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Culture Archaeology Archaeological Sights Settlements Eastern Macedonia and Thrace Prefecture of Evros Municipality of Alexandroupolis

View of the Byzantine tower to the west of Mesimbria/. It is square in shape, each side is 6.5m across and has a height of 3.5m
(Photo: Pantsoglou Christos)
(Photo: Pantsoglou Christos)
The archaeological site of Mesimbria
(Photo: Pantsoglou Christos)

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Mesembria – Zone

Aikaterinh Balla
Source: C.E.T.I.
© Region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace
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During the First World War, an extensive cemetery of the archaic and classical period was revealed by Bulgarian soldiers at a short distance from the modern village of Dikella, along with the remains of a large fortified settlement dating from the late archaic period to the 3rd-2nd centuries BC. The most significant among the finds, which were attributed to the city of Mesembria without any evidence, was a relief of the severe style that was transferred to the Museum of Sofia. In the late 7th century BC, Mesembria was founded at the SE coast of Thrace, between Maroneia and Alexandroupolis, as one of the colonies of Samothrace. In his description of Xerxes’ campaign against Greece, in 480 BC, Herodotus was the first to mention that Mesembria was the westernmost city of the “peraia” of Samothrace, placing it exactly to the east of Strymi.

However, the systematic excavations carried out at the area in the course of the last twenty years, or more, have been gradually changing the earlier identification of the site with the ancient city of Mesembria. Both the finding of coins and separate inscription finds as well as the fact that Mesembria is not cited in any ancient written sources after Herodotus make more probable the identification of the site with Zone, which is also mentioned as a colony of Samothrace. Recently, it has been also claimed that “Mesembria” might have been the earliest Thracian name of the settlement that was later renamed “Zone” by the Greek colonists.

The excavation finds and the investigation of the building material revealed three construction phases, the earliest of which begins at least in the 5th century BC and reaches the 3rd-2nd centuries BC. The city experienced a heyday between the 5th and the 4th centuries BC, while later the creation of roads during the Macedonian and the Roman rule led Mesembria-Zone to decay. However, according to the finds, the area appears to have been inhabited until the 6th century.

The walls enclosing the settlement are built with irregular-shaped courses of slates, limestones and tufa stones, part in the pseudo-isodomic masonry, part in the isodomic masonry and sometimes in the lesbian system. This fortification protects the city on the East, North and West and reaches, at certain points, the height of two metres, while rectangular towers intervene all along its length of almost 1370 metres.

Inside the fortified enceinte, house complexes, public buildings and doorsteps in situ are preserved, probably served as shops or workshops. Yet, what makes this city special is the discovery of a kind of a wall inside the city that forms a sort of a walled settlement on its SW end. This part of the city seems to have been isolated at some time, having its own separate fortification and an autonomous internal organization with houses, shops and workshops. There is also an important section of a stone pipe, which is the sole example, so far, of the city’s drainage system.

The sanctuary of Demeter and the temple of Apollo are among the most important monuments in the site of the settlement. The sanctuary of Demeter is a small, rectangular construction made of elaborated white marble and dates to the 4th century BC. Now the foundations of the building divided into three areas are preserved. In front of the building, a wall that probably formed part of the sanctuary court was found. An inscribed pedestal was found here leading to the identification of the site with the Sanctuary of Demeter. Clay female figurines were found in the interior of the Sanctuary along with a marble statuette of a young man, a clay mask of Demeter with hat on her head, and numerous vessels and coins dating to the 4th and the 3rd centuries BC. The most important finds are the silver, gold, silvered and gilt plaques with relief representations related to the cult of Demeter.

The archaic temple of Apollo is a rectangular building with a pronaos and a cella, probably incorporated in a building complex with central paved court enclosed by a stoa. A three-layered crepis is preserved form the building, while its interior was found full of fragmentized pottery with engraved inscriptions dating to the 6th and the 5th centuries BC.

There is a characteristic building complex of the 6th-5th centuries BC consisting of several rooms, in three of which numerous amphorae were found. The amphorae found in the middle room were placed with the rim on the ground that probably served for the soil drainage.

Among the most remarkable finds in the site of Mesembria are the headless archaic kouros with no arms and no legs, which is a typical example of art in the early phase of the existence of the settlement as well as a Panathenian amphora confirming the strong commercial relations with major centres of the period. Trade activity is also attested by the big amount of coins found in the site of the settlement that originate from various remote areas.

The cemetery is located outside the walls, to the west of the city. Tiled-roofed and cist graves were uncovered in the cemetery together with jar-burials, cremations, stone and clay sarcophagi and separate free burials. There is a characteristic circular tomb with a burial in the centre surrounded by eight more burials into cauldron-like vessels and pithoi of the prehistoric times, a fact leading to the conjuncture that Mesembria-Zone was founded on the site of an earlier Thracian settlement. The rich grave goods (Attic vessels, figurines, elaborate jewellery) bear witness to the economic flourishing of the city and to the high living level of its inhabitants.

In the last years, the excavations conducted also outside the walled settlement have revealed parts of large building insulae with horizontal and vertical streets that are similar to the urban planning of this settlement.

In the wider area of Mesembria medieval ruins were also uncovered along with a rectangular tower and remains of buildings, architectural members and slabs of the Early Christian period, as well as architecture and everyday use pottery.