Kourion

The Amusement Area

By: De Coursey Fales, Jr.

Originally Published in 1950

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Man has always required entertainment and recreation. As today a man goes to a baseball park or movie-house, so in Greco-Roman times, he went to a stadium, theater, or bath. At Kourion in Cyprus, where the University Museum has been excavating since 1934, there are fine examples of these three types of building.

These buildings had to be located so as to be accessible to the greatest number with the least inconvenience. The administrative and residential center of Hellenistic and Roman Kourion was situated on a plateau the sides of which rise sharply either from fields next to the beach or from the beach itself. Whereas the stadium-probably because it required a long, level space-was placed outside this area, the bath and theater were more easily adapted to the existing conditions.

Drawn and labelled plan of the amusement area.
Plan IV — The Amusement Area of Kourion
Image Number: 41268

Although the Romans did construct theaters as free-standing buildings on level ground, at Kourion they placed theirs on the north steep side of an east-west gully. In such a position, the natural slope of the land became the middle part of the semicircular receding rows of spectators’ seats or cavea. Furthermore, this location was easily accessible both to the people of the town and to those of the country, for a road in the gully led from the country on either side of Kourion.

The bath1 almost certainly later than the theater-was placed on the edge of the plateau next to the theater, but slightly above it, for not only did both buildings have the common objective of recreation, but in this site the hot baths were placed high and free enough for the sun to shine on them in the afternoon, when the baths were most frequented, while the cold baths were low enough for the water to flow into them by gravity. In addition, this location enabled the people gathered in the rooms before or after bathing to look out on the fields and the sea. The view, the sun on the hot baths, and the gravitational flow of water were important criteria in the selection of a bath-site.

A Roman theater was a semicircular building conceived of as a unity. It was designed not only to give the maximum audience good visual and acoustic perception, but also to aid the efforts of the playwrights and actors to realize unreality. In the one at Kourion, the vaulted passages (Plan IV, lA) which surrounded the outside of the cavea (2A) led either through the straight paradoi (3A; Plate VI) to the orchestra, or by stairs (4A; Plate VI) to the shore passages (5 A; Plate VI) to the colonnade (6A) which surmounted the cavea. Everybody of the maximum audience of some two thousand four hundred felt himself enclosed by the building and shut off from the world outside, for the permanent and elaborate back-drop (7A) of the stage (scaenae frons) joined, over the paradoi, (3A; Place VI) the colonnade (6A) above the cavea.

Excavated flat area.
Plate VI — The Roma theatre at Kourion. The paradoi (Plan IV, 3A).
Excavated stairs and passageway.
Plate VI — The Roma theatre at Kourion. Stairs, short passage (Plan IV, 5A).

The existing remains of the theater are only a token of its former grandeur. The elaborate back-drop has almost completely vanished, as have the vaults over the passage-ways and the outside walls of the paradoi. The vast majority of the seats have been plundered and even a good portion of the stairs. Stone-robbers and earthquakes have wrought this destruction.

Although the period of destruction is known, the dace of the construction of the theater has not yet been ascertained, for the foundation trenches have not been examined. However, it is obvious from the general plan and from what is known of the economic conditions of the time, that it must, in all probability, date between 50 and 175 A.D. It is hoped to complete the excavation.

Behind the theater lies the way to the bath. The outer entrance (8A) opened into a fore-court (9A). On the right, the wall was unbroken except next to the first entrance where there was access to a lavatory (10A); on the left, were the servants’ quarters (11A). The fore-court led to the formal entrance-room or vestibule (12A) of the establishment. Here in the middle of the mosaic floor (13A), an inscription (Plate VII) welcomed the visitor: ‘Enter and good luck to the house.’

Excavated stone stairs.
Plate VI — The Roma theatre at Kourion. Stairs (Plan IV, 4A)

This vestibule opened onto the end of one side of a rectangular court in the middle of which was a garden (14A) and pond (15A). Somewhere on the left were the steps that led to the baths proper, and on the right, is a hall with a mosaic floor which extended around the other three sides (16A, 1, 2, 3) of the court. In the third mosaic (16A, 3) from the entrance is the now fragmentary dedicatory inscription (17A; Plate VII). From the remaining letters and words, one may safely conclude that it mentioned the founding of baths and supplicated the Christian God to take care of Kourion as once did Phoebus Apollo. Since we know from coins that in 364 A.D., the building was not yet built or else only in process of construction, it is an interesting commentary on the gradual transition from paganism to the more or less complete acceptance of Christianity that about two generations after the edict of Milan (313) in which Christianity was first officially recognized a pagan god was in a formal inscription respectfully mentioned beside the Christian.

