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Ancient Towers of the Aegean Sea

Date of Submission: 16/01/2014
Criteria: (iii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Greece to UNESCO
Ref.: 5867

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Cheimarros Tower, Naxos: Region of South Aegean, Regional Unit of Naxos 25.519974E, 36.995901N

Tower of Agios Petros, Andros: Region of South Aegean, Regional Unit of Andros 24.759528E, 37.894729N

Tower of Agia Triada, Arkesini, Amorgos: Region of South Aegean, Regional Unit of Naxos 25.801391E ,36.792445N

White Tower, Siphnos: Region of South Aegean, Regional Unit of Melos 24.738005E, 36.932551N

White Tower, Serifos: Region of South Aegean, Regional Unit of Melos 24.451975E, 37.147270N

Tower of Agia Marina, Kea: Region of South Aegean, Regional Unit of Kea-Kythnos 24.303191E, 37.616622N

Drakanou Tower, Ikaria: Region of North Aegean, Regional Unit of Samos 26.361214E, 37.687285N

Tower of Kastellorizo: Region of South Aegean, Regional Unit of Rhodes 29.576937E, 36.147995N

Tower of Ro: Region of South Aegean, Regional Unit of Rhodes 29.502804E, 36.156801N

Tower of Strongyli: Region of South Aegean, Regional Unit of Rhodes 29.630578E,36.107820N

The numerous ancient towers scattered across many Aegean islands (Amorgos, Andros, Thasos, Ikaria, Kea, Kythnos, Mykonos, Naxos, Serifos, Sifnos, Skiathos, Paros, Tinos, etc.) and the mainland, constitute a particular type of ancient building with various uses. The vast majority of the towers are dated to around the mid-4th c. BC and up to the first quarter of the 3rd c. BC. Despite their numbers and dispersal, they present common architectural features, such as their circular, square or rectangular plan and their sturdy construction of local stone.

The towers were built in non-urban areas, in order to serve a wide range of needs depending on circumstances and location. The main motive for their construction was defence in the wider sense, i.e. the protection of people, animals and goods. The towers sometimes formed part of a wider system of defences and refuges, while others functioned as watchtowers and lighthouses. They are also often found in areas where mining activities are attested. One notable use of towers is as points in an early communication system consisting of networks of beacons (fryktoriai), for the transmission of light signals between towers in direct line of sight, in some cases covering extremely wide geographical areas. Sometimes the towers formed the main building of farmhouses owned by wealthy citizens. Towers of later date in the Cyclades, built to serve similar needs, are almost identical parallels to these.

A multitude of ancient towers, dominating the characteristic island landscape, are preserved in the Aegean. Many preserve their integrity to a striking degree, while a major project for their restoration and promotion has been undertaken in recent years.

The towers

1) Cheimarros Tower on Naxos

The Cheimarros Tower is located on the SE side of the island of Naxos. It is a circular marble tower of the 4th c. BC, measuring 9.20 m. in diameter and preserved to a height of 14 m., with an estimated original height of 17 m. The tower is built with double walls, its two faces joined with bondstones extending through the full thickness of the wall. The interstices are filled with mud and rubble. Inside are four storeys connected by a marble staircase set into the wall. The entrance is on the south side. The few openings, the single window 10 m. above ground level and the arrow-slits highlight the defensive nature of the structure, which is surrounded by an almost square fortification wall measuring 35 m. on a side. Workshops (olive presses) and storerooms of the Late Roman period have come to light within this enceinte.

2) Tower of Agios Petros on Andros

On the hillside below the small village of Agios Petros Gavriou on Andros rises the imposing mass of the cylindrical tower of the same name. The tower, dating from the Hellenistic period (4th/3rd c. BC), is one of the best preserved in the Cyclades, together with the Cheimarros Tower on Naxos.

The monument is preserved to a height of approximately 21 m. and is built of large ashlars of local stone. It is set on a circular base, approximately 20 m. in diameter and 4 m. high. The main entrance (on the east) is low (1.30 m. high) and square, framed by four blocks of masonry, two of which form 2-metre-thick door jambs. There was a second, smaller entrance at first-floor level.

The ground floor consists of a single room with a vaulted roof. On the upper storeys are windows and narrow openings. A spiral staircase leads from the first floor to the upper part of the tower. The second storey is 2.30 m. high and it seems that the monument would have had at least another five storeys.

