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
On Monday, we attended a lecture on the Roman Forum by Professor David Watkin, one of the most important historians of our times. The “Foro Romano”, visited by millions every year, has had a fascinating and vivid building history from Antiquity to the Present. During this period, the forum was repeatedly modified, and as a result, distinguishing the dates of its buildings is not always easy. Temples that seem to be ancient were in fact erected just eighty years ago. For instance, the Temple of Vesta, in its present form, dates back to the 1930s (Watkin David, The Roman Forum, p.16).
Examining views of the forum, including the famous ones engraved by Piranesi, Watkin revealed the Roman monuments in all their grace and splendour, and traced their development from the Early Cristian Times to the Baroque period. The way in which churches were integrated into old roman edifices was absolutely astonishing. On the other hand, the Nineteenth Century idealized the “magnificent Roman ruins” at the expense of more recent buildings.
After a visit to the Forum it is easy to feel disorientated as you are trying to resolve a puzzle of multiple building phases that make the monuments comparable to palimpsests. Despite the archaeologists’ recent interventions to the site (considered to be “clumsy” by Watkin), the Roman Forum remains an ideal site to study Rome’s history and architecture as well as the development of conservation philosophy.
Zoi Kokkoni 11/2014
The new MSc in Architectural Conservation has started with a site visit to the historic centre of Canterbury, followed by lectures and seminars on Conservation Philosophy and Policy. The lecturers in the first term include Dr. Manolo Guerci, Dr Nikolaos Karydis, and Dr Timothy Brittain-Catlin. We have also enjoyed three guest lectures by Martin McKay, Conservation Officer, Medway City Council, who illustrated his lectures with many interesting examples from Medway. We very much look forward to the lectures of Prof. David Watkin and Nick Dermott (Conservation Officer, Margate Council) next week.