Kyllene Harbour Project

Jari Pakkanen, Kalliopi Baika, Dionysios Evangelistis, George Papatheodorou and Maria Geraga

1. Introduction

The fieldwork of the Kyllene Harbour Project was carried out in 2007–2017. The project is an interdisciplinary study of the coastal and underwater remains of an ancient naval base and Frankish harbour, and it is conducted as a collaboration between the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities and the Finnish Institute at Athens. The persons responsible for the project are Jari Pakkanen on behalf of the Finnish Institute and Dionysios Evangelistis, representative of the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities. The principal members of the research team are Kalliopi Baika (Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities and University of Aix-Marseille), George Papatheodorou and Maria Geraga (Laboratory of Marine Geology and Physical Oceanography, University of Patras), Andreas Vött (University of Mainz) and Demetrios Athanasoulis (formerly of the Sixth Byzantine Ephoria, currently Ephorate of Antiquities of Cyclades).

The harbour of Kyllene is located in the north-western part of the Peloponnese. Modern Kyllene is best known as a port for the ferries to Kephallonia and Zakynthos, and since the new harbour of Kyllene is only 800 m east of the earlier one, the busy shipping route passes relatively close to the ancient and medieval remains. The port had an important geostrategic location and a tactical role in warfare and trade in Western Greece both in classical antiquity and the medieval times. Despite the constant hammering of waves, the partially submerged principal harbour installations – moles, quays, breakwaters and towers – are in a relatively good state of preservation. Regardless of their condition they have not yet been properly studied or archaeologically recorded until now, and this is at least partially due to the fact that the focus of harbour archaeology in Greece has nearly exclusively been on ports of classical antiquity. In the project we have combined the archaeological, topographical and historical studies of the harbour with maritime geomorphological research.

2. History

In classical antiquity Kyllene was the principal outport of ancient Elis, so a large part of the participants and spectators arriving to the Olympian games by sea would have landed there. Thucydides (2.86.1, 3.69.1–2) reports that during the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BCE) it was the major Spartan naval base against the Athenian naval forces in western Greece. In the Hellenistic period, the harbour remained of key strategic importance for the war fleets of the Ptolemies and the Macedonians. The medieval fortifications and harbour installations are in many places built of re-used ancient blocks and Hellenistic and Roman pottery and coins have been documented in medieval strata.

At the end of the Fourth Crusade, after the fall of Constantinople, western Peloponnese (Morea) was conquered in 1205 CE by the Franks who held it for more than two centuries as the Principality of Achaia. The Villehardouins developed the coastal city of Kyllene (then known as Glarenza) as a significant strategic post and they also fortified the settlement. Due to its ideal location between mainland Greece and Italy, the city-harbour emerged rapidly as one of the most famous international centres of medieval Europe: ships from Venice and Genoa transited goods from all of Frankish Greece to Western Europe. The harbour flourished for two centuries, but in the early fifteenth century its fortunes were reversed: between 1407 and 1428 it changed hands five times and in 1431 the Byzantine Konstantinos Palaiologos destroyed its walls to prevent a new capture of the city and the harbour.

3. Methods

 Total stations were used in all topographical work and architectural recording, including mapping of the coastal and archaeological features in the sea. Most of the walls and structures are in shallow water and they are relatively easy to record using a total station and prism pole of varying heights. In conditions of low visibility because of surface ripples or floating sand in the sea it is necessary to increase the size of the prism team to two persons: the snorkeler is then responsible for correct positioning of the prism tip and calling what the target is. For points deeper than at 4m it has necessary to use divers: two divers are at the sea bottom and together with the snorkeler on the surface make sure that the prism pole is vertical. The aim of the survey is to directly record all the architectural features in 3D in sufficient detail so that they can be published with minimal processing in GIS and CAD.

 In 2016, a three-dimensional photogrammetry model of the underwater harbour structures was made based on drone photography. In late August and early September, the prevailing weather conditions are usually very good with little wind and great visibility in the water. The ideal conditions to take aerial photographs of the underwater structures is at daybreak. The textured model view shows the locations of the aerial photos as blue rectangles.

Several underwater trenches were opened in 2013–14 and 2016–17 in the area of the harbour. The principal aim has been to study the stratigraphy and the architecture of the structures in order to date them more precisely. Moreover, the target of the research was to study the architectural relationship between the ancient and medieval structures, as well as the relative change of the sea level.

The team from the Department of Geology at the University of Patras has been responsible for the marine geophysical survey. In 2007–2009 the marine remote sensing techniques employed were sub-bottom profiler and side-scan sonar. A new methodological approach for using magnetometer in very shallow waters was also tested by the Patras team. Magnetometer has been successfully employed at Caesarea Maritima in Israel, but as far as we are aware it is the first time it was employed for harbour studies in Greece. The aim of the research is to study the geomorphological features of the ancient and medieval harbour by using non-destructive remote sensing methods.

