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Excavations at the Mandra site at Despotiko this year lasted six weeks, from May 22 to July 1, 2022. The site, which is being excavated since 1997, has revealed an extensive settlement and one of the most important cult centers in the central Aegean.
The earliest examples of activity date back to the Early Iron Age, while the period of greatest prosperity is documented around the middle of the 6th c. BC, when the 1,600 sq. m. temple of Apollo was founded, with an enclosure forming its boundaries.
The excavation has so far revealed 88 fragments of marble kouroi and 40 marble bases of statues of different types which are the most impressive offerings in the sanctuary, making up the largest assemblage currently known in the Cyclades.
Outside the temple, there is a large installation with building complexes for various uses (residences, dining halls, warehouses, stables, etc.). The size of the installation was made clear by the unearthing in 2020 of an extensive and complex system for water collection and management, consisting of reservoirs and a built conduit that extended to the foot of the hill south of the sanctuary.
This year’s excavations focused on the cistern system as well as the area south of the temple, the Eastern Complex and the Π Building. Specifically, the excavation of the main cistern 1 and the southernmost circular cistern 3 continued. Based on the surviving architectural remains, at least two architectural phases can be distinguished of the main cistern during antiquity.
Initially, it had a rectangular floor plan measuring 5.50 x 7 m on the inside, being about 4 m deep and with a capacity of 154 cubic metres. While last year only the south and east walls were completely uncovered, this year – after exceedingly painstaking and demanding work – the north and west walls of its original phase were unearthed in their entire length and height.
All the walls are particularly strong with a width of 0.70-0.80 m. The natural contours of the landscape and some existing natural cavity must have been made use of for their construction. Their 0.40 m high foundations are extremely strong and protrude about 0.10 m above the superstructure which is made of large gneiss slabs 0.50-0.80 m long. The upper part of the walls is built of rectangular gneiss stones 0.10-0.15 m thick and 0.20-0.30 m long.
The construction is particularly careful with minimal gaps in the joints between the stones. The face of the stones has not been smoothed, probably intentionally, so that the thick off white hydraulic mortar that covered the entire surface of the walls would fit better between the joints. The bottom of the cistern is coated with the same mortar. Part of it is preserved in fairly good condition along the eastern and southern walls.
After the removal of stones and soil that had collapsed above and in front of the north and west walls a Π shaped structure came to light, part of which had been uncovered in 2021 in contact with and along the north and east walls of the cistern. Its northern side is preserved at a height of 0.80 m and has a width of 0.60 m. It consists of three rows of rectangular buildings with orderly facades imitating isodomic masonry. Their lower part preserves a coating of mortar.
The eastern and western parts of which a shorter length has been preserved, are constructed in the same manner. The upper surface of the structure’s three sides consists of flat slabs, an element possibly suggesting the structure was used as a bench.
The investigation continued in the interior of the circular Cistern 3 located in 2021. Due to the volume of the backfill, it was decided to open a 0.50 m wide trial trench in contact with its interior to uncover the inner facade of its masonry.
At a distance of almost 1.5 m. to the west of its southern opening and at a slightly higher level, a section of a rectangular, shallow building was located which seems to be divided into two parts (eastern and western). This is probably a small reservoir or pit but needs further investigation.
In the Eastern Complex, the investigation of its SW part continued, where a section of a large paved area had already been revealed. A rectangular chamber south of the latter was investigated and it became clear that the Complex premises extended further south and east.
Considerable attention was given to the excavation of the area south of the temple-shaped Π Building. The building dates to the middle of the 6th century B.C. and the ground plan and findings link it to worship practices
South of the building, a section of a paved outdoor area has been uncovered, the boundaries of which were not clear. The enclosure that delineated this area from the east, and part of the wall marking it from the south came to light this year. The succession of the space’s phases of use and the finds they yielded were of particular interest.
At the foundation level of the archaic eastern wall of the outdoor area at a distance of about 4 m. south of the Π Building, 3 marble bases were located, probably from sprinkling basins, which can be dated to the Late Archaic period, as well as a significant amount of Archaic pottery such as inscribed shards, skyphoi, basins, oil and olpai, and metal objects.
In the highest excavated layers, above and to the south of the Archaic wall, four walls were unearthed delineating at least three chambers, the pottery from inside of which can be dated to Late Classic times. Two cooking utensils were also found in their original position, on the floor of the areas.
After the completion of the restoration of the Archaic temple and its dining hall and in need to protect and generally restore the sanctuary’s Archaic temple, a restoration study was also made of the D Building, the third best-preserved structure in the sanctuary, after the temple and dining hall that dominates the NE corner of the temple and was inextricably linked to the cult practices. It dates to the third quarter of the 6th century. B.C. and has a bilateral floor plan measuring 9.40×12.50 m.
The facade of the building is depicted with four columns in a row and based on the study approved by the Central Archaeological Council by the architect G. Orestidis, the sub-base and the stylobate of the main facade of the building are completed with ancient and new material so that the bases and the lower drums of the columns of the prostoon/porch can be placed in their original position.
Apart from the colonnade, it has been planned to restore the eastern and western pilasters to a small height, complete 3 to 6 rows of marble stone blocks on the inner wall of the porch and install the threshold of the nave door and two door pilasters around the perimeter of the building.
The restoration works lasted 3 weeks and were carried out by the specialized marble craftsmen. During this time, the substructure of the stylobate was completed and the bases of the columns were installed as was the threshold of the nave and the configuration began of the building’s south façade and the north and south pilasters.