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Ancient Halieis

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Ancient Halieis


Aerial view of the bay of Porto Cheli and the peninsula on which the ancient city Halieis stood. (Courtesy Bradley A. Ault)

During excavations in the 1960s and 1970s, remains of a flourishing Archaic and Classical city of the sixth through fourth centuries B.C. were uncovered at Halieis, near modern-day Porto Heli in southern Greece. The ancient city's walls--nearly two km. in length, and with at least 19 towers and five major gates have been identified--enclosed an area of some 18 ha., providing enough room for 450 to 500 houses, and perhaps a population of 2,500 individuals. An important regional center, Halieis minted it own coinage and maintained a sanctuary dedicated to Apollo that included two temples and a stadium in which games were held. Located northeast of and beyond the walled city, the Sanctuary of Apollo is now submerged in the bay of Porto Heli, like the northern limits of the site itself, inundated by rising sea levels in Late Antiquity. Abandoned under uncertain circumstances soon after 300 B.C., Halieis stands as the earliest regularly planned city so far identified on the Greek mainland and as an important example of a Classical city that was not reoccupied after that time.


Submerged remains of the Apollo Sanctuary at Halieis (Courtesy Bradley A. Ault)

The earliest architectural remains of settlement at Halieis date to the seventh century B.C., when the acropolis, the highest point of the city, was fortified. Because of its prominent position overseeing the entrance to the Argolic Gulf, the strategic importance of Halieis was assured. Both Athens and Sparta occupied the acropolis prior to and during the course of the Peloponnesian War in the fifth century B.C.

Today, what can be seen on the acropolis dates mainly from the fourth century B.C., including the foundations of an exceptionally well-executed and massive round tower made of the local conglomerate stone. Measuring nearly 11 m. in diameter and rising to a considerable height, this tower would have enhanced surveillance over the surrounding landscape and seaways. Also visible, just within the line of the city's fortification wall and northwest of the tower, is a large barracks building, suggesting the presence of a military garrison upon the heights. Other features to be seen upon the acropolis are cultic in nature. To the north a central altar rises up, flanked by two bases, likely for now lost statues. Deposits recovered in association with this open-air sanctuary have been dated to the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. It was likely dedicated to Athena Polias, protector of the city.


Contour map of the site, showing the existing remains and excavated areas (Courtesy Bradley A. Ault)

Down slope, tracing the southeast descent of the fortification wall, is the so-called "Industrial Terrace." The walls of several buildings are visible, one of which contained an olive press installation, which is what gave the area its name.

Further remains were excavated in the "Lower Town." These include three areas in the eastern portion of the city where housing districts have been revealed. In the smaller area to the south, located at a bend in the modern road, one can see the trace of the city wall, which includes a gateway (the Southeast Gate), flanked by a round tower, and the completely recovered plan of a single resdience (House 7) which stood at the southwest corner of an entire block of houses. Prominent here is the upstanding stone masonry of the andron, or men's dining room. Farther north, at the coast, is a more extensive excavation area with remains of three housing blocks, two streets and one major avenue. The houses at Halieis all feature a central courtyard off of which the various rooms open. Each house appears to have had its own water supply furnished by a well. The types of rooms that can be identified include the andrones, kitchens, bathing rooms, oil press rooms, workshops, and other varieties of living rooms. These houses are among the best-preserved examples from the late Classical period. Farther west, along the coastal road, are views of several additional streets and houses in the now submerged northwest quarter of the city.