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Neapolis, Christoupolis, Kavala

With a history carved in the stone and the sea, the “apple of discord” of conquerors, and flooded with the fragrances of trade from West and East, Kavala stands proudly in Northern Greece with its authentic beauty.

Night view of the city from the caste - Photo by Iraklis Milias

Photo by Iraklis Milias

Its geographical location, its natural port and its adjacency with gold-bearing Mt Pangaion make Kavala one of the oldest coastal cities in the area, with its traces being lost in the depths of prehistory.

It was to this town that the Apostle Paul came to teach the message of Christianity for the first time in Europe in 49 AD, and baptised Lydia, the first European Christian woman, on the banks of the River Zygaktis.

Until 1864, the Old Town was confined to the triangular peninsula on Kavala hill, which was itself a continuation of ancient Neapolis and Byzantine Christoupolis. Within this same space, the same city appeared in different eras, and with different names. Each name was characteristic and corresponded to a historical period. Neapolis in ancient times, Christoupolis during the Byzantine period, and Kavala in the modern era.

During the Ottoman period, the town was razed to the ground, to be reborn from its ashes and, from the 18th century, once again became an important commercial port, acquiring its current, modern appearance.


Pots in Ntikili Tas' section 6 - Photo by Ephorate of Antiquities of Kavala and Thassos

Photo from the Archieve of the French Archaelogical School

Approximately 2 km from the ruins of the ancient city of Philippi and within the boundaries of today’s region of Krinides (Municipality of Kavala) is Dikili Tash, otherwise known as Orthopetra. This is a prehistoric settlement that dates to the Neolithic period (6400-4000 BC) and the Bronze Age (3000-1100 BC). Dikili Tash hides many secrets that have not yet been uncovered.

The earliest traces of a human presence in the region of the modern town date to the Late Neolithic period (5400-3200 BC). Archaeological research and excavations at the peak of the low hill at Perigiali, to the east of Kavala, have brought to light a small settlement of the Early Bronze Age (3200-1600 BC).


Mount Paggeo - Photo by Iraklis Milas

Photo by Iraklis Milas

Pangaio is associated with a “treasury” of myths connected to two important aspects of the ancient world, the Dionysiac religion and Orphism. Orpheus shaped the Dionysiac rituals and systematised them, thus making them better known as the Orphic Mysteries. Orpheus is a strange mythological figure, without the clear features of a hero, god, or demigod. He introduced specific mystery rituals, and was a religious poet, prophet and priest. He was also celebrated for his musical achievements, in song and as a cithar player.

In later years, Pangaio attracted many peoples and tribes from its surrounding areas. For centuries, its rich mines produced plenty of gold and silver.


Map of

source Historical Data of Kavala county, Kavala 2010

In the early 7th BC century, colonists from the island of Paros founded the city of Thassos on the island of this name. In the mid-7th century BC, the Thassians, along with new migrants from Paros, conquered the coast opposite the island, a rich place thanks to its fertile farmland and wealth of ship-building timber and minerals from its mountains. By the late 6th century BC, the settlement of the Thassians on the coasts from the River Strymonas in the west to the River Nestos in the east had been completed.

The foundation of Neapolis must not have been too distant in time from the first efforts of the Thassians to conquer it, in around the middle of the 7th century BC, even though the ancient sources do not offer us any information on the year in which the city was founded nor the name of its mother city. Nonetheless, the view has prevailed that Neapolis was a colony of Thassos, the most important argument being that it would not have been possible for the strategically and economically important position of the new city not to have been noticed by the Thassians. This view is also supported by the archaeological evidence and the ancient inscriptions.

The location of Neapolis meant that it soon became a great commercial port, while the riches that it gathered resulted in it achieving its autonomy from its mother city in the late 6th century BC. This is why during the clashes between the Thassians and the Athenians and also after the Thassians had been subjugated and lost their colonies, Neapolis, now independent from Thassos, was always at the side of the Athenians and flourished. In the Peloponnesian War too, when the Northeast Aegean was a theatre of intense fighting between Athens and Sparta, Neapolis remained faithful to the Athenians. In 377 BC, it became a member of the Second Athenian Empire.


