BMCR 2007.08.64

Kition de Chypre. Guides archéologiques de l’ Institut Français du Proche Orient 4

, Kition de Chypre. Guides archéologiques de l'Institut français d'archéologie du Proche-Orient ; no 4. Paris: Recherche sur les civilisations, 2006. 156 pages : illustrations (some color), maps ; 24 cm.. ISBN 2865383024 €35.00.

All credit to la gloire of French cultural diplomacy that the publisher of this excellent guide to Kition in Cyprus is the Quai d’Orsay, the Foreign Ministry, which has also funded the excavations that Marguerite Yon (Y) has directed at the low hillock of Kition-Bamboula. Here is a paradigm for those many other countries whose governments cannot comprehend the cultural and political gains from allowing their diplomats to spend relatively small sums in support of archaeology abroad.

Kition lies underneath the modern town of Larnaca, which is familiar to visitors as it has had Cyprus’s main airport since 1974. The town, and airport, and Muslim shrine of Hala Sultan Tekke border the Salt Lake, where salt was collected until 1985. If in ancient times the lake began as a (shallow) sea bay, it is easy to believe with Y that the Late Bronze Age rich commercial cities at Hala Sultan Tekke and Kition on the west and north sides of the bay/lake, and later Kition alone, were profiting from purveying salt.1

The guide is well produced, rich in illustrations, thoroughly up-to-date, and so comprehensive that points are picked up several times over. As a result, it is easy to use and valuable both for visitors, who in the evening can read around what they have seen in the day, and for students — and even established scholars — looking for a place to begin studying the city that produced Zeno.

Part 1 of the book starts with the setting of Kition/Larnaca and the early investigations (Chapter 1: pp. 15-29), from which the 18th century Irish bishop Richard Pococke emerges particularly well for identifying an ancient harbour basin linked by a channel to the sea: its Classical shipsheds have been Y’s major discovery. Less glorious, in archaeological terms, was the civil engineering of the British in 1879, the year after they took Cyprus over, when they destroyed much of the Bamboula hillock for the sake of draining the marshes so as to reduce malaria. As Y writes, with reticent but palpable feeling, when she started work, the hillock was only a small part of what it had been the century before.

Chapter 2 (pp. 31-44) covers virtually a century of excavations, from John Myres in 1913, through the Swedish Cyprus Expedition in 1929-30 (their chief find was the bothros of the Classical sanctuary at Bamboula), to the work of the Department of Antiquities from 1959 up to the present. If this is best known for Vassos Karageorghis’s excavation of the Late Bronze Age and Phoenician temples beside the north city wall, as well as remarkably rich and important Late Cypriot tombs, one should remember that rescue excavations before building works in modern Larnaca continue to produce tombs and other evidence — even last month — to illuminate the history of the ancient city. In 1976 (when the French team could no longer work at Salamis, following the Turkish invasion), Y began excavating.

Chapter 3 (pp. 45-51) is a succinct account of the changing geomorphology of the coast and its impact on the placing of the port: as with the changes at Enkomi-Salamis to the north, this is vital for understanding the local settlement history. Chapter 4 (pp. 53-63) tells the history of Kition, which became a major urban settlement in the 13th century BC, with the foundation of its temples and its massive defence/sea wall, while north of Bamboula remains have been found of the 10th century. In the 9th century Kition came under the Phoenicians, who rebuilt the Bronze Age temples complex and also founded another cult place at Bamboula; in 707 a stele (found in 1845 and now in Berlin) was set up there of Sargon II, showing that this was the western limit of his domain. Kition remained a “Cypro-Phoenician” city-kingdom until Ptolemy took the island, capturing king Pumayatton and putting him to death in 312 BC. The port at Bamboula continued to have an important role into the early Roman empire.

Part 2 describes the archaeological remains of Kition, presenting the scattered and often scanty evidence thematically. Chapter 5 (pp. 65-70) discusses the boundaries and fortifications of the city, chapter 6 (pp. 71-81) its planning and drains, and the Hellenistic and Roman public monuments: a gymnasium, stadium, hippodrome and theatre are attested, but clues to where they were range from meagre to non-existent.

Chapter 7 (pp. 83-113) is a comprehensive account of the temples and divinities, from the Late Bronze Age temples remodelled by the Phoenicians and in use until their destruction at the death of Pumayatton, through the 9th century Phoenician, Archaic and Classical sanctuaries at Bamboula (finds there include a 4th-century slab with the accounts of the temple of Astarte in Phoenician), and on to those outside the walls. One of these is at Batsalos, a low hillock beside the Salt Lake and the first thing that people see on leaving the airport, beside the roundabout at the start of the approach road. Chapter 8 (pp. 115-128) presents the burials, notably the Late Cypriot Tombs 4+5 and 9 of Karageorghis’s Area I, producing inter alia the famous polychrome faience rhyton, and Archaic built tombs comparable to those of Salamis.

Chapter 9 (pp. 129-42) discusses the harbours of Kition, and principally the magnificent row of six Classical trireme sheds (with ramps), modelled on, and of similar dimensions to, those of the Peiraeus, which opened into the protected harbour basin at Bamboula — impressive material evidence of the military power of the kings of Kition, which was already known from texts. When the sheds ceased to be used at the end of the 4th century, the basin was turned to commercial use. This continued into the Roman era.

The Conclusions (pp. 143-45) provide a neat summary both of what we know, emphasising how international Kition was, and of how much seems to have disappeared. An intriguing site still to be dug is at Larnaca Tennis Club next to Bamboula: the courts are on top of part of the ancient harbour basin (pp. 38-39 and fig. 19).

This is an elegant and useful guide. BMCR readers with time to spare in Larnaca, stuck maybe at the airport, would enjoy working their way round the vestiges of its glorious past, starting either at the Museum which is adjacent to the Bamboula shipsheds or at the Bronze Age/Phoenician temples. One small observation: the map of the Kition region (fig. 3) does not include Maroni, which was probably on the borders of the territories of Kition and Amathous in the Iron Age, and may have marched with Kition and Hala Sultan Tekke in the Late Bronze Age.


1. Compare the wealth, based on its salt mines, of Iron Age Hallstatt in the Austrian Salzkammergut.