Arkeseia (Karpathos) 7 Arkassa - Αρκέσσεια

Ἀρκέσσεια - Arkeseia, Archaic to Hellenistic polis near Arkassa in Karpathos Dodecanese

Modern description McGilchrist's Greek Islands

On the coast below and to the south, framing a shallow west-facing bay, are the two promontories of Phiníki and Arkása. The area has evidence of habitation from Mycenaean times, and the name of ‘Phiníki' (‘Phoenicians') likewise suggests considerable antiquity. The rocky outcrops directly above the attractive and sheltered harbour at Phiniki show signs of having been cut, excavated and shaped in different periods of history. In ancient times the importance of this stretch of coast lay not only in its two fine natural acropolises, but in its being the safest point of embarkation on Karpathasos for the island of Kasos and the all-important centres of Crete beyond. Today a seasonal (summer only) caïque service links Phiniki to Phry on Kasos (15 km to the west).
Although there may be few tangible, ancient remains at Phiniki to be seen, at Arkása, 3 km further south, there are visible and extensive ruins from ancient and Palaeochristian times. On the flat spit of land which joins the rocky headland to the shore is the small church of Aghia Sophia, which stands on part of the extensive area of *Early Christian mosaic floor which belonged to the 5th century Basilica of Aghia Anastasia and its surrounding buildings. In spite of the fact that areas of the mosaics from Arkasa were moved to the museum in Rhodes by the Italians in the 1930's, there is still much to see here.
The site includes three buildings of slightly varying periods. The earliest work – perhaps from as early as the turn of the beginning of the 5th century AD – is the floor of a building to the north of the existing church (the first part encountered, coming from the end of the track), which may have functioned principally as a baptistery. The mosaic is in four colours, with simple open panels and wide borders of woven designs: an inscription refers to the patron of the work, named ‘Alypos'. The later, 6th century Basilica of Aghia Anastasia lies under and to the west and south of the existing church of Aghia Sophia. This was a large structure (25 m long) with a more ambitious design to its floor, extending well beyond the low ossuary-building which was later erected at an odd angle over the southwest corner of the basilica's floor. The design of the mosaic floor is best preserved inside this building. Some of the superstructure and a number of monolithic columns in marble and granite can be seen in the area of the nave: these will have come originally from the ancient acropolis above and been re-used in the basilica. Beyond this complex, further to the west, are what remains of a third building programme, the ‘Basilica of Eucharistos' named after a bishop mentioned in its dedicatory inscription, and dating from the end of the 5th century. The panel in the courtyard of the Archaeological Museum in the Knights' Hospital in Rhodes comes from this structure. Inside the existing chapel of Aghia Sophia is the font from one of these three buildings: it is an ancient, cylindrical marble altar whose inside has been excavated to create a basin. Its carved decoration is considerably eroded because the piece was only recovered from the sea at the end the Turkish occupation.
Looking at the southeast face of the rock (above left) from the isthmus, small stretches of ancient walls can be seen, constructed in polygonal, ‘cyclopean' blocks. These are the remains of what was a complete circuit of walls, up to 2m in width, which formed the Mycenaean fortification of the acropolis. Slightly to the right of this (below the modern walls) is more polygonal masonry, different in appearance and dating perhaps from a later enceinte of the early historic period, which belonged to the city referred to by ancient writers as Arkaseia. The rock constitutes a prefect natural acropolis, and appears to have been used with little interruption from the Bronze Age through to Mediaeval times. A path winds steeply up to a shoulder of the headland on the north side, densely covered in pot-sherds from a wide span of periods ancient, Byzantine and mediaeval. A number of columns have been erected, and half-buried architectural fragments are to be seen. On the summit the remains of a small cist-grave have been discovered.
At Voniés (c. 1.5 km inland to the east of Arkasa) a Mycenaean chamber-tomb of the 16th century BC, containing decorated vases, pyxes and cups, has been excavated and reassembled – exactly as found – in the museum in Pigadia.
The brightly coloured houses of the modern village of Arkasa climb to either side of a torrent bed: the church of the Panaghia Marmariní incorporates a couple of columns brought from the ancient acropolis in its porch. There is also a small local museum which has gathered together Ancient and Early Christian fragments, displayed alongside various liturgical and domestic items of more recent times.


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