Picture of Athena and Parthenos: photo archive of the Archaeological Museum of Kavala

photo archive of the Archaeological Museum of Kavala

In approximately the middle of the 4th century BC, Neapolis came under threat of losing its independence to the local Thracian leaders but also, above all, to the king of Macedon, Philip II, father of Alexander the Great. The city therefore turned to its powerful ally of Athens to help it face off the challenges.

In 355 BC, Neapolis sent two ambassadors to Athens – Demosthenes Theoxenus and Dioscurides Ameipsios – who were welcomed with the full honours that were due to consuls and benefactors. This event has come down to us thanks to an Athenian vote that was recorded on a stele, or column. The upper part of the stele is decorated with a valuable relief of the figure of the goddess Parthenos, the patron of Neapolis, clasping hands with the goddess Athena. This vote is today exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum, and there is also a copy of it in the Archaeological Museum of Kavala.

The 20 Athenian triremes that came to the aid of Neapolis and the struggle of its citizens were not enough to fend off the Macedonian king. After the city was conquered and Philippi founded, Neapolis was gradually reduced to the status of port of the powerful Macedonian city of Philippi.


Part of Via Egnatia - Photo by EOS Kavala

Photo by EOS Kavala

The Via Egnatia was one of the largest military and commercial roads of the ancient world. It was built between 146 and 120 BC by the Gnaeus Egnatius, the proconsul of Macedonia, over the traces of the very old road that traversed Macedonia and Thrace from east to west.

According to Thucydides, the main and busiest section of the ancient road was the “lower road”, which came from Byzantium, passed through Eastern Macedonia, and led towards today’s Thermi in the region of Thessaloniki. From Thermi, it forked out into two branches, one of which led to Southern Greece and the other crossed Macedonia and Illyria, and followed the direction of the later Via Egnatia, to reach Dyrrachium. This was the road followed by the troops of Darius and Xerxes in the Persian campaigns against Greece in the early 5th century BC. The same road was followed by Alexander the Great in his campaign that took him from Europe to Asia. The Via Egnatia was to a great degree identified with this earlier road.

The Via Egnatia was the first public road that the Romans built outside of Italy. It began from Apollonia and Dyrrachium in Illyria – today’s Albania – and crossed Macedonia as far as the River Nestos. It then passed through Thrace and continued on to the Hellespont and Byzantium. For over 2000 years it was the only good road in this region and played an important role in the fates of Rome, Byzantium and Ottoman Empire.


Part of the location where Battle of Philippi took place - Photo by Dimofelia archive

Photo by Dimofelia archive

In the Roman period Neapolis, as the port of Philippi, evolved into the most important port in the region, and was upgraded to a station on the Via Egnatia, which passed through the city.

In 42 BC one of the most important battles in world history took place here, the famous battle of Philippi, which marked the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire. The rivals were, on the one side, Octavian and Mark Anthony and, on the other, Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar. During the battle of Philippi the port of Philippi was used as the base of the fleet belonging to the Roman democratic faction.


Monument dedicated to Apostle Paul - Photo by Artware

Photo by Artware

In 49 AD, the Apostle Paul disembarked at the port of Neapolis and went to Philippi, where he first taught the message of Christianity in Europe, founded the first Christian church in Europe and baptised Lydia, the first European Christian woman, on the banks of the River Zygaktis. The gradual passing from ancient Neapolis to Byzantine Christoupolis took place slowly but surely. Neapolis progressively gave its name and place to Christoupolis.


Kavala Fortress - Photo by Achilleas Savvopoulos

Photo by Achilleas Savvopoulos

The Byzantines changed the name of ancient Neapolis to Christoupolis. The precise year in which this happened remains unknown. The earliest appearances of the new name in the historical sources are from the 8th and 9th centuries.

