Prefecture of Evros
© Region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace
The Prefecture of Evros is now one of the three prefectures of Thrace and the last one on the east borders of Greece. It is bordered by Bulgaria and Turkey. The capital of the Prefecture is Alexandroupolis, founded as lately as in 1875 with the name of Dedeagatchs, was later renamed Alexandroupolis in 1919, in honour of king Alexander who had visited the then small town. The urban planning of Alexandroupolis was designed by the Russians who had occupied the city in 1877, after the Russo–Turkish war.
The prefecture of Evros was named after the Evros river, which is the aquatic border of Greece with Turkey. Euripides calls the Evros river “silver-yielding”, while Plinius calls it “gold-flowing”. The finds bear witness to the continuous habitation of the area of Evros in successive periods starting from the Paleolithic Age to present times. The island of Samothrace also belongs to the same Prefecture and it was apparently inhabited even since the Neolithic Age.
Two prehistoric layers were traced in the location of Aghios Nikolaos, NE of the village of Rizia and south of Ardas river. One layer dates to the Middle Paleolithic Age and the other to the Lower Paleolithic Age, while the Neolithic settlement of Makri is considered as a one of the most important settlements in Western Thrace and the Balkans as well. The cave of Makri, which the locals call the Cave of Cyclops Polyphemus, seems that it was inhabited during the prehistoric era, while, in later times, it served as a place of worship of the Thracian deities.
The megalithic funerary monuments found in Roussa as well as the three groups of funerary monuments found in the locations of Petrotopos, Tsagiria and Palia Myti date to the Early Iron Age (9th – 8th centuries BC). The rock paintings on the location “Ypsoma Chilia” date also to this period and bear representations of engraved reptiles, birds, stellar bodies, human figures in various postures as well as dance scenes and several symbols, possibly of the sun and the moon that pointed towards the east. Undoubtedly, all these magic and apotropaic representations are associated with the religious beliefs of that time and bear witness to the existence of open-air sanctuaries with rock-cut structures (niches, basins, altars and discs) set together on the rocky hilltops.
Following the 7th century BC, the Greek colonists began to expand, settle in the island of Samothrace and create several colonies. They approached the coastline of Evros and founded the cities of Mesembria (Zone), Serreio, Drys, Sali, Characoma and Tempyra. The most significant cities of this period were Mesembria/Zone, which experienced a heyday in the 5th and 4th centuries BC, and ancient Doriscus, which, according to Herodotus, served as a military camp and a supply centre of the army of Xerxes in 480 BC. During the Persian wars, the area of Evros was occupied by the Persians from whom it was liberated by the Athenians in later times.
The area further fell to the Macedonians and formed part of the great Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great. A tomb dating to this period, i.e. in the Early Hellenistic times (late 4th – early 3rd centuries BC), was found between the villages of Elafochori and Dafni and it consists of a passageway, an antechamber and a chamber resembling the family tombs, similar to the Macedonian type.
In Roman times, the region of Evros was occupied by the Romans who founded various important cities: Traianoupolis, Plotinopolis and Adrianople. The creation of the route of the Via Egnatia that linked the Adriatic Sea with Constantinople offered a whole new impetus to the political and cultural development of the area in the Roman era.
In the Byzantine period, several monuments bear witness to the political and economical advance as well as the strategic importance of the area like the fortified Byzantine settlement of Makri, the castles of Pythion and Avas, the fortification of Didymoteicho, which has been the imperial seat of Byzantium, and the magnificent 12th century church of Panaghia Kosmosmoteira at Ferres. In the early 13th through the 14th centuries, the region of Evros was savaged many times by Bulgarian rulers. In 1361 the Turks occupied the city that was liberated after almost five centuries in 1920. During the Turkish occupation, especially after the 18th century, the flourishing sericulture (cultivation of silk) in Soufli gave a boost to the local economy leading to a great progress.