The area around the tower was mined for iron in antiquity, continuing into the modern era (19th-20th c.). There is evidence that in antiquity there would have been a settlement here, probably connected to the mining activity. The tower was presumably built to protect the local mines, and was a good observation post overlooking both the interior of the island and the sea.

3) Tower of Agia Triada at Arkesini on Amorgos

The Tower of Agia Triada (the Holy Trinity) is located in the countryside of ancient Arkesini and constitutes a characteristic example of Hellenistic architecture. It is a rectangular fortress built of local limestone in irregular coursed masonry. It consists of two rectangular structures of unequal height (the tower and the paved courtyard). Access is via an elevated archway, while there is also a low exit door at the back of the tower. The location of the baths and latrines has been securely identified, while other areas were the andron (men’s quarter), the atrium, etc. The tower water supply and drainage system is also interesting. The main tower was accessed by a staircase, of which the lowest steps survive. The area around the monument also includes the remains of an ancient olive press and a cellar, while the movable finds demonstrate that the site has remained in use from antiquity to the present day. The remains of the early modern era are also impressive: modern built structures linked to agricultural installations, collection channel systems, a rainwater collection cistern, a built oven, an olive press and a byre, all indicating the continued use of the site through the ages.

4) White Tower on Sifnos

The White Tower (Aspros Pyrgos) is located in the southern ore-bearing zone of Sifnos, close to ancient gold-mining galleries. It dominates the hilltop of Cape Pounta, with an unimpeded view of the east and southeast Aegean and the interior of the island. It is one of the largest, best preserved and best known of the 77 identified towers on Sifnos. It is a circular structure, with an outer diameter of 13m. and a preserved height of 5.50m. (12 visible courses of masonry). It is built of coursed masonry, with rectangular and trapezoid blocks of white, and more rarely grey, marble, their size diminishing with height. On the inner side is a second course of well-built marble blocks.

Two parallel inner walls divide the interior of the tower into three rooms; the north room is the only space in which beam-holes to support the floor of the upper storey remain. In the south room, against the outer wall, to the left of the entrance, is a staircase of 10 steps which used to lead to the upper storey. The central room has three triangular niches on the west face of the inner surface of the outer wall, opposite the entrance. This room also contains the remains of an olive press next to a built platform, a stone vessel set into the floor, a block of stone with two mortises and an underground cistern.

The tower entrance is on the SE, with doorposts formed of vertically and horizontally placed blocks of stone. In the inner corners of the doorposts are mortises corresponding to the sockets in the threshold for closing the door. There are two unique cylindrical marble elements on the inside of the doorposts, perhaps to support the wooden beam used to bar the door.

There are traces of outbuildings in the area around the tower, although their presence has not been confirmed by excavation. The monument is dated to the 4th c. BC, mainly on the basis of elements of the masonry. The White Tower is a landmark for modern-day Sifnians, a symbol linked to beliefs and legends, a source of inspiration for painters and poets.

5) White Tower on Serifos

The ancient tower known as the White Tower (Aspros Pyrgos or Aspropyrgos) is built high on the rocky ridge of the line of hills delimiting Koutalas Bay on the northwest. It is a fortified structure that stood alone in the Serifos countryside, dominating the southwest part of island, the richest in metal ores.

The tower is built of local white marble and its foundations are set firmly into the sloping rock. It is circular in plan with an external diameter (at the base) of 8.54 m. Its masonry is particularly well built and the double outer wall, 1.05 m. thick, is built of well-dressed marble ashlars, laid without the use of mortar, in courses whose height diminishes progressively as they rise. The ground floor is preserved to a height of 4.20 m. Based on the building material found fallen inside the tower, scattered around it, set into the walls of nearby buildings and used in drystone walls (over 500 marble blocks), it is estimated that the tower would have been three storeys and approximately 12 m. high. There are no attached annexes and no traces of an enceinte or outbuildings have been found in the immediate environs. The entrance is on the southeast side, while there appear to have been arrow-slits and windows on the upper storeys. The roof was probably flat. Inside and immediately to the right of the entrance is a spiral staircase that led to the upper storeys. The five lowest marble steps are preserved in situ, but the rest of the staircase may have been of wood. On the ground floor, a transverse party wall isolates the stairwell and divides the room in two.

