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JU archaeologists reconstruct the urban layout of the ancient Nea Paphos

JU archaeologists reconstruct the urban layout of the ancient Nea Paphos

For three years, researchers from the Jagiellonian University, the University of Warsaw and Warsaw University of Technology have been working on a 3d reconstruction of the ancient Cypriot city of Nea Paphos. In order to achieve this they have employed innovative methods so far used at just a few archaeological sites. The research funded by the National Science Centre has been led by Prof. Ewdoksia Papuci-Władyka from the JU Institute of Archaeology.

The ancient city of Nea Paphos (‘New Paphos’) is one of the most important archaeological sites in Cyprus. The settlement was founded in the western part of the island at the turn of the 4th and 3rd century BCE. In the Hellenistic 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. Inscribed onto the World Heritage List of UNESCO, the site has achieved the status of an archaeological park, encompassing an area of about 75 hectares protected from construction of modern buildings.

The main goal of the project MA-P Maloutena and Agora in the layout of Paphos: modelling the cityscape of the Hellenistic and Roman Capital of Cyprus is to reconstruct the urban layout of the ancient city of Nea Paphos, which was founded on the Hippodamian plan, that is, a regular grid of streets intersecting at right angles. The results of research concerning this area which were of key importance from the point of view of archaeology and urban planning were published in 1990 by Jolanta Młynarczyk from the University of Warsaw.  Based on the discovered remains of buildings and streets as well as aerial photographs, geophysical prospecting, and other data, the researcher has proposed the reconstruction of the street grid of ancient Nea Paphos.

More than 30 years after the publication of this work, it became necessary to verify the previous findings, taking into account new discoveries and precise imaging techniques. For that reason, an interdisciplinary research team was formed, consisting of scholars of various disciplines, such as archaeology, geophysics and architecture. The project also involves specialists in remote sensing,  procedural modelling, and spatial analysis. After 3 years of research they can communicate their first findings to the public.

‘Since 2020 we have been using trial trenching to verify how the street grid of the ancient city looked like.  Although initially our plans were largely hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic we are learning more and more about Nea Paphos urban layout. In the residential area of ​​Maloutena we have verified a perfectly preserved street, with a drainage channel running underneath. So far, participants of all archaeological missions to Paphos have almost automatically assumed that these channels come from an earlier period, when the city was founded. After a very thorough study of the discovered accompanying objects, mainly pottery, we already know that it was built later, most probably in the late 3rd or early 2nd century BCE. This would confirm the theory that the urban structures did not immediately emerge in all sectors demarcated by the street grid, but, more likely,  the city gradually developed as time went by,’ explains Prof. Papuci-Władyka.

Around the Agora (the central marketplace of an ancient Greek city), the research team led by the JU archaeologist also discovered parts of streets with well-preserved pavement underneath which terracotta pipelines were placed. Fragments of very large columns were also found, along with other architectonic details. According to the researchers this suggests the presence of monumental structures in the Agora area.

Another important finding by the Polish researchers was the confirmation of the existence of a very important street on the north-south axis, which was several-metres-wide and ran from the sea-port towards the Agora. Along this route public buildings  were located, as well as a temple. Another important artery lined the northern side of the marketplace, leading further to the east towards the Hellenistic theatre. Professor Papuci-Władyka supposes that this road was used by processions from New Paphos to Old Paphos, where the most famous temple of Aphrodite in the Greek world was located, close to her mythical birthplace. Religious ceremonies in honour of the Goddess took place once a year, as confirmed by classical ancient literature.  

‘We are verifying all these elements to obtain a clearer picture of the city development. This would allow us to create 3d reconstructions, which are already being made – that of Hellenistic Paphos is almost ready and we know that the final result will be impressive. There are only some small details that need polishing up. This will provide an entirely new perspective on Paphos – we will learn how it could actually look like or how many inhabitants it had. We will precisely reconstruct those structures that are located in the Polish excavations area. Other buildings, complexes, and city infrastructure will be shown much more generally, as they were studied by other archaeological missions and we lack access to the necessary documentation, and can use only what has been published’, says Prof. Papuci-Władyka.

During the excavations, the Polish archaeologists have also found lots of relics. The findings primarily comprise large amounts of pottery, as well as coins, especially from the late Hellenistic period. Besides tableware, the researchers have found many parts of amphoras used to transport wine, which included both vessels locally produced and important from other places, such as the island of Rhodes. Some of them had been stamped by officers who used to control the capacity of amphoras or the quality of their contents. Yet, what is considered most precious, are 2 complete bronze lamps discovered in a well. They are currently undergoing conservation in the laboratory of the Department of Antiquities in the capital of Cyprus. 

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