is probably the cult idol of the original temple, representing most probably Apollo himself.

In the second room of the temple the base of the cult statue was found, part of which was built into the wall of the goat pen. The “bathroom”, which was found further south, was a room with a conduct for collecting water and a marble bath tub, that served for the cleansing of the worshipers before they entered the sanctuary.

Probably the most important historical fact revealed in this excavation is witnessed by the discovery of the broken statues in second use for the reconstruction of the sanctuary. These fragments and the story they tell are classified among the ten most important archaeological discoveries of the last years. Heads and torsos, thighs and arms of kouros and kores became thresholds and foundations or were built in later structures. What could be the reason of this terrible sacrilege?

Although there is no written document, Yannos Kourayos can only give one explanation. As we know, the Athenians after the triumph of Marathon sent Miltiades to punish the Parians under the pretext that they had supported the Persians. He didn’t succeed though and returned, humiliated and wounded, to Athens where he died a little later from this very wound. So, probably, before or after the unsuccessful incursion, the Athenians gave way to their rage by destroying the sacred offerings in the Parian sanctuary of Despotiko. The Parians on the other hand, instead of burying the destroyed offerings, as it usually happened, used them to reconstruct the sanctuary.

Many hold the view that restoration is not necessary. As I’ve studied in Italy, I find this view wrong, Yannos Kourayos says.

I believe in the strategic importance of Despotiko, due to its position and its leeward port, Yannos Kourayos says.

The Archaeologist
and the restoration project

Text: Avgi Kalogianni | Photos: Mary Hatzaki

I met Yannos Kourayos one month before the start of this year’s restoration work at Despotiko. Feverish activity ruled at the offices of the Ephorate of the Cyclades Antiquities, archaeologists holding thick files came and went, telephones rang, candidates for the post of seasonal antiquity guards filled applications and workers painted the façade of the neoclassical building. Likewise, our talk was a bit feverish and I’ve tried to sum up here his main points:

I believe in the strategic importance of Despotiko, due to its position and its leeward port, as testified by the four towers at the island. The founding of Despotiko reveals not only the Parians intention to gain control of the Aegean but also their economic power. The marble quarries brought immense riches to the island.

Many hold the view that restoration is not necessary. As I’ve studied in Italy, I find this view wrong. I’m in favour of the restoration, so that the non-expert visitor can understand how the monument stood.
Even I who know the monument, have dug it, have seen it in drawings I feel some kind of awe seeing it restored! We have been blamed for the use of contemporary material for the in-between wall but this was dictated by the Central Archaeological Council for static equilibrium reasons. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to carry on with the restoration, to place the architraves which help us have a feeling of the third dimension. At a place with strong winds and earthquakes static equilibrium is imperative.

More attention must be given to Paros. We have twelve important archaeological sites on Paros but unfortunately, they are not as they should be! What can I say? At the town’s entry we have the ancient mosaics, a parking lot and the municipal garbage trucks! This is a complaint I express to the locals and the municipal authorities. The locals should love the antiquities more, because they only have to gain from them.

The future? As I haven’t many years left, I hope the restoration will be completed. I think I’ve been a very fortunate archeologist, I worked for Paros and Paros paid me back with very beautiful findings. I feel more Parian than the Parians themselves!