Outside this hall with a mosaic floor, were on all three sides other rooms. Although their purpose is not precisely known, they must have served as places in which to meet socially before and after bathing. Before the rooms from which one had the clearest view of the fields and the sea, an inscription (Plate V11) in the mosaic around the court (18A) proclaimed that modesty (άιδὦζ) and mature judgment (σωφροσύνη) ruled these rooms.

A partially intact mosaic of geometric pattern.
Plate VII — Bath of the Roman Imperial period at Kourion. Entrance inscription.
Image Number: 70973
Partially intact Greek inscription.
Plate VII — Bath of the Roman Imperial period at Kourion. Dedicatory inscription.
Partially intact mosaic inscription above a geometric pattern.
Plate VII — Bath of the Roman Imperial period at Kourion. Morality inscription.

The stairs from that side of the court without a mosaic led up to a long room (19A) with a mosaic floor (Plate VII). The main axis of this room is north and south. On the east and north, were the cold baths, (20A, 21A) (frigidaria) and on the west, the luke-warm chamber (22A) (tepidarium) and entrance room (23A) thereto. The mosaic floor was divided into four panels (24A, 1, 2, 3, 4), of which the first nearest the entrance from below is largely destroyed, but the other three are fairly well preserved. The second panel (24A, 2) was flanked on the west by the entrance room to the tepidarium (23A, 2) and on the east by the apodyterium (25A) or disrobing room. In the center of this mosaic panel, was a partridge (26A; page 35) which faced the apodyterium. To the east of the third panel (24A, 3) was the entrance to one of the two frigidaria; to the west, more or less balancing the frigidarium, a niche, The floor of this bath (20A) was mosaic with a pattern representing the waves of the sea. In the fourth panel (24A, 4) is a KTICIC figure (Plate VIII). Her name is best interpreted as ‘Founding Spirit’. To the north of this panel, is an apsidal frigidarium (21A).

Long geometric mosaic in the ground.
Plate VII — Bath of the Roman Imperial period at Kourion. Long mosaic.

On the left, opposite the apodyterium and the second mosaic panel, was the door (27A) into the ante-chamber (23A) of the hot-rooms. This room with its water-resistant marble floor and marble dado not only provided a place to dry off after the hot bath, but also kept from the tepidarium the cold air of the long mosaic room.

The tepidarium (22A) had a marble floor, supported on large flat tiles which were placed on serried columns of smaller square tiles. The heat and smoke of a fire laid at the entrance to the lower part were drawn under the floor by a draft from seven semi-circular flues constructed in the walls. As the tepidarium probably contained no baths, it served only as a heated vestibule to the caldarium.

The caldarium (28A) was built to the west of the tepidarium so that the afternoon sun warmed the south-west corner in which were two baths (29A, l, 2), one in the center of each wall. The construction of the floor was the same as that of the tepidarium. Indeed, as there was a passage between the two lower parts (30A), a fire lighted in the entrance to the lower part of the caldarium could warm effectively both rooms.

The large quantity of water required by these baths was stored in a cistern placed just co the north above them. As the water probably flowed from the hills further to the north, the cistern was used as a temporary repository to collect the water when it was not being used below. The water flowed down outside the baths (3lA) into which it could be diverted when wanted and thence into the pond in the garden (14A). The sound of running water was created by letting the water flow into the pond through three separate inlets. The over-flow was carried by pipe to the corner of the building next to the theater (32A), where it joined, probably by means of the lion-fountain (Plate IX), the drain from the cold baths (33A).

Such were the main outlines of the amusement and recreation center of Kourion.

De Coursey Fales, Jr.

Circular mosaic depicting a person with one hand in the air.
Plate VIII — Mosaic panel with KTICIC figure, Roman bath. Kourion.
Image Number: 48536
A lion shaped fountain.
Plate IX — Lion-fountain, Kourion.

1 This is the building previously identified as a palace and described, as far as it was then excavated, by the late John Franklin Daniel in the Bulletin, April 1938, Vol. VII, no. 2 pp. 4-10.

Cite This Article

Jr., De Coursey Fales,. "Kourion." Museum Bulletin XIV, no. 4 (June, 1950): 27-35. Accessed May 30, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/bulletin/3206/


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