The last phase of the Byzantine city was the most tumultuous. The Lombard barons that had settled in the city had a dispute with the emperor of Constantinople, Henry. At the ensuing battle that took place near Philippi the barons were defeated. The city soon came under the rule of the emperor of Nicaea, Ioannis Vatatzis. The fortifications of Christoupolis were then strengthened and this is why the Catalans were repelled when they later tried to take it. In order to prevent their return, the emperor Andronicus II Palaiologus built a long wall from the sea to the peak of the mountain.

In 1387, Christoupolis capitulated and became an Ottoman vassal. Four years later, in 1391, Christoupolis was conquered by the Ottomans and completely razed to the ground. Around 140 years were to pass before it was resettled and was again to appear as a new city with a new name, today’s name of Kavala.

In 1425, the Venetians attacked and occupied the fortress of Christoupolis, which had been built by the Ottomans four months earlier. The Venetians completed the fortress in 1425, the same year that they captured it, with the addition of an external shelter. The Ottomans then once more captured the fortress after a siege of twenty days.


Imaret - photo by Iraklis Milas

Photo by Iraklis Milias

In the 16th century, the age of Suleiman the Magnificent, the town was renamed Kavala and reconstructed by the Ottomans, who had destroyed it earlier in the 14th century. This was the period when important infrastructural works were strengthened and built: the walls, the fortress and the impressive aqueduct, as well as religious buildings of great importance such as the Halil Bey and the mosque of Ibrahim Pasha (today’s church of Agios Nikolaos).

Mohammed Ali, who was born in Kavala in around 1770, was the governor of Egypt from 1805 until 1848. He laid the foundations for the modern Egyptian state through extensive reforms in education, healthcare and the army. He founded the dynasty that ruled Egypt until the end of the monarchy in 1952. His great interest in his birthplace of Kavala is mirrored in the impressive Imaret, more correctly known as the külliye, i.e. the complex of educational and philanthropic buildings he had constructed between 1817 and 1821. His goal was for them to operate as a catalyst for the development of the region. The complex transformed the urban landscape of the relatively unimportant town of Kavala in that time.


Photo from Tobacco Museum’s archive

From the mid-19th century until the 1950s, Kavala was the largest centre for the processing and exporting of tobacco in the Balkans. It was one of the Greek towns that literally followed the tobacco cycle –gathering the leaves, drying and processing them, bundling them, transporting them to the port, loading them on to small boats moored along the pier, in front of the town’s large tobacco warehouses and then loading them again onto the steamboats of the foreign companies that were moored in the sea.

European trading houses and consulates would open in the city. This was the period of its greatest prosperity, with a brilliant bourgeoisie that was in continuous contact with Europe and which bequeathed a cosmopolitan atmosphere to the town. Evidence for this period are the impressive residences of the big tobacco merchants and the warehouses that survive in the centre of the town.

The town resembled a true beehive, as this human bee of activity constantly bustled in and out of the tobacco warehouses. When the working day was over, the men came out first and the narrow roads were packed with a mass of people only whose heads could be seen from afar, wearing a red fez or white straw hat. By the time this mass had emptied the roads a second wave would come. This time it was the women, dressed in black aprons and holding colourful umbrellas to protect themselves from the hot summer sun.


Kavala 1920-1930 . Refugees housing and communities - Photo by lykourinos -kavala.blogspot.gr

Photo by lykourinos -kavala.blogspot.gr

An important role in the modern history of Kavala was played by the huge population increase with the arrival of the refugees after the Asia Minor Disaster in 1922 and the population exchange. Kavala then welcomed tens of thousands of refugees, due to its geographical location and its port as well as its economic prosperity. With the settlement of the people from Asia Minor, Thrace, the Pontus and Constantinople and other refugees, Kavala acquired a new cultural identity. This has survived until today in its cuisine, customs, dances and songs.


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