The features of the White Tower - solid construction, prominent position overlooking the surrounding area, visual contact with other towers (Psaropyrgos, Tou Choirou i Trypa) - indicate its defensive character and multiple uses, simultaneous or otherwise, as a watchtower, beacon tower and guardhouse. Its presence in this area - where there is evidence of active mines, at least during the Late Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods - also means that it was connected to their activities and protection.

The White Tower would have been built in the 3rd c. BC, while its final period of use is dated to Late Roman times, specifically the 4th c. AD.

6) Tower of Agia Marina on Kea

The Tower of Agia Marina still rises to its original height and is the best-preserved example of an ancient square tower in Greece. It is located in the interior of western Kea, in the middle of a valley between the two ancient western cities of the island, Korissos and Poiessa. The building appears to have stood alone, while in the modern era it was incorporated into the post-Byzantine Monastery of Agia Marina.

The tower was square, measuring 9.90 x 9.90 m., and built of ashlars of local stone (schist and grey dolomitic marble) in irregular trapezoid masonry, with small plaque-like plugs in the gaps. The inside of the tower was laid out on five storeys, which were connected by a stone staircase set into the external tower walls, and divided into smaller rooms. On the fourth storey is a small, isolated balcony on the south side of the building, while on the upper storey a circular balcony supported on stone corbels runs right around the tower.

The tower entrance is on the south side, at a height of 2.00 m. above the ground. On the south, east and west sides are windows with white marble frames and cornices, while on the north side there were only narrow slits, widening on the inside. It is still uncertain whether the roof was flat or pitched.

The Tower of Agia Marina is dated, based on the evidence available today, to the 4th c. BC. The Monastery of Agia Marina was founded circa 1600 AD and the ancient tower was incorporated into the enceinte and used for lodging, storage and defence until 1837, when the monastery was abandoned.

7) Drakanou Tower on Ikaria

At the northeast tip of Ikaria, on Cape Fanari, stands the ancient Drakanou Tower, a round marble tower with an external base diameter of 8.4 m. and a maximum preserved height of almost 13 m. It is built on rock, approximately 51 m. above sea level with an uninterrupted view. Two sides of the enceinte wall, approximately 2.4 m. thick, converge on the tower at an angle of 34. Drakanou Tower is the best-preserved ancient Greek tower in the Aegean. It is three storeys high with a wall approximately 1 m. thick at the base, progressively diminishing to 0.85 m. as it rises. The ground-floor entrance, with a free opening 1.32 m. wide and a maximum 2.33 m. high, is on the east side, while a little to the north is an entrance to the first storey, 1.26 m. wide and 2.80 m. high. There are three arrow-slits on both the ground floor and the first storey, and six windows on the second storey. No traces of the staircases connecting the storeys remain. Presumably they were wooden and have been destroyed along with the floor-beams. The tower is built of massive marble ashlars, varying in colour from white to grey. The original total height of the tower is estimated to have been 13.5 m., so it would have had another two courses of stones.

The tower would have served a variety of needs simultaneously. Due to its position, it is an excellent watchtower and beacon tower. The fortified part of the cape is defended on the east and north by the steep rocky cliffside, for gathering and defence in case of attack. The walled area would have been a particularly safe refuge and a protected area in which to collect goods. The tower is dated by the archaeological evidence to the 4th c. BC.

8) Ancient towers of Kastellorizo - Ro - Strongyli

Palaiokastro is the main and largest fortified site of ancient Megisti, modern-day Kastellorizo. It stands on a hill on the west side of the island, the closest to the Asia Minor coast opposite, in order to control the sea routes and the port on the north side of the island. It consists of an enceinte fortified by three towers on the southeast side and a smaller inner tower, which is proposed for inclusion in the list.

The inner tower, measuring 11.6 x 5.6 m., is built in coursed masonry of dressed ashlars and is preserved to a height of 8 courses (approximately 4 m.), while in the enceinte the original ashlars are only visible in the foundations. Numerous rainwater collection cisterns have been cut into the rock and faced with clay and lime plaster. On the west side of the tower, on a sheer rock face, rectangular niches were intended to house votive reliefs.

