A turning in from the shore leads up through olives and pines, to the tranquil and beautiful site of *Ancient Kameiros or Camirus (open Apr–Oct 8–7.30; Nov–Mar 8.30–2.30; closed Mon). In complete contrast to Ialysos, the site here is a clear and comprehensible unity, undisturbed by overbuilding in later epochs and remarkably well preserved by the in-filling dust (which Homer accurately describes as arginóeis (‘chalky in colour'), Iliad, II, 656). Few other places in the Greek Islands give a more complete and unfragmented picture of the layout of a small ancient centre than Kameiros. Every part of the site is visible from every other, and the simple and integral relationships between the areas can be easily understood: the civic and commercial area at the level of the entrance; the most important religious and administrative buildings at the crown of the hill; and the residential area—not banished to a suburb, but laid out between the two, in such a way as to give a sense of security to the inhabitants. One of the most interesting features of Kameiros is the city's system of storage and distribution of water, effected by a network of 1 7 4 large underground conduits. The visitor today must imagine the sound of running and splashing water at many points throughout the ancient town.
Named after one of the grandsons of the nymph Rhode and Helios (Pindar, Olympian VII, 69–76), Kameiros was the smallest of the three original, Dorian settlements on the island. Its economy was primarily agricultural, and the need to store and transport its surplus produce of oil and wine was the stimulus for a vigorous, local ceramic industry. It possessed a shallow and rather exposed harbour—Mylantia—on the coast below: but it may also have used the more protected port, 13km further south along the coast at modern-day Kameiros Skala. This inconvenient state of affairs may have contributed to its willingness to participate in the creation of the new city of Rhodes in 407/8 BC, with its superb ports and commanding position for trade. Kameiros was devastated by an earthquake in 226 BC: this means that much of what is standing above ground dates from the rebuilding which followed that disaster.
The site Lower area The visitor enters the site at the level of the commercial and civic centre, or agorá, of the city—a flat, open area artificially levelled, with a retaining wall below to the left, at the seaward extremity of the present enclosure. This space was bounded by a number of sacred buildings and by the fountain complex and public meeting-space to the south east side, against the central slope of the hill. To the right on entering is a distyle temple , oriented north/south, with two columns re-erected, probably dedicated to Pythian Apollo. Several different coloured materials have been used in its base to pleasing effect: a yellow threshold step on the front (south) side and a course of local marble at the lowest level of the base; originally this would have provided greater contrast since the upper areas of sandstone would have been rendered in white plaster. Inside, the base for the cult statue is visible, with a sunken treasury for offerings behind and two bases for votive objects to either side of the entrance of the naos. By the northwest corner of the temple is a large 3rd century BC shrine with a statue base in its interior. Further to the west, at the edge of the excavated area, are the remains of a house of the Roman period with an interior room with apse (possibly a small nymphaeum) still preserving some bright, coloured plaster.
The Fountain Square is the open rectangular area to your right: spacious and partially shaded, this would have been the busy social hub of the city. It is surrounded by the bases for votive statues in Lardos marble, many of them with beautifully clear inscriptions. A number have been moved by the archaeologists and lined up along the eastern edge of the area. On the north (seaward) side are two curiosities— densely inscribed stones of grey marble sculpted in a plastic and amorphous manner as if to simulate gnarled wood. The forms are too incomplete and the inscriptions too eroded to permit any certain identification of what these unusual items signified.
The fountain was constructed in late Classical times. Its form must have been similar to that of the Doric fountain at Ialysos which is also Classical in date. In the façade were five half-columns or pillars, with pillars at the extremities. The intervals between the half-columns or pillars were closed by stone barriers. The colonnade with its barriers and the high wall at some distance behind it formed the open reservoir of the fountain, into which fell water from spouts opened in the back wall. The water was drawn in metal vessels. Behind the open reservoir, in the area where a rectangular square was later laid out, was a second, closed, cistern for collecting water. In the early 3rd century BC the fountain was taken out of use and, in its place, an open-air sanctuary was laid out consisting of two squares which together are known as ‘The Fountain Square'. Of the fountain, the only part which was kept was the colonnade, without its barriers, to separate the two squares of the sanctuary. The square which was laid out behind the colonnade had at its centre an altar, or base of a dedication, and entry to this area may not have been permitted to the general public. In this part of the sanctuary may have taken place the meetings of the local officials. Such usage is implied by the inscription (second half of the 1st century BC) on the sides of the half-columns of the fountain, with the names of the damiourgoi, that is the eponymous archons (officials) of Kameiros.
