New data on the history of the ancient kingdom of Paphos are forthcoming as a result of the archaeological field project conducted by the Archaeological Research Unit of the University of Cyprus at Kouklia-Palaepaphos since last year.
According to the Department of Antiquities of the Ministry of Communications and Works, the project’s main target is to reconstruct the urban topography of Palaepaphos through the identification of the ancient settlement’s main components.
In the Late Bronze Age, ancient Paphos was the administrative and economic centre responsible for the construction of the megalithic sanctuary of the Cypriote Aphrodite at the end of the 13th century BC. In the Iron Age, the kings of Paphos retained responsibility for the upkeep and function of the sanctuary, and thus had the unusual privilege of being the goddess’s priests, until the very end of the 4th century BC when the institution of Cypriot kingship was finally abolished by Ptolemy I.
The University of Cyprus team has been working on the northern side of the Palaepaphos-Marchello plateau since last year. The 2007 excavation team exposed 40 metres of the stone foundation of a monumental Iron Age defensive system, 3.5 m in thickness. They have also uncovered a gate, so far one side of it only, impressively constructed of finely dressed ashlar blocks, which is protected by a bastion.
A general survey of the plateau as well as various construction details, the position of casemates on the inner side of the wall and that of buttresses on the external facade, suggest that the defence scheme was designed to follow and strengthen the natural contours of the hilltop in the manner of a citadel wall.
Analysis of the ceramic material recovered during the 2006 and 2007 seasons indicates that the site was originally used for the construction of Late Bronze Age chamber tombs. Sometime in the 11th century, when burial sites throughout Cyprus begin to be strictly separated from habitation sites, Marchello ceased to be a burial ground and it was gradually incorporated into the Iron Age urban fabric of Palaepaphos. On the evidence of pottery, this new cultural horizon lasted from the Geometric to the end of the Classical period.
By virtue of the fact that it commands the highest elevation in the landscape of Palaepaphos, it is more than likely that the hill of Marchello was chosen to fulfill a special function. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that, back in the 1950s, a large deposit of Greek syllabic inscriptions, some of them bearing the names of Paphian kings, and statues, some of them undoubtedly of royal individuals, were found buried on the north side of a monumental and well preserved stretch of wall with a gate, which were then excavated in the 1960s. The recently exposed stretch of wall with a gate has now been shown to be part of the same system of defence.
A geophysical survey and another excavation season in May 2008 are expected to provide definitive evidence in favour, or against, the identification of Marchello as a walled royal citadel of the Archaic and Classical kingdom of Paphos.
The excavations were designed and directed by Maria Iacovou, Associate Professor of Archaeology in the University of Cyprus. The 2007 excavation team comprised fifteen Cypriot graduate and undergraduate students of archaeology, a student from the Erasmus exchange programme, plus two British volunteers.