Cistercian Monastery of Zaraka Excavation

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CMZE

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

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Near Stymphalia lay the remains of a monastery of the Latin rite Cistercian order.  The church is clearly visible, as is a two-storey gatehouse and part of the enclosure wall.  The compound dates to the early thirteenth century, shortly after the Fourth Crusade, when the Franks controlled large parts of the Peloponnese.  Zaraka is one of the best preserved Frankish monastic sties in Greece and was the focus from 1993 to 1997 for a Canadian team led by Sheila Campbell of the  Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto.  The project focused on a series of central questions.  Where did the monks come from, since every Cistercian monastery has a mother house?  How were they received by the local community?  How much of the valley did they inhabit and cultivate?  How did they interact with other monasteries in the Peloponnese?

While the final monograph is in preparation, the team has been able to propose a sequence of events for the site’s use and abandonment.  The monks arrived early in the 13th century CE, presumably around 1225 when a Geoffrey of Villehardouin (who previously offered to build a house at Patras for Cistercian monks) asked the Chapter General of the Cistercians for a group of monks to build a monastery in Achaia.  According to the historical sources, which can neither be confirmed nor refuted by the archaeological record, the monks left sometime around 1265-80 CE.  During their time of residence the monks cultivated the surrounding valley extensively and included a number of lay brothers in their community.  The extensive amount of ash present around the gatehouse, dumped there as a result of later clean-up, suggests that the monks practiced metalworking.  A second phase of habitation occurred, indicated by coins, pottery, and small finds, which likely dates to the 14th century CE.  The third phase of use involves the clean-up and dumping of ash and debris around the gatehouse, probably to facilitate the use of land around the church for burials.  This period is loosely dated to the 15th century CE.

In 2007 a new study season was launched which focused on carrying out an architectural survey of the building in order to provide visual documentation and a resultant 3D digital model of the site, which is to be included in the publication of the project’s monograph.  Previous suppositions about the abbey’s original form had been based upon Anastasios Orlandos’ problematic 1955 reconstruction.  As such, this study season allowed a much-needed reconsideration of questions concerning the structure’s built form.  The team produced a complete set of profile drawings for all types of architectural blocks on the site, and a survey of all standing walls.  These data formed the basis for a new, digital reconstruction of the Abbey which will serve as the foundation for future research on architectural form, light, texture, and movement.  Digital work also facilitated a methodological conversation concerning the interface between traditional surveying methods and new experimental software applications in stereoscopy, geo-rectification, and digital photography.

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Bibliography: 

Campbell, Sheila. Forthcoming. The Cistercian Monastery of Zaraka, Greece.

Rupp, David. 2008. “The Fieldwork of the Canadian Institute in Greece, 2007.” Mouseion 8.2: 241-264.

Kennell, Stefanie. 2005. On Site. Canadian Archaeologists in Greece. Athens, Motibo.

Salzer, Kathryn. 1999. “Gatehouses and Mother Houses: A Study of the Cistercian Abbey of Zaraka.” Mediaeval Studies 61: 297-324.

Campbell, Sheila. 1997. “Cistercian Monastery of Zaraka.” Échos du monde classique = Classical views 16: 177-196.

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