RECENT excavations are trying to understand the position of the Hellenistic-Roman theatre of Nea Paphos within its ancient urban context. An Australian team which has been excavating at the UNESCO World Heritage site since 1995 carried out a colonnade survey and the theatre was recorded for the first time using pole (aerial) photography and photogrammetry programmes.
The team from the University of Sidney uncovered the oldest theatre in Cyprus: a structure used as a venue for performance and spectacle for over 650 years from 300BC until its destruction by earthquakes in 365AD.
This year’s recording of the theatre stitched together over 2,000 high resolution photos. The 3D image of the ancient theatre and surrounding created will assist with planning future excavation areas and understanding the urban layout of the town in the area around the theatre.
Past excavations to the south of the theatre revealed a Roman paved road, approximately 8.40 metres wide, which was the main traffic thoroughfare to access the theatre and a nymphaeum (water fountain).
According to a press release, the team speculates this road represented a major thoroughfare for Roman Nea Paphos, leading to the nearby as-yet unexplored North-East city gate.
“The existence of this road also confirms ancient Nea Paphos was laid out on a typical Hellenistic grid plan,” they said. “The discovery of numerous fragments of granite columns on the theatre site (over 30 to date) confirms the importance of the paved road. It is suggested the columns were specifically imported for the construction of colonnades along the main Roman roads of the city.”
In September, the group conducted a geo-mapping survey of the ruins of the town’s Roman colonnades. The columns are made from granite from quarries in Troas in Turkey and reflect commercial activities involving building materials during the Roman period.
“As the capital city of Cyprus at the time, it is not surprising Nea Paphos would be adorned with this architectural demonstration of Roman civic order,” the department of antiquities explained.
The survey located some 167 individual granite column fragments. Many were reused in the construction of later buildings such as Saranda Kolones and the early Christian basilica at Chrysopolitissa.
Others have been incorporated into modern walls, fences, fountains and gardens. Each column fragment was recorded in detail; and its precise position was recorded using modern surveying aids. Using the gathered data, each column has been plotted onto maps, which indicate two distinct axes exist on which the majority of column fragments align. Those that don’t align were moved for a specific purpose, such as for the construction of Saranda Kolones.
“It can now be suggested a colonnaded road ran from Paphos harbour along a north-south axis, and the paved road at the theatre was likewise colonnaded and represented the major east-west thoroughfare of Roman Nea Paphos running from the ancient city gate across to the archaeological park,” the archaeologists concluded.
The survey revealed the granite columns can be divided into three main categories; a smaller size found mainly at the theatre, a medium size with a height of 4.6 metres and the largest, but least common, which is more than 7 metres.
“It is hoped a future targeted excavation of the road south of the theatre may reveal more of the granite columns, which will give an indication as to the spacing of the colonnade,” the press release stated.
“Although this survey has provided an overall impression of the location of the colonnades, many questions still remain such as the appearance of the street façade and the date the colonnades were erected, although it seems likely to have been in the second century AD.”
For this year, the research is over. On Friday, the Department of Antiquities announced the completion of the 2015 season.