I am back from Cyprus after a little over 5 weeks. Over the next week or so, I'll bring everyone up to date on the triumphs and tragedies of our study and field season.
I have spent the past week at the site of Polis Chrysochous on the western side of the island. A team from Princeton University under the direction of William Childs have been documenting the site of Polis since 1983 and excavating at the site since 1984. The site itself lies amidst the modern tourist town of Polis and as a result, the excavated areas are sometimes separated from one another by some distance as the map below indicates. The material from these various excavations indicate activity on the site from as early as the Chalcolithic period, and there is archaeological evidence that the area prospered as late as the 16th century and the Lusignan era.
I was invited to visit the site by Amy Papalexandrou who was working to study and publish the Late Antique and Medieval material from the site. This included two basilica style churches both with Early Christian and later phases (one is clearly visible to the right in this photograph, the other is barely visible to the far left in this photograph ). While both churches have appeared occasionally in the literature on the architecture of Christian Cyprus, neither has been published thoroughly. I hope to contribute to their publication and learn more about the architecture and use of these buildings as well as the political, social, economic, and religious history of the island in the shadowy period of the late 7th to 10th century.
The later phases of the Early Christian basilicas on Cyprus have attracted some scholarly attention. Of particular interest is the practice of transforming wood-roofed basilicas to barrel-vaulted structures sometime between the 7th and 10th centuries. The phenomenon was initially studied by A.H.S. Megaw in the 1940s. Numerous other scholars have considered the date, cause, and significance of this phenomenon, including most recently, Charles Stewart in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 69 (2010), 162-189. Unfortunately, few scholars have appealed to excavated remains to make their arguments for the chronology of this change, nor have they consistently appealed to archaeology to consider attendant changes in decoration, function, or even social significance of the churches transformed after the end of antiquity.
The churches of Polis both show signs of modification after their original construction. Moreover, both churches were systematically and relatively carefully excavated revealing evidence for chronologically important ceramics, . As a result, these buildings represent an important opportunity to document the later life of Early Christian architecture on the island and in the process consider more fully life on Cyprus during the tumultuous years of condominium when Arabs and Byzantine jointly ruled the island.
In other words, the story of the buildings at Polis allows us to continue the story begun with at the Late Antique coastal settlement at Pyla-Koutsopetria, which appears to have fallen been in steep decline by the end of the 7th century and shows little activity in later eras. Unlike Polis, the vulnerable coastal position of the Pyla-Koutsopetria and its clear dependence on the trading networks sustained by the trans-Mediterranean Roman Empire probably doomed the settlement to abandonment.