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Petropigi, Nestos, Kavala,East Macedonia & Thrace

Fortress of Petropigi

  
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Fortress of Petropigi
Location:
Petropigi village, on the old NR Kavala-Xanthi, North Greece
Region > Prefecture:   Greek Map
East Macedonia & Thrace
Kavala
Municipality > Town:
City of Nestos
• Petropigi
Altitude:
Elevation ≈ 9 m 
Time of Construction   Origin
13th century  
Late-BYZANTINE
H 
Castle Type   Condition
Castle  
Not Good
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A station on via Egnatia dated back to the late-Byzantine period (13th-14th century) with some modifications from the early Turkish period.

This small fortress lies 20 kilometers east of Kavala, and was excavated by the Norwegian Institute at Athens in 1993-2002.


Location & Strategic Scope

The fortress takes its name after the neighbouring village of Petropigi, as its ancient name is not known. The monument is situated on the southern side of the main road between Kavala and Xanthi, 9.23 m. above sea level, on a plain stretching down to the sea.

Originally the shoreline must have been closer to the fortress than it is today, and the distance to the Petropigi village was longer as the old village was located higher up on the mountain slope. With the draining of the marshlands near the coast new land for cultivation became available, and a new village was constructed closer to the main road.

The fortress is oriented north/east-south/west, and it lies exactly parallel to the modern road. Because of this parallelism it is probable that the modern road at this point follows the course of the ancient Via Egnatia.


History

The fortress reflects three phases of which the first two seem to be Late Byzantine while cloisonné work in the third phase shows parallels in Early Ottoman constructions in Western Thrace. There is evidence that phase three dates to the early 15th century. The fortress was probably built after the reconquest of Constantinople in 1261. In general, this late period which is often seen as a period of decline, shows in fact a surprising number of new buildings in the Balkans.

Though the Petropigi fortress lies in the midst of cultivated fields, no trace of human occupation such as pottery shards has been found in the neighbourhood. This appears to support the hypothesis that the fortress was a statio, that is, a fortified staging post on via Egnatia.

A piece of the original wooden scaffolding was retrieved from the mortar and was subjected to C 14 analysis by the Norwegian researchers. The analysis showed a date between A.D. 1275 and 1350. For historical reasons, it is more probable a construction date in the 13th century, when there was a certain building activity following the recapture of Constantinople from its Latin occupants (1261).

Early in the 15th century, the Ottoman invaders turned the Byzantine statio into a Turkish kervansaray which had basically the same function. Judging from the findings, mainly Ottoman coins, the fortress of Petropigi had been used as a kervansaray at least during the 15th and 16th centuries.

At some point after the 16th century, all the Ottoman structures were dismantled. This happened in an orderly way for the materials to be reused. The reason for the abandoning was probably that a better staging post had been found, maybe in nearby Khryssoupolis. Or maybe, the fertile plain in this area began to attract population and villages were created, so a kervansaray (the purpose of which, in general, was to offer shelter in isolated places) became obsolete.

Having ceased to function as a staging post, the Petropigi fortress continued to be used by the local population. In the SW tower, a fragment of a 19th century Turkish pipe was found together with several bones from sheep and goats, evidence that it was used as a lair, probably by herdsmen.


Structure, Fortification & Buildings

The inner measurements of the fortress, 29,6×29,3 m, correspond to 100×100 Roman feet. Its walls are constructed of mortar, stones and bricks, a technique used from the early Byzantine period onwards. One band of bricks runs continuously through all four walls at the same height, while the rest of the bricks are distributed more unevenly for shorter stretches. There are some slight differences in the size of the bricks, which may be attributed to different building stages.

Originally the fortress had two gates, one in the south/east and one in the north/west, and two towers, one in the south/west and one in the north/east. The projecting walls of the gates were probably vaulted. At a later stage these walls were extended and fitted with a portcullis, the slots of which are still visible. Also, a tower was added to the south/eastern corner. The north/western tower was enlarged, and a room inside added on an upper level. There is a “seam” in the wall of the south/western tower suggesting that this, too, may have been strengthened.

It is likely that these alterations were made not long after the construction of the fortress, during the turbulent 14th century, a period characterized by Byzantine civil wars and the incursions of various powers such as the Serbs, the Catalan Company and finally the Ottoman Turks, whose conquest of Thrace and eastern Macedonia started in the 1360’s. If the Byzantines themselves strengthened the fortress, they probably did it during the first half of the 14th century, while they still exercised some control, but it is, of course, also possible that the decision to fortify it was made by one of the temporary masters of that particular stretch of the road during the second half of the century. The fortress could not have withstood an army with siege equipment, but it could probably repel attacks from brigands, of whom there were many in the 14th century. The fortress is, in fact, very conservative in its typology, and differs little from its early Byzantine prototypes.

Some structures are preserved in the middle and the northern area of the fortress. The most important one is a long building which practically divides the courtyard in two. It is oriented according to the points of the compass contrary to the fortress walls, which, as remarked above, deviate slightly in accordance with the course of the Via Egnatia. The building is divided into one longer and one shorter unit with an aperture between them, which gives access to the northern part of the courtyard. The shorter unit is in line with the south/eastern gate. Apart from having a slightly different orientation from the fortress itself, the two units are constructed in a different technique, the so-called cloisonné, where the stones are framed by horizontal and vertical bricks.

The floor of the long building was stuccoed. No door was found, neither in the longer nor in the shorter unit. This suggests that the lower part of the building was used as a basement, and that there was a second story with access from outer staircases which probably led to a walkway or gallery, all in wood.

The cloisonné technique was also used in a structure running along the inside of the northern fortress wall in its full length. Since it was demolished more thoroughly that the building in the middle of the courtyard, very little of it remains. Though it stretches from one end of the fortress to the other, there is no trace of a bond higher up on the walls. This may mean that the structure was no building, but simply a low platform.

The Ottoman invaders obviously turned the Byzantine statio into a Turkish kervansaray. Since these constructions have the same function, they needed only to make few changes. The closing of one of the gates was one of these, as Turkish kervansarays have normally only one gate, not two. It may seem odd that the gate nearest to the Via Egnatia was closed, but the new masters probably preferred to have the gate in the same area as the utilitarian buildings, and the sleeping quarters out of sight.

A platform with fireplaces in the back wall is a typical feature of many Ottoman kervansarays, and can be seen illustrated in miniatures, for instance. The travelers slept wrapped in their cloaks or blankets with their mounts or tethered to the platform or immediately in front of it. The fireplaces in the wall behind them gave them warmth, and also possibilities to cook their food. There were few, if any facilities in these kervansarays, which are mostly described as being completely empty.

There was, however, the possibility of having one’s horse shod. The blacksmith was an important feature in Byzantine stationes and Turkish kervansarays. In Petropigi, a small forge was actually found. It was located close to the westernmost chimney in the northern wall.

Since the travelers brought with them pots and pans and cutlery and departed with it again, few objects came to light inside the fortress. This is a marked difference from settlements.


Sources

  • Interaction and Isolation in Late Byzantine Culture edited by Jan Olof Rosenqvist, I.B.Tauris, 2004, pages 96-99
  • The Norwegian Institute at Athens -Petropigi

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Road map to Fortress of Petropigi

Access
Approach to the monument:
On the old NR Xanthi-Kavala there is an intersection to the village of Petropigi. At the other side of this intersection, starts a dirt road leading after 100m to the castle.
Entrance:
The fortress is not guarded but there is a fence around it. Because of the fence and the rich vegetation, the entrance is impossible. One can only see the outer walls.


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