Oria Kastro, an insular medieval settlement and fortress on Kythnos: an architectural, archaeological, and historical investigation
Veloudaki, Chrysanthi Anna
The thesis concerns Oria Kastro a medieval fortified settlement on the island of Kythnos in the western Cyclades. Nested on top of a remote cliff on the north-western coast the Kastro (kastro meaning castle in Greek) has traditionally been considered Kythnos’ medieval capital founded sometime in the Early Byzantine period (6th-7th century AD). However, what we see today is predominantly the Latin phase as following the Fourth Crusade, the island was incorporated to the Aegean Duchy in c. 1207. Oria was occupied by the Latins until the 1570s when it was violently captured and destroyed by the Ottomans. The site was never inhabited again, becoming thus a rare and valuable fossil of the original layout of such settlements. Today, despite its long-term abandonment, it is exceptionally well-preserved, and unlike many similar kastra on other islands, there is very little modern intervention. With few notable exceptions, research on the medieval fortresses of the Cyclades is still quite limited therefore the main goal of the thesis is to provide a synthetic analysis of the role, use and main features of these insular fortified settlements using Oria Kastro as a case study. The site has not been subject to systematic research before, which means that there is no established evidence for its history nor any documentation of the built remains. Also, the overall knowledge of the island’s medieval history is very limited and fragmented. The main body of the study is structured in three parts: Section 1 gives basic information about Kythnos’ history with an emphasis on the Byzantine and Latin periods to provide a context for Oria. In addition, an attempt is made to document the landscape and built environment of medieval Kythnos by combining data from field observations and written sources. The demographic data of the island during that period as well as the relations and interactions of the different religious and ethnical groups are also discussed. Section 2 focuses on the study and analysis of the Oria Kastro ruins. The site covers an area of 1.32 ha and includes buildings of many different uses, i.e. houses, administrative and public buildings, churches, cisterns, etc. A detailed survey of the settlement and its environs was conducted to record the urban fabric and the defence system as well as the buildings’ uses, the typology and the construction methods and materials. Furthermore, 18 of the best-preserved and characteristic buildings were surveyed and studied in greater detail. Finally, Section 3 aims to place Oria in a wider Cyclades and Aegean setting. A comparative study with other Byzantine and Latin kastra attempts to draw parallels between their choice of location, use and layout. By establishing possible connections with other sites this section discusses the reasons for the foundation of Oria and examines its role in the wider Aegean area during both periods.