Astypalaia (Dodecanese) 45 Chora - Αστυπάλαια

Ἀστυπάλαια - Astypalaia, Acropolis and medieval castle at Chora, Astypalaia, Dodecanese
Hits: 45
Works: 23
Latitude: 36.544000
Longitude: 26.355000
Confidence: High

Greek name: Ἀστυπάλαια
Place ID: 365264PAst
Time period: ACHRL
Region: Dodecanese
Country: Greece
Department: Kalymnos/Astypalaia
Mod: Chora

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- IDAI gazetteer ID

Read summary reports on the recent excavations at Astypalaia in Chronique des fouilles en ligne – Archaeology in Greece Online.
Search for inscriptions mentioning Astypalaia (Αστυπαλ...) in the PHI Epigraphy database.

Modern Description: This is a solitary island in many respects – an outsider, on the distant edge of the Dodecanese to its east (to which it belongs administratively), and far from the main heart of the Cyclades to its west (to which it is linked in culture and architecture); to the north, the windswept expanses of the Ikarian sea open out, to the south, nothing but the waters between distant Karpathos and Crete – home to the itinerant shearwater. Although the island's principal attractions may be its tranquil, open landscape and rich birdlife, Astypalaia has two artistic treasures of importance. First, its splendidly sited Chora, which among the many hill-top citadels of the Aegean Islands, is one of the most beautiful. The interior of the Kastro has sadly been in ruin since the severe earthquake of 1956; but its exterior, conceived like a fortified, Renaissance borgo, is a magnificent focus for the crowd of traditional Cycladic houses. Second, perhaps more than any island other than Cos, Astypalaia has a remarkable wealth of Early Christian mosaic floors dating from a period of peace and prosperity in the 5th century. Their simple, confident designs share that same intense clarity which seems to imbue every visual aspect of the island.
The name ‘Astypalaia' (meaning ‘old city') has five syllables, and it is possible to hear it varyingly pronounced with the emphasis on virtually any of them except for the first. The generally accepted accentuation is on the third syllable; but the islanders themselves seem to favour the accent on the last syllable. During its long Venetian occupation the island's name was ‘Stampalia'. It is worthy of note that one of the great families of cosmopolitan, 15th century Venice – the Querini – who possessed the island for over 200 years, should proudly have boasted of this remote and insignificant fief by adding its name to their own, so that they, and their home, and now the museum and library in their grand Venetian palace, are still known as ‘Querini-Stampalia'.
Small quantities of Cycladic pottery from several coastal settlements confirm habitation on Astypalaia from the Early Bronze Age, and evidence of a Mycenaean presence at two other sites on the island implies that there may have been continuity between the two, although nothing as yet that suggests the island played a particularly important role in prehistory. Astypalaia received Dorian colonists from Megara and Epidauros in the Argolid, and through Archaic and Classical antiquity its importance began to increase. The name Asty-palaia, which translates so conveniently as ‘old city' in Greek, may in fact be a corruption of the Phoenician ‘histapel', meaning a low area between two hills – an accurate enough description of the island's geography. The island was also called Ichthyoessa from its abundance of fish. According to one tradition, Astypalaia, not Rhodes, was the birthplace of Phalaris, Tyrant of Akragas.
In historic times, there is ample epigraphic evidence of the size, organisation and prosperity of the ancient city, with a boule, senate, prytaneion, and public officials; there are references to an agora, stadium, theatre and to Sanctuaries of Athena and Asklepios, Zeus Soteras, Apollo, Artemis Lochia, Dionysos, Aphrodite, and Kore, as well as of the ‘hero' athlete, Cleomedes. Although the island appears in the tribute lists of the First Athenian League in the 5th century BC, throughout most of its history Astypalaia notably maintained a relative independence and autonomy. In the Roman period this was formalised by a ‘feodus aequum' – a ‘friendly treaty' – in 105 BC, by which the Romans could use the island's harbours in exchange for respecting its autonomy. After the demise of the Roman Empire, Astypalaia again became a base for pirates who preyed on the main shipping route between Byzantium and Egypt. From the 9th century on, the island was a bishopric subject to the Metropolitan of Rhodes.
In 1207 Marco Sanudo, Duke of Naxos, gave the island to his fellow Venetian, Giovanni Querini, in recognition of his help in establishing Sanudo's Duchy. The island was sacked by the Turks under Umur Pasha, Emir of Aydin, in 1334, and was probably left abandoned. Its desolate state is confirmed by Cristoforo Buondelmonti who visited the island in c. 1418. Except during the Cretan War (1648-1668) and during the Greek Revolutionary Uprising of 1821-8, the Turks held Astypalaia until 1912 when it became the first of the Dodecanese islands to be occupied by the Italians, who used it as the springboard for their operations against Rhodes. Astypalaia was incorporated into the Greek State in 1948 together with the other islands of the Dodecanese. In July 1956 the island suffered an earthquake of magnitude 7.5 on the Richter scale.
Like the bridge of a ship, the *Chora of Astypalaia, rides on the top of its promontory overlooking the sea and is visible across the intervening hills from many points around the island. It is an excellent vantage point, and constitutes a natural acropolis with two good harbours. The modern town is built over the site of the ancient city which emerged in the 7th century BC and enjoyed autonomy throughout much of its history, even in Roman times. The Venetian kastro on the summit was built over the former acropolis, and the mediaeval and modern town over the ancient commercial and residential area. Many of the churches of Chora are built with marble blocks taken from pagan buildings.
To date, only the ancient cemeteries, on the outskirts of the town, have been systematically excavated. The main cemetery, which was on the slope of the hill opposite Chora to the west, was used from Early Archaic through to Roman times. A second cemetery, whose excavations are still visible directly below the street where the houses of Chora end on the southwestern slope of the hill of the Kastro – an area referred to as ‘Kylindra' – presents an unusual case: it appears to have been used exclusively for the burial, in pottery urns, of new-born infants. Over two thousand such burials have been found so far: the unusual separation of the burial of infants from adults in this case indicates perhaps a special cultic significance relating to the goddesses Eilytheia (the divine midwife) and Artemis Lochia (protectress of child-birth), to whom inscriptions found in the area refer. It is a physical reminder of the heavy toll of infant mortality in the ancient world.
Cleomedes was perhaps the most colourful native of Astypalaia – a heavyweight pugilist, who killed his opponent in a boxing match during the 71st Olympiad of 496 BC, and as a result was heavily fined and disqualified. He returned to his native island stricken with rage and grief, and pulled down the local school about its children's ears. He took refuge in the Temple of Athena inside a wooden chest, of which he drew down the lid. The citizens were unable to open the chest. Breaking into it finally by force they found no Cleomedes within, either alive or dead. Mystified by this escape, they appealed to the Delphic Oracle, who merely responded with the couplet: ‘Last of heroes is Cleomedes of Astypalaia; Honour him with sacrifices as being no longer mortal.' Thereafter the cult of Cleomedes as a semi-divine Hero was instituted on the island.
Chronique des Fouilles link
Wikidata ID: Q216768

Info: McGilchrist's Greek Islands

(From McGilchrist’s Greek Islands, © Nigel McGilchrist 2010, excerpted with his gracious permission. Click for the books)


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