A very important archaeological site
Another important Greek archaeological site is a candidate to be included in the UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Philippi, near the town of Kavala, in eastern Macedonia!
The city of Philippi is connected with King Philip the 2nd of Macedonia, with the battle of Philippi, which determined the evolution of the Roman state and with the first appearance of the Apostle Paul in Europe. The visit is a charming walk among the splendid monuments of the Hellenistic, Roman, early Christian and Byzantine era that remind a long history from the 4th century BC until the 16th century AD.
The region was continuously inhabited since the Neolithic era. The city's history begins in 360 BC, when settlers from the island of Thassos led by the exiled Athenian political Kallistratos, knowing the wealth of the region in gold, other metals and wood, founded the city of Krenides. Perhaps in the same location was the city of Daton –Daton or Datos was called in ancient times the surrounding plain, very fertile since the marshes, which flooded the area, were drained.
The location of the city was not only economically important, but also strategic. Quickly, in 356 BC, the neighbors Thracians appeared threatening and the colonists sought the help of Philip the 2nd, king of Macedonia. Philip, having foreseen its importance, occupied the city, named it Philippi and installed Macedonian settlers who drained the field; he also built a wall and exploited the gold mine.
The city flourished during the Hellenistic era. In 42 BC, near the west wall, the historic battle of Philippi determined the future of the Roman state. The legions of the triumvirate of Antonius, Lepidus and Octavian defeated the legions of Brutus and Cassius. Later Octavian became the first emperor of Rome.
Octavian made the city of Philippi a Roman colony (Colonia Augusta Julia Philippensis), which gained importance due to its position on the Via Egnatia and became an administrative, economic and cultural center.
In 49 or 50, Philippi became the first station of the Apostle Paul in Europe. Paul, along with Silas and Timothy, landed in Neapoli, as Kavala was called at the time, and established in Philippi the first Christian church on the European continent.
The prevalence of Christianity gave new glamour to the city. From the 4th to the 6th century Christian grandiose buildings took the place of the Roman buildings, such as the “Octagon”, with the cathedral, dedicated to the Apostle Paul, and three basilicas. But it began suffering from barbarian raids.In 473 came the Goths. In the following century the emperor Justinian strengthened the fortifications. In the 7th century the raids of the Slavs began, while an earthquake caused major damages. It was the beginning of the decline. In the 9th century the area was included in the Byzantine theme of Strymon River and in 963-969 new fortifications were constructed. The city remained a strong fortress, but it was slowly abandoned. Around 1500 a few houses were left outside the walls.
The monuments of Philippi
The archaeological excavations began in Philippi in 1914 by the French Archaeological School at Athens. New excavations took place by the Greek Archaeological Service and the Archaeological Society after the Second World War. Greek and French archaeologists, in collaboration with the School of Architecture of the University of Thessaloniki, continue the research and restoration. The findings are exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Philippi.
In most monuments restoration work has been done. Of particular interest is a project for the preservation, restoration and reconstruction of the ancient theater, where every summer many events of the Festival of Philippi, begun in 1957, are held. Most important monuments are the Walls and the Citadel, remnants of ancient sanctuaries, the Theater, the Roman Forum, the Basilicas A and B and the Octagon.
The Walls, one of the most impressive attractions of Philippi, begin from the top of the hill, where is the fortified Citadel, and continue around the foot of the hill and a part of the plain. They have a length of 3.5 km. In the citadel there is a tower of the late Byzantine years.The first wall was built by Philip the 2nd, when he conquered the city in 356 BC. The newest wall was built by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century.
The ancient Theater
The ancient Theater is located on the southeastern slope of the hill, and relies in the eastern wall.
It was built during the reign of Philip the 2nd. From this theater the retaining walls which supported the concave are preserved. The orchestra had a horseshoe shape. When Philippi became a Roman colony, the theater was adapted to the Roman spectacles and its capacity was increased. In the 2nd century AD it acquired a purely Roman character. A three-storey stage building was built, the orchestra was paved with marble slabs and the concave was expanded over the passages. Typical of that era is the restored south portico of the stage building.
In the 3rd century the theater was transformed into an arena for animal fights. The front part of the stage was demolished, the first rows of seats were removed and around the orchestra a wall with a height of 1.20 m for the protection of the spectators was built, while on the southern edge a large space was opened for the wild animals and their transportation in the arena. Then probably on the highest point of the concave a covered “epitheatre” (on-theater) was built to retain new rows of seats for most spectators. Shortly afterwards the two arches for retaining the theater in the eastern wall were constructed.
During the Roman era, the Forum –the Agora– was the administrative center of the city. It was a single complex of public buildings, which developed around a square with monumental constructions. North of the forum a large paved road is considered as a part of the Via Egnatia.
The early Christian monuments
The large aisled Basilica A was built around 500 and is one of the largest and most important Christian monuments, with dimensions of 130 x 50 m. It has a transversal aisle on the east side, a square patio, a loft above the aisles and the narthex, and a peculiar “phiale” (“bottle”), as it was called a fountain in the atrium of a Christian basilica, which, covered with a vaulted roof, was used for the washing of hands and feet. In the middle aisle, parts of the luxurious tiling are preserved, as well as a part of the pulpit. Very impressive are the frescoes in the vestibule of the chapel.
The Basilica B was built in 550. It is aisled with narthex and additional constructions in the north and south side. The central aisle was covered with a dome. The sculptural decoration shows the influence of the art of Constantinople.The Octagon, an impressive monumental complex, was the Episcopal complex of Philippi. In this, an octagonal church is included, built in three phases, from the late 4th to the mid-6th century, on the site of a prayer house dedicated to the Apostle Paul; a “phiale”(fountain), a baptistery, a bath, and a two-storey Bishopric are also included; a monumental pillar faces the Via Egnatia.