Andreas Vött’s Eastern Ionian Sea Tsunami Research Project from the University of Mainz has collaborated with the project over two field seasons. The team has taken geomorphological cores both on the beach and in the shallow water.

4. Results

The integration of the results is currently on-going. In 2007–2017, the Kyllene Harbour Project studied in detail all the outer harbour structures which are currently under water. The inner harbour is on dry land and outside the research area of the project. The three-dimensional model of the harbour structures in the background of the image is created from aerial photos. The deepest points of the model at the north end of the breakwater S6 are c. 6 m below the surface of the sea. The resulting model matches very well with the stone-by-stone total station survey of the study area. The readability of the plan is greatly enhanced by superimposing the total station line-drawing on top of it. The medieval harbour entrance from the north-east between S1 and S2 is clear and it is very likely that the mouth was blocked by destroying the towers on the both sides of the entrance. This also matches the literary descriptions of the destruction of the installations in 1431.

The research project verified that there are ancient harbour structures below the medieval Frankish ones. W1 is a typical Frankish fortification wall built in mixed technique employing reused ashlar blocks and rubble set in mortar. Structure S1a is what remains of a Greek tower built of ashlar blocks and protected from the waves by the Frankish structure S1b partially built on top of it. S1a is a clear indication of the rise in relative sea levels from antiquity to present day: the top surface is currently 0.6m below the sea level. The data collected in the maritime geomorphological study has revealed the spatial distribution of the submerged harbour remains and the seafloor morphology related to the different port installations. Finally, the study has demonstrated that the use of remote sensing techniques in conjunction with detailed archaeological and topographical survey in shallow-water coastal sites could be an effective methodological approach for the study of submerged ancient ports and coastal installations in the eastern Mediterranean.

5. Acknowledgements

The work has been conducted with the permission of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture. The largest funding bodies over the ten years of the archaeological work at Kyllene have been the Foundation of the Finnish Institute at Athens, the Kostopoulos Foundation, the Finnish Cultural Foundation, the Emil Aaltonen Foundation and the Ella and Georg Ehrnrooth Foundation.

6. Research team

Dr Jari Pakkanen (project director on behalf of the Finnish Institute at Athens; Royal Holloway, University of London)
Mr Dionysis Evangelistis (representative of the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities)
Dr Kalliopi Baika (University of the Peloponnese, assistant director of the project on behalf of Finnish Institute at Athens)
Dr Demetrios Athanasoulis (representative of the Sixth Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities at Patras)

Laboratory of Marine Geology and Physical Oceanography, Department of Geology, University of Patras:

Prof. George Papatheodorou
Dr Maria Geraga, Lecturer
E. Fakiris, MSc
Dr D. Christodoulou
M. Iatrou, MSc

Finnish Institute survey and diving team:

Stuart Heath (diving instruction, equipment technician, survey)
Thanasis Psarogiannis (survey team leader, diving)
Tess Paulson (survey team leader)
Ann Brysbaert (conservation, survey)
Frederika Tevebring (survey)
Vasilis Mentoyiannis (photography)
Eirini Chrysocheri (diving)

Student members:

Sarianna Kivimäki (University of Oulu)
Eeva Vakkari (University of Helsinki)
Maria Georgiou (University of the Peloponnese)
Alexandros Kalaitzis (University of the Peloponnese)
Antigoni Kouteri (University of the Peloponnese)
Irini Oikonomou (University of the Peloponnese)
Katerina Potiriadou (University of the Peloponnese)
Lambrini Tsitsou (University of the Peloponnese)
Konstantina Tzafaridou (University of the Peloponnese)
Xanthi Neofotistou (University of Crete)

7. Publications and lectures


J. Pakkanen, ‘Kyllini Harbour Project’, in C. Morgan, ‘Archaeology in Greece 2007-2008’, Archaeological Reports 54 (2007–2008) p. 42-43.
J. Pakkanen, ‘Kyllini Harbour Project’, in C. Morgan, ‘Archaeology in Greece 2008-2009’, Archaeological Reports 55 (2008–2009) p. 38-39.


J. Pakkanen, ‘Underwater investigations of the ancient and medieval harbour at Kyllene’, Annual lecture of the Finnish Institute at Athens, 14 May 2009.
J. Pakkanen, ‘Underwater archaeological, architectural and topographical research project of the ancient and medieval harbour at Kyllene-Glarentza’, lecture in Finnish in the series Fieldwork in the Mediterranean: bureaucracy and practice, Department of Classical Philology, University of Helsinki, 17 November 2009.

8. Sponsors

The J.F. Costopoulos Foundation (2007-2008)
Municipality of Kastro-Kyllini (2007-2010)
Finnish Institute at Athens (2009-2010)
Emil Aaltonen Foundation (2009)
Ella and Georg Ehrnrooth Foundations (2009)
Finnish Cultural Foundation (2010)