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Agora and Port

In 2006 discoveries in and by the fourth slipway have shown that the fourth was the last shipshed and that another major public complex lay close by. This complex might be identified with the agora because of the earlier finding of an altar, and above all because of a fine terrace wall found close to the shipsheds which gives the concrete possibility of a contiguous agora at a higher level.

Figure 1Figure 1

Figure 2Figure 2

This evidence, together with the results of topographic reconnaissance, all point in the same direction: the agora was located along the north front of the city, open to the port and partially situated above the terrace which overlooked the neoria, whose ramps lay parallel to the agora. The geomorphological data derived from the neoria seem to agree with this hypothesis: they show that in antiquity the shoreline lay at least 160m further inland, and that relative sea level was 2m higher.

Figure 3Figure 3

Figure 4Figure 4

Thus, the agora at Naxos bordered the military harbour and its neoria. The discovery of four ostraka in the shed 1 could be a proof of this contiguity besides the first evidence of the democratic practice of the ostracism in Naxos.

Figure 5Figure 5

Also at Corcyra – a city closely linked to the routes to the colonies of the West- the military harbour (in the port of Alkinoos) lies very close to the agora.

However, the clearest example of this link agora/military harbour is found at Thasos, where the preservation of ancient remains has favoured the progress of research. But whereas at Thasos the separation of the two complexes is less clear, at Naxos the difference in height between the neoria and the agora puts the agora in a dominant position with regard to the neoria. This difference of level, highlighted by the polygonal retaining wall, would thus have provided an excellent visual frontier, a good demarcation between two important zones of the ancient city – the civil zone and the military zone.

We still have to define the defensive system provided for the neoria and the limits of the basin of the military harbour. To resolve these two problems, in the absence of any underwater structures, the discovery of remains of the proteichisma 25m north of the north wall (1) of the neoria provides a useful indication of the limit of the basin, and of course of the ancient city.

Figure 6Figure 6

Perhaps the commercial harbour lay just north of this outer wall, outside the fortifications. Or rather, it lay below the area of the ancient agora, now occupied by Castello Schisò, as D. Blackman believes. He identifies the line of the proteichisma with the northern limit of the military harbour, and places the commercial harbour inside the ancient fortifications, below the area of the agora. On the other hand, no structure has been found which could indicate the southern limit of the commercial harbour basin or of its system of defence, since on this side the fortification wall is badly preserved.

Coming back to the area of the agora, it is limited in the north by the neoria and in the south-western corner by the private houses along stenopos 6. In the south-east the function of the area changes in the new Classical city layout: in the Archaic period it is domestic (Casa Pastas) and in the fifth century it is public, with Tempietto E defining the south-eastern corner of the agora. The change is best explained either as a relocation of the agora in the new town layout or as an enlargement of the Archaic agora.

Thus in fifth-century Naxos the agora would have occupied the north-east sector of the city, and not the central area; the latter position would have been perfectly normal in a regular urban grid like that of Naxos, and was the position proposed by D. Mertens, comparing that of Naples and Agrigento.

Figure 7Figure 7

In fact, in its overall configuration, the agora at Naxos resembles rather the Archaic agora of Megara Hyblaea, especially for the roads which lead into it along its south side.

Its unexpected layout within a rectangular grid plan, and its marginal position, could indicate the pre-existence of public space in this sector of the city, as we have suggested, but also its maritime identity.

In any case, if one considers the ancient landscape, the agora and the nearby neoria must have formed a striking spectacle, dominated by the acropolis and highlighted by the relatively lower ground on which the city lay, until the uplift of the land caused by the bradyseism to which the area of the Straits was subject: this must have been the view of Naxos for those who approached by sea, a view that the city rightly wanted to present.

Let us not forget that this was the city which sheltered the altar of Apollo Archegetes, sacred site – and, according to Malkin’s hypothesis, centre of a network – for all the Greeks of Sicily.