Greece brings to mind images of white sandy beaches, an intense blue sea, cloudless skies, bouzouki music, cafe’s with men playing cards, sheep, goats and shepherds; in short: the simple life. As little as fifty years ago, the country did indeed still rely almost completely on agriculture, pastoralism, and fishery, and we will experience many of these images ourselves during our fieldwork season. But you should realise that Greece today has developed rapidly into a modern industrial country that is a full member of the European Union be it that it is in an economic recession right now.
Thessaly, however, is still one of the main agricultural areas in Greece. The landscape is characterised by large fertile plains intersected by ranges of hills and mountains. Agricultural methods have changed over time, as have the crops. With the introduction of intensive agriculture and the help of machinery, large areas formerly in use as pastures have been ploughed and wheat, barley, corn and cotton are now the main staple crops grown here. One of the results of this intensification is the decimation of small landholders that lived and farmed in villages in the countryside. Many villages in Thessaly, especially those close to the mountains, are largely abandoned, only inhabited by a few shepherds who remained.
You will experience this side of Greece closely as we will stay in a small village, Narthaki, at a distance of 8 kilometres from our site, the Kastro at Kallithea. The sea will be clearly visible from the site where we work, which will become a tantalizing experience, since the temperatures can soar during the month of June. It will take us more than an hour’s driving, however, to take a plunge! So, don’t count on daily swims.
Our Site: The Kastro at Kallithea
Our site, with its modern name Kastro, is located at the utmost western part of the fertile coastal plain of Almiros in an area that was called Achaia Phthiotis in ancient times. The site consists of a large hill that stands out in the surrounding plain. At the foot of the hill is a small village, Kallithea, which is now largely abandoned.
During the Hellenistic period (4th-2nd century BC), the plain of Almiros, then called the Krokian plain, was divided among three different city states (poleis): Phthiotic Thebes in the north, Halos in the south and a third in the west. The first two of these have been well researched, whereas the third is not. It is that third large urban site that our archaeological project focuses on.
The site at Kallithea is a fortified citadel with an acropolis that is located on a 600 meter high hill called ‘Kastro’ (castle in Greek). We started our studies at this site in 2004 and have since then published extensively on the site and the results of our research. The site can be dated to the 4th-1st centuries BCE. In addition, seven Iron Age Tholos tombs were be found on the east slope of the hill as well as a limited Byzantine occupation layer dating to the 8th-9th centuries AD.
The Kastro at Kallithea is wonderfully well preserved. No recent building activities have taken place, a result of its rather remote location as well as its altitude. The site is unique in the sense that you can basically walk along the streets of the ancient city which were laid out according to an orthogonal grid plan. Visible structures include most of the fortifications, a large architectural structure in the saddle that can be interpreted as a stoa and ancient Agora (marketplace), the acropolis walls, the city gates, two cisterns and numerous houses and streets.
The larger goal of the project is to gain insight in the layout of the city and its immediate environment, to establish the habitation history and to assess its relation to and position within the system of other poleis in Achaia Phthiotis. More specifically, we want to gain insight in the housing and public buildings of the site. That is why we started and finished an excavation of a private building (Building 10), while our Greek partners work on the excavation of a number of public buildings near the agora (market place) of the city.
The 2017 season will be dedicated to the study of finds of this private building.