From Aghios Ypátios a track leads 3.5 km due north towards ancient Hephaistia, the other city (with Myrina) of the di-polis of Lemnos in ancient times, and the larger of the two in its heyday. No metalled roads, as yet, reach Hephaistia which occupies a windswept, treeless promontory in the Bay of Pournia, overlooking an almost landlocked inlet within the larger bay. Funds from ‘enhancement programmes' have been lavished on this otherwise remote site, and the use of a towering perimeter fence and large concreted areas for the theatre has given it more the appearance of a military installation than an archaeological treasure. Only a small proportion of the large area of settlement has so far been explored, and the points of archaeological interest are widely dispersed over the hillside. (Most of the site has unrestricted access, except for the Theatre which is open 8.30am – 3 pm.)
The site has pre-Greek origins, going back to earliest times. The local pottery carried Mycenaean/Minoan ceramic traditions into the Geometric period; and finds of imported wares bear witness to a lively trade with Macedonia, Corinth and Athens. The first (Italian) archaeological expeditions excavated a necropolis of the 8th and 7th centuries BC (south of the neck of the promontory). They uncovered a sanctuary destroyed by fire during a Persian attack in the least years of the 6th century BC (west slope of promontory), revealing rectangular buildings on two levels and a room endowed with benches along two sides containing broken dedications and parts of the cult statue of a female deity – the Great Goddess of Lemnos – a divinity who was later assimilated with Cybele. To the south of the sanctuary a residential building unit of the city is currently being excavated (on the brow directly above the parking lot) with a level of Hellenistic constructions above Archaic predecessors. Parts of the enceinte of walls can be traced in the northern perimeter, where they circle behind the acropolis (eastern summit).
The city reached its greatest extent in Hellenistic times and the conspicuous remains of the large theatre (central west) date principally from this period. As often happens in settlements which have been repeatedly rebuilt after seismic destructions, the Hellenistic cavea visible today is built on top of the remains of an Archaic sanctuary and other streets and buildings of the Classical period. It may replace an earlier and much smaller wooden theatre situated on part of the site. The first ten rows of seats in local poros stone belong to the earliest stone theatre-structure, and are of the Late Classical period. This was enlarged in Hellenistic times with more rows of seats and the addition of retaining walls and buttresses. The final modifications – the addition of a more complex skene behind the stage – belong to the Roman period.
Beside the shore, near the parking lot, are the remains of a Byzantine bath-house complex, now transformed into farm buildings and occupying the site of the earlier, Hellenistic baths. It incorporates several inscribed marble blocks from earlier structures.
In later centuries the city became the seat of a Byzantine bishop, fell to the Venetians in 1204, and around 1395 was partially destroyed by a landslide and subsequently abandoned.
Info: McGilchrist's Greek Islands
(From McGilchrist’s Greek Islands, © Nigel McGilchrist 2010, excerpted with his gracious permission. Click for the books)