Fotini Zafeiropoulou with her goddaughter, Alexandra Angeletaki.

Τhe exacavations of O. Rubensohn in the beginning of the 20th century. In the background Ekatontapyliani and the building of the Marble Company.

Aspect of the Ancient Cemetery in its present condition.

Geometric Amphorae with battle scenes from the polyandrion, 8th c. B.C.

Fotini Zafeiropoulou

Text: Georgia Papadopoulou

On holiday with an archaeologist

Summer of 2020. Unprecedented conditions for a Cycladic summer. The pandemic, the few visitors to the island, the excursions and guided tours that did not take place, changed the usual summer look of the island. So, I found myself being on holiday rather than running to museums, archaeological sites and historic settlements with groups of tourists, who are so happy with such activities. Aegean holidays, first time so long, full of sunny beaches and blue sea.

Those holidays, although unintentional and forced, pleasantly surprised me. The encounter with the great lady of Cycladic Archaeology, Fotini Zafeiropoulou, a brilliant name in the History of Greek Archaeology, in all its fields, from excavation to documentation and from museum exhibition of the findings to their rescue and the dissemination of knowledge. From the first moment I had a feeling of unique intimacy, she brings it out anyway, and I felt that something binds me to her, beyond the interest in Archaeology. Until I learned that at the beginning of her career she had worked as a tourist guide, she even had the tourist guide license number 5 from the National Tourism Organization!

We spent four quite unforgettable months together, with her tireless and continuous work at the Archaeological Museum of Parikia followed by a daily swim in the sea. In the evening, the enjoyment was perfectly complemented by the incomparable sunsets accompanied by Parian delicacies, suma (local drink) and wine. The greatest enjoyment, however, was the river of stories, anecdotes, jokes, pleasant and unpleasant moments from the long and fascinating course of Fotini Zafeiropoulou in the inaccessible but so rich archaeological landscape of the Cyclades for half a century.

One day I got the courage to ask her for a favour. As a tourist guide, I wanted her to take me on a tour of the famous, albeit neglected by the local authorities, archaic cemetery, which she herself had excavated, studied and brought to light. An important place, not only for Paros, but also for Greece as a whole, the archaic cemetery opposite the Vinji site of Parikia, is still waiting to become easily accessible to us and visitors offering an opportunity to talk about the great archaic era of the island.

In that unforgettable tour, and despite the outlook of abandonment, I had the opportunity to realize how important this site is and how right Mrs Zafeiropoulou is, when insisting that it should be promoted. The main find is two mass burials of the 8th century, the so-called polyandria, where it seems that about 140 dead men aged 16 to 31 were buried, probably victims of some kind of war activity.

Amphorae containing burnt bones of the dead were found inside the polyandria, a custom described in Homeric epics. However, the fact that the burial did not contain any large number of offerings usually found in such tombs of the archaic era raises many questions. The most important findings are two urns decorated with high quality paintings, proof of the existence of ceramics workshops of similar high quality. The themes of the imagery are also admirable; in one, scenes from the Homeric epics and in the other, scenes of battle with an organized army, where slingshot warriors are included in their first ever depiction found.

This type of painting is a serious indication of the existence of a very strong and organized city-state in Paros, from as early as the 8th century. In the classical and Roman years, the cemetery was expanded and has given us many other burial finds, such as tombstones, sarcophagi, pedestals and marble ossuaries, which date back to the 2nd century AD. Fotini Zafeiropoulou, justifiably, considers the archaic cemetery her child and wishes to see it used as it deserves. All I can do is wish the same and I hope that, soon, I will be able to guide the first visitors there.

Georgia Papadopoulou, ΜΕd, is a Licensed Tourist Guide (English, Turkish), Museum Educator and Adult Education specialist.
She teaches English, Turkish and Greek as foreign languages.