Nikopolis

Nikpolis was the 'victory city' of the first Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. (Nike = victory; polis = city). The city was founded in 30 BC by Gaius Julius Caesar Octavius (later called Caesar Augustus, very confusing!) to mark his victory at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC.

The founding of cities to celebrate military victories was started by Alexander in Syria after the battle of Issos and Octavius decided he should have one too. (He built another later near Alexandria.) The new city was populated, forcibly, by people from a number of surrounding towns and villages and filled with grandiose buildings paid for by the spoils of war and by money from his friend king Herod of Judaea. The site at Nikpolis was not ideal for a city as water had to be brought in by a massive aquaduct and two high level water cisterns from the source of the river Louros 50 kilometres away! (Some of the aquaduct is still standing but we were unable to find much, although there are photographs of it.)

For the following thousand years or so Nikpolis had its ups and downs. Helped by special privileges and tax concessions granted by Octavius, it became a prosperous city and an influential centre of Graeco-Roman civilisation with jurisdiction over an extensive region. The city was an active centre of Christianity; St Paul visited in AD 64 and the 2nd century pope Eleutheris was born here.

It maintained its importance until the third century AD, when attacks by Vandals and Goths and the division of the Roman Empire into Eastern and Western eventually led to its demotion to a provincial city. Around the middle of the 5th century AD, after the collapse of the Western part of the Roman Empire and more barbarian attacks, the city was reduced to one sixth of its original size.

The extensive walls, the impressive remains of which we see today, were built about now by the Emperor Justinian as part of a widespread programme of defensive fortifications following the decline of Pax Romana, (during the period of peace it had only been necessary to have modest walls). Nikpolis flourished once more under the Byzantine emperors and became the Christian capital of the region with a flurry of building of basilicas and churches in the 4th to 6th centuries (now known as the Early Christian Period).

Further restructuring of the Byzantine Empire in the 9th century led to the final decline of Nikpolis in the 11th century

The site is enormous and very derelict, much time and money spent on restoration in the 1970s is now undone through neglect, but it is still atmospheric and dramatic (I do hope you will agree!).

We can see remains from both the Roman and Byzantineperiods of Nikpolis' existence including two of the six basilicas, extensive walls, an Odeion, a theatre, a stadium, baths and an aquaduct.

Up the hill above the old town is the Augustus monument. Here, where he had his headquarters at the battle of Actium, and from where he watched the battle, Augustus built a sanctuary to his patron the god Apollo. We can see clearly where the rams or beaks of the ships Octavius captured at the battle were displayed. There is also a wonderful Latin inscription in stone. The view is stupendous; we saw a stork flying over the lagoon.

The Augustus Monument

Below the monument is the theatre which has been restored. It was built at the time of Augustus in the Greek manner using the natural slope of the hill side strengthened by buttresses of large stone and brick to protect against earthquakes. At the top of the cavea was an arched stoa with niches which contained statues.

Near the theatre is the Stadium. It was unusual in that it was rounded at both ends, it is known locally as 'the Ship'. It had stone seating but all of that has gone, used as building material for the walls among other things. Games, known as the Aktiakatook place here every five years; they were 'panhellenic' as at Olympia, Delphi, Isthmia and Nemea. Nero 'won' the chariot race on his visit in AD 66.

In front of the museum are the remains of the Basilica of Dimitrios, or Doumetios, (identified now, for some reason, prosaically, as Basilica A) and also the West Byzantine wall. The Basilica, built about 575, had three aisles and was covered with wonderful mosaics, (last year these were covered but there are plans to display them possibly this year!). Opposite the museum are the remains of the baths.

A very short walk from the museum, carefully along the busy road, takes us to the main gate of the Early Christian walls. These are pretty splendid; hundreds of yards of wall some 20 feet high or more, reinforced by a number of towers at intervals of 33 metres, one of which is polygonal, one semicircular and ten alternately rectangular, semi-circular and triangular ones. The walls are built in stone with horizontal courses of brick in thick mortar. You may be able to spot the large rectangular stones which were originally seating in the stadium. Part of the wall is built on the foundations of the Roman roads.

We can walk through the arched gate, known as 'Arapoporta' (look out for the slots for the wooden doors) to the Roman Odeion,which had been restored and was used recently for concerts, but is sadly now fenced off with KEEP OUT signs. (We may be able to get access.) The Odeion, an elegant building built at the time of Augustus, was a small roofed theatre also probably used as a forum. It seated 1,500 people in nineteen rows divided in two sections by a narrow passageway; the VIPs sat at the front (donors paid for a seat); much of the seating has been restored. The orchestra was paved with different coloured marble (we can see a little bit). The trench in front of the orchestra separating the actors from the audience was probably used for scenery or for acoustic effect. At the base of the seats in the tenth row are small openings leading to a large stoa beneath. There is a good view of the theatre and the Augusta monument and the Gulf from the top rows.
A little further down the road on other side is the Basilica of Alkison, also known as Basilica B, where restoration was taking place in June 2005. The Basilica, built about AD 450, was 68 metres long with five aisles divided by four colonnades each consisting of twelve half columns, and a three aisled transept. The aisles had doors opening onto the narthex, one of which, known as the 'royal door' has been restored. The walls of the Basilica were made of brick and stone and there are remnants of painted walls especially in the apse and a paved floor. (The floor was covered by a tarpaulin in 2005)

There are column bases everywhere in situ; at the entrance are Roman unfluted columns, to the right bases of Ionic columns. There are remains of spiral fluted columns lying around, Corinthian & Ionic capitals. A wooden walk way takes you round the east of the basilica. In front of you is the large, restored, marble linteled doorway, known as the 'royal door'. To the right of the door is a fine stone (marble?) bath. Note the large (5 foot?) circular stone basin, thought to be used by the congregation to wash themselves. There is a long area in front of the doorway with two Ionic columns at either end.

Last time we were there were acres of purple thistle, some waist high and making exploration tricky!

The Northern Roman thermae (public baths) can be seen from the road (fork to left) there are some nice arches but thistles made access very difficult!

 

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