In the Byzantine period and the era of the Knights of Rhodes, the site continued in use as a fortress and a refuge for the local population in case of danger. Outside the walls, a small wine press indicates that people engaged in agricultural activities in times of relative peace. The fortress would have housed a small permanent garrison, to control the seas. It would have communicated with the other towers on the island, which were in line of sight, and also with the corresponding watchtowers on the opposite coast. The strategic position of the tower was also exploited in the modern era by the Italians, as evidenced by the three gun emplacements built during the Second World War.

Palaiokastro would have had lines of sight to both the ancient harbour fortress and the beacon towers (fryktoriai) on the two islets below Kastellorizo, Ro to the west and Strongyli to the east.

The fortress on the islet of Ro is set on a hilltop and covers a small area of 30 x 25 m. Access is from the south side, while there are steep cliffs on the north. The fortress consists of a double enceinte, parts of which survive on the southwest and southeast sides, and an inner rectangular tower measuring 12.5 x 13 m., both built in coursed masonry of dressed ashlars. The central tower is preserved to a height of approximately 4 m. Inside there is a rainwater collection cistern faced with clay and lime plaster, approximately 5.5. m. in diameter. The remains of a wine press outside the tower and a stone conical vessel indicate engagement in agricultural activities to supply the small garrison posted there. In the early modern era, Lambros Katsonis used the fortress as his base of operations during the Ottoman rule (1788-1792). That must be when the upper course of small stones was added to the west wall.

The islet of Strongyli with its tower, east of Kastellorizo, completes the southeast end of the chain of watchtowers operated by the Rhodian state. The foundations of an ancient tower are preserved on the west peak of the island. A double enceinte protects mainly the north side, while on the south are cisterns cut into the rock and faced with clay and lime plaster, and the remains of an olive press. The central rectangular tower covers an area of approximately 7.5 x 8.5 m. and is built in coursed masonry of dressed ashlars. Only a single course of stones of the superstructure is preserved. The tower has not been built on the highest peak of the island, but watches the opposite shore unseen, while also being situated at the closest point to the port.

The three towers of Kastellorizo, Ro and Strongyli comprise the main links in a dense network of watchtowers constructed by the Rhodian state during the Hellenistic period, to control the sea routes and the Lycian coast across the water.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The ancient towers constitute a characteristic type of ancient monument in the Aegean islands during antiquity. They are connected to rural life, reflecting the needs and social organisation of these geographically isolated areas.

They form a particularly extensive network of monuments, which, without the prestige and luxury of urban buildings or the great temples, is impressively widespread and an important material testimony to everyday life in the countryside in antiquity, an issue on which written sources are limited. The network is connected to the use of beacons (fryktoriai), the earliest form of communication over large distances, based on the transmission of light signals to communicate in the interior of each island or among the islands as well as between the islands and the coast.

The structure of the towers results from the rural inhabitants’ adaptation in antiquity to the natural environment and the demands of daily life imposed by the particular living conditions on the islands. The morphology of the towers is preserved in the architecture of the Aegean islands, in buildings serving similar purposes in later times.

Criterion (iii): The ancient towers, with their variety of uses and dispersal, constitute an outstanding material testimony to the organisation of everyday life in the countryside - on which written sources are limited - during the period of development of ancient Greek civilisation.

Criterion (iv): They constitute a particular and widely dispersed building type of ancient Greek architecture, which is connected to the beacons (fryktoriai), the earliest form of communication over large distances.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Integrity: The selected towers preserve their integrity to a large extent and are the best-preserved monuments of this type in the Aegean Sea. The degree of preservation, both of the towers themselves and of their immediate surroundings, permits the almost total reconstruction of their original form in most cases, while in others satisfactory archaeological evidence of their use survives.

The ancient towers are protected both under archaeological legislation and by special acts for their protection (designations, etc.).

Authenticity: The towers preserve their authenticity to an excellent degree. There have been no interventions to their original form, while, for those which have been restored, the work has been carried out according to ad hoc studies and following all standards of restoration.

Comparison with other similar properties

The ancient towers of the Aegean form a category of cultural good that is not represented on the World Heritage List. Inscribed monuments of this period are either in an urban setting or sanctuaries, but nothing exclusively connected to rural organisation and life is recorded. The only similar example is the cultural landscape of Stari Grad Plain in Croatia, a colony of Paros in the 4th c. BC, but this is included in WHL solely with regard to the preservation of the agricultural landscape from antiquity to the present.