For the last 8 years, researchers from the Jagiellonian University Institute of Archaeology have been delving deep into the history of Nea Pafos, an ancient city located in Cyprus. During the last year’s excavation season, they have discovered that it was much larger than it was previously thought.
The ancient city of Nea Pafos (‘New Paphos’) is one of the most important archaeological sites in Cyprus. Its remains are inscribed onto the World Heritage List of UNESCO. The settlement was founded in the western part of the island at the turn of the 4th and 3rd century BCE. In the Hellenic period, it was part of the Ptolemaic Kingdom; after that, it was ruled by the Romans. From about 200 BCE to 350 CE, it served as the capital of Cyprus.
So far, research conducted by the JU archaeologists has proven very fruitful. Their studies show that the beginnings of the city’s agora can be traced back to the Hellenistic period, as they managed to unearth large public buildings from that time. They also worked on verifying the hypothesis concerning the existence of a second harbour near the north-western gate. Their reports, already partially published, have greatly influenced the way in which historians view Nea Pafos. In essence, the work of JU archaeologists will shed new light on Cyprus’ former capital and its significance for both the island and the Eastern Mediterranean Basin.
In 2017, Kraków researchers led by Prof. Ewdoksia Papuci-Władyka have examined the entire agora and its surroundings with non-invasive geophysical techniques. It turned out that the whole area was encircled by a double portico, not a single one, as it was previously thought. This was later confirmed and verified by a test pit dug in the area. The archaeologists are sure the agora was much bigger than it might have first seemed.
‘It’s an extraordinary discovery for us. The double portico (or even triple portico on the southern side) could mean the agora measured around 2.5 hectares (~6.2 acres). Each of its sides could have been as long as 160 metres (~175 yards), making the agora one of the largest in the Eastern Mediterranean Basin. We have strong proofs to back this up’, said Prof. Ewdoksia Papuci-Władyka.
The discovery contradicts the previous theory developed by Kyriakos Nikolaou, who suggested the western part of the agora was occupied by an Asclepeion – a healing temple dedicated to the Greek doctor-demigod Asclepius. Prof. Papuci-Władyka thinks the walls of the ‘temple’ are actually the remains of the second portico.
‘They overlap with the second (or perhaps third) southern portico. We plan to investigate it in the coming years. I’d also like to extend the range of our excavations. Although the ground-penetrating radar gave us an excellent image of the north-eastern corner of the agora, a road prevents us from digging out a test pit’, she added.
During their last trip to Cyprus, the JU archaeologists did not focus solely on verifying geophysical measurements. They continued to excavate the area around the agora’s eastern portico, where they previously discovered over 20 rooms, including an ancient surgeon’s quarters containing a set of bronze and iron tools. They also found an unusual chamber with a duct running through it, initially classified as early Roman. It is situated next to a several metre deep well dug out in rock. The inhabitants of Nea Pafos most probably used it to store drinking water, as its shortage has always been a very real risk on Cyprus.
‘It’s the sixth well we've managed to discover and study. After they went out of use, they were filled with everyday items such as pots, coins, oil lamps, metal objects, terracotta, and the like. Items like that are the best way to learn more about the life of our ancestors hundreds of years ago’, said Prof. Ewdoksia Papuci-Władyka.
In the last few years, the researchers have studied nearly 20 hectares (~49 acres) of Paphos Archaeological Park using a magnetometer and ground-penetrating radar. They found traces of streets, walls, and other structures. Some of them have been chosen for further study. According to Prof. Papuci-Władyka, not all of them are necessarily the remains of an ancient civilisation, as the area was inhabited in later periods of time. Most notably, it was the location of a fishing village called Kato Pafos.
The Paphos Agoa Project is funded by the Polish National Science Centre. Aside from the Jagiellonian University, it also features researchers from the AGH University of Science and Technology in Kraków, Jan Kochanowski University in Kielce, Warsaw University of Technology, Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, Interacademic Institute of Conservation and Restoration of Art, and the University of Hamburg. Archaeology students also participate in the project within the framework of their study programmes. It has also attracted a number of volunteers from Poland, Cyprus, Greece, Great Britain, Italy, Germany, and the United States.