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The Early Christian basilicas of Amathous Toumpouri, Marina


Amathous, on the south coast of Cyprus, was an ancient city and one of the ancient royal cities of the island, which became home to the homonymous bishopric in the 4th century CE. Among the city’s impressive remains are the five Early Christian basilicas. The first, situated at the Acropolis of the city was uncovered by the French Archaeological mission in 1975. This is the latest of the Amathous basilicas built during the late 6th or the early 7th century CE on the foundations of the temple of Aphrodite, destroyed by an earthquake in the 6th century CE. The three-aisled basilica (25m by 24m) with the opus sectile flooring, the wall and apse mosaics and the champlevé revetments possessed a narthex, an exonarthex and several annexes. A stairway was connecting the west side of the building to the gallery above the side aisled and the narthex. The complex included additional rooms, a large cistern, and a rainwater catchment system. The basilica was abandoned at the end of the 7th century CE, prior to its destruction, for unknown reasons. The other four basilicas were excavated by the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus. The three aisled basilica (nave and aisles: 11.5m by 17m), partially built into the bedrock at the base of the Acropolis, west of the Agora, was excavated in 1961. It was dated to the end of the 4th century or the beginning of the 5th century CE. The basilica possessed a narthex and an exonarthex and an apsidal chapel, adjacent to the south side. The walls featured mosaic and marble decoration. The south nave was adorned with reliefs depicting a hunting scene, dated to the mid-5th to the early 6th century CE. The floor of the sanctuary was paved with opus sectile. The great three-aisled basilica at the east of the Agora was excavated at the beginning of the 1990’s. It was dated to the second half of the 5th century CE and is believed that it was destroyed by the Arabs between 653-654 CE. It seems that renovation has taken place soon after its destruction, while the church continued being used for some decades. This is one of the largest basilicas of Cyprus (c. 1750m2), built on the foundations of an earlier phase. The basilica possessed a baptistery, a narthex and atrium at the west side. The three aisles were paved with opus sectile. The oldest of the Amathous basilicas is the one dedicated to saint Tychon († c.425 CE), second bishop of Amathous. This is the only shrine of the island dedicated to the saint. It was excavated between 1991 and 1995. Located extra muros, north of the east gate of Amathous and adjoining a necropolis, the building which still stands today dates to the Frankish period (late 14th-early 15th century CE). The two prior phases are going back to the Early Christian period: Phase I from the late 4th or early 5th century CE; Phase II from the second half of the 5th century CE. The initial three-aisled building is most likely similar in size to the basilica at the base of the Acropolis, although it is difficult to clearly distinguish all the elements of the initial church. In Phase II, which may date around the death of saint Tychon in 450 CE, was erected the largest three-aisled basilica that included a martyrium. The basilica was destroyed during the Arab raids of 653-654 CE. It was repaired and remained in use until the 13th century CE. It was abandoned for a small period, before the erection of the Frankish church. The small five-aisled basilica of saint Barbara, in the east of Amathous, was uncovered between 1973 1974. Although its dedication is unknown, it was named after the nearby cave dedicated to saint Barbara. The sanctuary had mosaic flooring. It may have been a destination for the infirm as evidenced by the archaeological findings representing human parts. The presence of adjoining spaces, cisterns and an olive pressing suggest that the church belonged to a monastery. The basilica was likely constructed between the 5th and the 6th century CE.

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