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The Early Bronze age acropolis at Panormos

Near the bay of Pánormos at the southeastern tip of Naxos lies on a low hill called Korfári ton Amygdalión (= hill of the almond trees) a small Bronze age acropolis (= fortress). It consists of about twenty tiny rooms and is surrounded by a wall which is reinforced by small bastions. The walls of the houses and the protective wall are preserved in most places only up to about knee level. The acropolis was excavated in the 1960s by Greek archaeologists under Chr. Doumas.

The Acropolis of Pánormos is probably the oldest building on Naxos. It dates from the Early Bronze age (about 2,300 BC) and is thus almost four and a half thousand years old. The acropolis lies on a small flat hill which offers only little natural protection. The environment is quite fertile and was cultivated until very recently with wheat and barley. The acropolis is located very close to one of the island’s bays that are best protected from the predominating northern winds. Due to its location behind a hilltop it can hardly be seen from the sea. Around the Acropolis grow wild almond trees (Prunus webbii), after which the hill is named (amygdalo = almond).

Prunus webbii
The wild almond trees that grow here gave the hill Korfári ton Amygdalión its name.

The small size of the rooms of the Acropolis of Pánormos (1.2 x 1.4 m to 2.5 x 3.5 m) suggests that it was only a refuge and not a permanent settlement. This is confirmed by the fact that no tools of domestic use were found in the fortress during the excavation. (However, the acropolis was destroyed during an assault – any tools could also have been taken away by the fleeing inhabitants or by the conquerors.)

The layout of the acropolis is irregular and depends on the structure of the underground. The small rooms and the narrow passages in between are only approximately rectangular. The surrounding wall is one to two meter wide and forms seven irregular bastions, which protect especially the flatter northern side. The single entrance is only 80 centimeter wide. A series of steps leads up to it. The walls, as far as they are preserved, consist of unprocessed stones which are put together without much care using a mortar made of earth. The whole complex is built of stones from the immediate vicinity. The roofs are believed to have been simple constructions of wood, reed and stamped earth.

the Acropolis of Panormos
The Acropolis of Pánormos is located on a small, flat hill of only 63 meters height that lies amidst abandoned crop fields.

the Acropolis of Panormos
The entrance is protected by two small bastions.

the Acropolis of Panormos
The outer wall is reinforced by several irregular bastions of this kind.

the Acropolis of Panormos
The walls are made of rough, unprocessed stones.

Die Akropolis von Panormos
On the southern side, the walls of the bastions are situated on these small rocks; still the hill is everywhere rather easily accessible and not protected by any steep cliffs.

the Acropolis of Panormos
The the fortress is made up of about 20 small rooms with narrow passageways in between.

the Acropolis of Panormos
The rooms are approximately rectangular.

Dthe Acropolis of Panormos
The smallest rooms are barely big enough for an adult to sleep in.

the Acropolis of Panormos
Only in a few places the walls are preserved to more than knee height.

the Acropolis of Panormos
The Acropolis is surrounded by newer walls built by farmers and shepherds to keep the goats in their areas.

the Acropolis of Panormos
In front of the outer walls one can still find many round beach pebbles, which were used in the attack on the Acropolis as projectiles.

the Acropolis of Panormos
View of the Korphári ton Amygdalión

The Acropolis of Pánormos was conquered and destroyed during an attack. In the surrounding area, especially directly in front of the defensive wall, one can still see large numbers of round beach pebbles, which served as projectiles, probably for slingshots. Also a spearhead was found during the excavations, but no other weapons or any human remains. In the houses only potsherds were found but no other artifacts. There were remains of food and cookware, especially of storage pots. A large number of clay vessels lay in the entrance area, as if the inhabitants had tried to take their supplies on their flight. The vessels show clear signs of fire. We can only speculate about the fate of the defenders of the acropolis and the origin of their attackers.

The Acropolis of Pánormos is located on a low, relatively fertile hill. All around lie fields that until recently were cultivated with grain. We can assume that even in the Bronze age the entire area was already used for agriculture. There are indications that there was a small rural settlement on the slopes around the acropolis. That would explain the smallness of the fortress: In this case, it would have been only a refuge, to which the inhabitants of the area retreated during an attack. Still this refuge too was not secured effectively enough to resist a serious attack.

The invaders who conquered the acropolis were probably pirates: Already in these early times the Aegean seashores were raided by pirates. The Acropolis was designed according to a threat from the sea. Even though it lies in close proximity to the sea, it was barely visible from the coast.

Close to the acropolis lies a curious stone-built old house (mitátos). As far as I know it is the only elliptical mitátos in Naxos. The particular shape suggests that the house may have been built on ancient Bronze age foundations, a suspicion that is confirmed by the fact that there in the only Early Bronze age sanctuary on the island (Koryfí t’Aronioú) also exists an elliptical building.

oval shaped mitatos near Panormos
To my knowledge, only two elliptical buildings exist on Naxos. One lies in the early Bronze age sanctuary of Koryfí t’Aronioú (s.u.); the other is an old stone house in the immediate vicinity of the Acropolis of Pánormos, which suggests that this stone house may be built on the foundations of an Early Bronze age building, possibly also a sanctuary.

The Early Bronze Age sanctuary of Koryfí t’Aronioú

About three kilometers north of Pánormos a small sanctuary from the same time as the Acropolis of Pánormos has been excavated. It is located on a similar 80-meter-high hill called Koryfí t’Aronioú and consists of several houses and an interesting, elliptical building that is interpreted as a sanctuary. Ten stone slabs with carved representations of humans, animals and boats have been found in the contemporary walls that surround the complex, which are believed to be “votive tablets”. In addition, as well as the Acropolis of Pánormos, the site most likely served as a lookout point, overlooking the sea to the northeast as far as Moutsoúna, which is not visible from Pánormos.

sanctuary Koryfi t'Aroniou
This elliptical building in the small Early Bronze age complex on the hill Koryfí t’Aronioú three kilometers north of Pánormos probably served as a sanctuary.

Relationships with other regions of the Mediterranean

Similarities in the pottery and the structure of the Acropolis of Pánormos have suggested that it was a settlement of people from the northeastern Aegean (Chios, Lesvos, Limnos, Troy), which were later driven out again by the inhabitants of Naxos. Interestingly, there are a number of small fortresses on the islands mentioned above, which are quite similar to the one in Pánormos, and which were abandoned around the same time for unknown reasons. The inhabitants of these abandoned settlements may have tried to settle in the Cyclades, with which they were already trading – the similarity of the cultures is great. On the other hand, most of the pottery found in Pánormos are made of naxiotic clay. The presence of Northwest Aegean vessel types may also be explained by the trade that existed between these two regions.

Fortresses of the same kind as the Acropolis of Pánormos existed also in Palestine a bit earlier (for example in Jericho). The cultures of the Middle East and the Cyclades were quite similar. It is possible that people from the Levant came to the Aegean area in search of metals when their own resources were gradually depleted. The inhabitants of the Cyclades may have taken over the knowledge of metalworking and navigation from these traders. Finally, the complex of Pánormos also resembles the small colonies of the Cycladic people in the Iberian Peninsula.

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used literature: Αναστασία Αγγελοπούλου, Κορφάρι των Αμυγδαλιών (Πάνερμος Νάξου), μια οχυρωμένη προϊστορική ακρόπολη, in: Η Νάξος δια μέσου των Αιώνων, Πρακτικά του Γ Πανελλήνιου Συνεδρίου, Επιμέλεια: Ιωάννης Κ. Προμπονάς, Στέφανος Ε. Ψαρράς, Αθήνα 2007

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