Archaeologists Locate the Lost Sanctuary of Apollo in Cyprus



Sanctuary of Apollo
Finds from the 1885 excavation directed by Max Ohnefalsch-Richter. Credit: Dept. of Antiquities, Republic of Cyprus

A Sanctuary of Apollo was recently located by archaeologists at Pera Oreinis-Fragkissa Lefkosia, Cyprus. The spectacular find, announced by Cyprus’ Department of Antiquities and the Ministry of Transport, Communications and Works, was made by archaeologists from the universities of Frankfurt and Kiel in Germany.

The archaeological and geophysical survey in the area of Pera Oreinis in October of 2020 was undertaken by Frankfurt’s Dr. Matthias Recke and field Director Dr. Philipp Kobusch from Kiel.

The sanctuary of Apollo, in the vicinity of ancient Tamassos, can be considered one of the most important sanctuaries discovered in Cyprus to date, due to the rich finds of priceless sculptures there, according to the archaeologists.

It was also the site of what was considered a “rescue excavation” in 1885 by the German archaeologist Max Ohnefalsch-Richter. However, the exact location of the Sanctuary was tragically subsequently forgotten — and has been sought in vain by various archaeologists ever since that time.

Recently, archival studies succeeded in pinpointing the location of the sanctuary to a valley south of Pera Oreinis. Through an intensive survey of this valley, it has now been possible to locate the exact location of the sanctuary with certainty.

Fragment of a statue’s shoe found in 2020, compared to a find from the 1885 excavation. Credit: Dept. of Antiquities, Republic of Cyprus

The survey revealed not only a high concentration of pottery shards, but also fragments of ancient sculptures and terracotta figurines in a relatively narrowly-defined area. A geophysical survey by ground penetrating radar, carried out in cooperation with the University of Cyprus under the direction of Apostolos Sarris, confirmed the findings.

Structures located deep beneath the ground can only be found in the part of the valley that was also prominent in the archaeological survey.

A preliminary analysis of the finds showed that the area had been occupied since the Iron Age and was used throughout the Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic periods. The numerically smaller finds from the Roman and Byzantine era are considerably more eroded, however, and most likely originate from a settlement of this period further downstream, which is already known.

The finds from earlier periods, which can be ascribed to the use of the sanctuary of Apollo, are relatively well-preserved. They are thought to have been part of the debris of the 1885 excavations and were somehow overlooked at that time.

Chariots, horses and life-size human figures

The archaeologists believe that the numerous fragments of limestone figures and large terracotta statues prove that these are the remains of an ancient sanctuary, as similar finds in settlements and necropolises are uncommon.

In fact, the types of figures discovered correspond exactly to the material excavated in 1885 — which is now in museums in Canada, Great Britain, Ireland and possibly even Russia. Only a small portion of the finds from 1885 have remained in Cyprus and are now in the Cyprus Museum in Nicosia, including the famous “Colossus of Tamassos.”

The most characteristic finds from the Sanctuary are small chariots, riders and warrior figures in terracotta and large hollow terracotta statues of up to life size, depicting their donors. Such a statue is shown above, with a fragment of a life-size shoe compared to a find from the earlier excavation of 1885 which is now in the Cyprus Museum.

Many draped figures of votaries made of limestone were also found there. Besides these human figures, many other sculptural fragments, especially of horses (and riders on horses) have been found.

Confirmation that the site of the important sanctuary of Apollo was exactly in this spot was also provided by the location of an almost 15-meter long trial trench, which can be traced back to the activities of 1885 and which is also mentioned in the old excavation reports.

The trench, which was exactly two feet wide, had the purpose of exploring the adjacent area in order to determine the exact extent of the sanctuary. In fact, remains of ancient double-shell masonry can be seen here, which must have been part of the architecture of the sanctuary.

A more detailed investigation of the area as part of another archaeological excavation is planned for the Spring of 2021.

With information from the Department of Antiquities, Republic of Cyprus