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Walls of Xantheia
(Photo: PAMTH 1994)

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28/11/2007
Xantheia

Aikaterinh Balla
Source: C.E.T.I.
© Region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace
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Fortification ruins, identified with Byzantine Xantheia, are preserved on a hilltop near Kosinthos river north of the modern city of Xanthi. Yet, the exact location of Xantheia is not certain, given that no archaeological evidence is provided on the identification of ancient Xantheia with the Byzantine city under the same name. The earliest reference to Xantheia is found in Strabos Geography. It is probably one of the Ciconian cities situated further east of Byzantine Xantheia and generally far from the Vistonida lake.

Another reference is found in ecclesiastical documents and more specifically in the minutes of the great ecclesiastical synod mentioning Bishop of Xantheia Georgios that took place in Constantinople under the Patriarch Photios, in 879. During the 9th century, it became a bishopric city; the participation in the Synod demonstrates that it has been an important centre throughout Byzantine times. However, the first signs of decay appeared in the early centuries of the Turkish occupation.

In the 10th century, Xantheia was a less important unfortified settlement (village is the name that is attributed to Xantheia in the monastic formulary, or Typikon, of the Monastery of Petritzonitissa). The diocese, dependant on the Metropolis of Traianoupolis until the 13th century, was upgraded to archdiocese and later to metropolis (1344) during the civil war between Andronicus II and Andronicus III. The until then, small unfortified settlement turned during that period (second half of the 13th century) into a fortified city of great strategic importance, since it controlled the natural routes of communication with the hinterland of the Balkan peninsula. The city of Xantheia began to appear in several sources and is located near a very populous area with numerous small villages. Therefore, Xantheia was a city-fortress situated in the centre of a significant number of villages and other settlements forming their natural defence and point of orientation.

Xantheia is also mentioned in historical sources when French monks visited it in 1730, in search of ancient manuscripts kept in its Monasteries.

Xantheia was the first Thracian city that someone could meet after crossing Nestos river. It was an important stop along the Via Egnatia route linking the city, on the one hand with the area across Nestos and on the other with Peritheorion and the eastern regions.

Fortification ruins are preserved to the north of the modern city of Xanthi, a short way far from the Monastery of Taxiarches and the narrow valley of the river. They probably date back to the late Byzantine times, and they contain quadrilateral and circular towers, fortification walls, curtain walls 12 m high, small gates and vaulted water cisterns. A rather large, irregularly fortified area on the hilltop encloses a wide section of the north and northeastern sides of the mountain, far from the modern city of Xanthi. The masonry is 10 metres high and it consists of rubble stones, white mortar and fragmentized plinths. A great amount of plinths was used for the construction of the SE corner tower; horizontal courses of plinths appear on the exterior surface, while the interior structure is in pure plinth-masonry.

The fortress controlled the route passing through the valley of the river of Xanthi and heading to the north towards the Rodopi mountain range. A little lower from the Byzantine fortress, to the SE of the Monastery of Taxiarches, stand the foundations of an earlier (maybe Thracian) fortified enceinte. According to the popular tradition, the so-called walls of Xanthippe are named after a mythological queen of Xanthi.