Leaving this area to the north (towards the sea), you pass through what was once a long enclosure wall with engaged columns. Beside it at a lower level are visible the bases of much earlier walls of the 5th century BC in ‘poros' limestone. At an angle, to the right, is an exedra with an altar or statue-base centrally placed in front: this was probably another, elegant votive dedication. Behind this is a terraced area referred to as the ‘sanc tuary of the gods', containing parallel rows of altars to the various divinities whose names are inscribed on the front: ‘Hestia' (goddess of the hearth and home), ‘Agathos Daimon' (good fortune), etc. The long altar on the lower level was dedicated to Helios. Directly behind this sanctuary, in the northeast corner of the site, is the later bath complex with evidence of hypocaust and plastered walls for impermeability. From here the fine spectacle of the stepped main street opens out, rising uphill to the south with houses and shops to the left and right.
The large residential area —still only partially excavated—is a pleasure to explore. The houses, as was typical of the Hellenistic period, were constructed around an open peristyle with a single, central entrance onto the street: the columns supporting the roof of the peristyle have been reerected by the archaeologists in a couple of instances. The rooms off of the courtyards were small and the spaces between houses narrow. The walls would have been mostly plastered except at the external corners which are pleasingly finished in dressed stone-work: these corners were left un-plastered since they were more subject to knocks and damage. Some houses may have had wooden balconies. A walk amongst the houses reveals stone water-jars and braziers in volcanic rock from Nisyros; fountain-bases in the centre of courtyard impluvia, paved with inlaid stones; niches for statues of divinities; cisterns, wellheads and small mill-stones for grinding. Everywhere underfoot are broken ceramic tiles (thick) and pots (thin)— even some red-glaze ware: stretches of stone water-conduits (Greek) and clay-piping (Roman) at ground level, are witness to the extensive water distribution system. Just before the steps begin, an iron grill covers the main street's drain which, though modified by the excavators, still possesses its original channel.
At the top of the street the broad acropolis area opens out. To the left is a small rectangular shrine, standing apart and slightly off the axis of all the other buildings, though precisely oriented east/west. The first thing to locate at this level is the oldest element—a huge *Archaic cistern (6th century BC), carefully plastered and with two well preserved flights of steps leading down into it. The capacity of this impressive construction is about 600 cubic metres of water. The duct leading water into it can be seen at the top of the eastern end of the south wall; the stone discs on the floor that look like column bases cover the exit holes, and could be moved in order to regulate the flow. The rim of the cistern is beautifully finished. It is generally supposed that this collected water from the roofs of the acropolis buildings; but its size, together with the extent of the network of conduits below, would point to there having formerly been some other and more constant source of water, which has now dried. It will be observed that the cistern is bisected by a foundation wall in yellow sandstone, constructed much later in Hellenistic times. This is because, after the earthquake of 226 BC, a Hellenistic stoa of remarkable dimensions (over 200m in length) was constructed to crown the whole width of the summit of the town. Such a stoa would consist of a colonnade in front, a wall of shop or office entrances set back under the colonnade, and a rear supporting wall. The front colonnade of this stoa was built up on the wall which bisects the cistern, and which extends further to east and west; the middle wall (i.e. the front wall of the shops/offices) runs just behind the cistern; and the base of the rear wall is visible below the line of trees behind, divided into room units. The floor of each one of these units is punctuated by a circular well-head or cistern cap.
This row of large cisterns was what replaced the (by then) de-commissioned Archaic cistern. The coolness of this shady building with its wide north-facing panorama over the city and the surrounding islands must have made it an enviable place to gather, to do business, or simply to be cool and admire the view. The view in the opposite direction, to the south, is also magnificent; this would have been enjoyed by the sanctuary of the other great building which occupied this summit, the Temple of Athena Kameiras. The visible remains here of a base and enclosure wall are from the last temple on the site, built after 226 BC to replace the earlier, classical Doric temple that had been shaken down. The vestigial remains of an altar and bothros (sacred pit) are visible beyond the east end, near to the south edge of the hill.
Much of the site is still to be uncovered. No theatre has yet been located, nor any substantial fortification walls. Cemeteries have been extensively explored on the lateral slopes, and the magnificent finds which they have yielded are in the Museum in Rhodes. Approximately 70m below the entrance to the site as you return towards the main coast road, a track to the right permits a good view of the lower wall-terracing and of an imposing exedra—possibly a nymphaeum.Wikidata ID: Q1231539
Info: McGilchrist's Greek Islands
(From McGilchrist’s Greek Islands, © Nigel McGilchrist 2010, excerpted with his gracious permission. Click for the books)