Basilica B at Philippi: retracing the phases of an incomplete monument
In the context of the event ‘Archaeology at Kent in 2014’, Dr Nikos Karydis presented the case study of Basilica ‘B’ in Philippi, an archaeological site in Northern Greece near Amphipoli. Apparently, Philippi was a strategic location in the Early Christian Period, when the city’s powerful Christian community decided to erect four churches. Chief among them were the timber-roofed Basilica ‘A’, and Basilica ‘B’, which was a domed basilica, a rare type in the region. The latter occupied three Roman urban blocks, which previously included the Palestra and a commercial building of the Roman Period.
Paul Lemerle, the archaeologist who surveyed the site, proved that Basilica ‘B’ was never completed. The reasons were neither the incapacity of the workmanship, nor the lack of materials. The research of Dr Karydis revealed the most reasonable cause of the collapse of the vaulting. It was shown that the building was constructed on the foundations of a previous building. Now, this earlier building was to echo the plan of the Basilica ‘A’, nearby. Hence, the building was initially conceived as a timber-roof basilica, but, at some point after the foundations were laid, the design changed. The new design abandoned the timber roof in favour of a vaulted ceiling. It therefore demanded large piers to support the vaults, and an alignment between the piers to form square bays. This could not be easily combined with the use of the existing foundations (which were too weak and lacked the necessary geometry). The load-bearing structure that was eventually built was a compromise, and failed to counteract the thrusts of the wide vaults. Soon after these were erected the church collapsed. The mission of altering the church was condemned from the outset, and proved to be catastrophic for this major monument.
Zoi Kokkoni, 2014