On the beautiful island of Sikinos, Episkopi, the most important monument of the place and one of the most important in the Aegean, is dedicated to the public today during a ceremony that will take place in the afternoon (18:30).
Present at the ceremony will be the Minister of Culture and Sports, Lina Mendoni and the regional governor of South Aegean, Giorgos Chatzimarkou.
A little later, the Ministry of Environment and Culture and the Hellenic Society for Environment and Culture – the official representative of Europa Nostra in Greece – will celebrate the awarding the monument restoration project from the Ephorate of Antiquities (EFA) of Cyclades with the European Cultural Heritage Award/Europa Nostra Award 2022. The events will be honored with her presence by the President of the Republic, Katerina Sakellaropoulou.
The restoration study of the monument was undertaken by the scientific staff of EFA Cyclades, a project supported by the Hellenic Society for Environment and Culture, as well as by the A. & M. Martinou Foundation with the funding of the static and geotechnical study. The overall restoration project was financed by the European Regional Development Fund and the South Aegean Region.
Dimitris Athanasoulis, director of EFA Cyclades, who had the idea of restoration and who, together with the staff of the Ephorate, carried out a particularly demanding project in a monument that remained closed for decades, spoke to APE-MPE.
“I personally monitor all the restoration projects that we carry out in the EFA of the Cyclades, however, I have been even more closely connected with the Episcopate because it was the first proposal for the restoration of a project in the Cyclades that I made as soon as I took over the Ephoria. I knew the monument and its importance since the 1990s, so when I took over the EFA of Cyclades, even though there were no studies, we decided to propose its restoration. Apart from the historical and archaeological value it has a monument that has stood for 1,800 years, the Episcopacy has a special significance due to its timeless relationship with the Sikinians, as it was the symbol of their community. When its use changed and from an ancient mausoleum it became a church, the locals constantly took care of its maintenance over the centuries in order to prevent it from collapsing. This is how this amazing palimpsest was created”, said the director of EFA Cyclades.
As D. Athanasoulis explained, “for the last 60 years the monument has been closed due to maintenance, with the result that not only an important monument is not accessible to the public, but also the community of Sikinos to have lost her point of reference, the emblem of her identity. The festivities of the Fifteenth of August were no longer held there for almost 60 years! For me, the most important thing is that the EFA of Cyclades managed to give an island of the barren line a monument with a huge symbolic load for its inhabitants”, he added to APE-MPE.
But also scientifically, its restoration was of particular importance. “On the one hand because the restoration work itself was a big challenge due to the remote location of the monument and its state of disrepair. On the other hand, because the interventions in Episkopi offered us valuable archaeological information about the history of the monument which is a palimpsest of Greek history from antiquity to the present, of Sikinos and the archipelago in general. It was a complex project, which is why the joy of the whole team that worked on the project was successfully completed, winning, I think justly, the Europa Nostra award”, emphasized D. Athanasoulis, who attended and directed the project, constantly commuting to the inaccessible island for the past five years.
The monument of the Diocese of Sikinos, one of the smaller islands of the Cyclades, is a mausoleum from Roman times that was rebuilt in the 3rd century AD. and has been preserved to this day almost intact due to its conversion into Byzantine temple with uninterrupted use. The ancient building is combined with successive interventions during the Middle Ages and modern times, offering a unique palimpsest of historical periods rarely preserved in other cases of ancient monuments.
The archaeological research that took place during the restoration of the monument enriched our knowledge of the funerary monuments of the Roman period in the Eastern Mediterranean region, as well as of Byzantine church building in the Cyclades. During the restoration work of the Episcopacy, valuable evidence of the past was revealed, such as inscriptions and fragments of Roman and Byzantine frescoes, for the preservation of which a microclimate monitoring system was installed. The most important find was the hermetically sealed, rude burial of an upper-class womanunder the name “Neiko”, with findings that betrayed superstitions and necrophobic notions.
Severely affected by devastating earthquakes and human interventions over the centuries, the monument was abandoned in the 20th century. In 2016, the Ephorate of Antiquities of Cyclades decided to restore it and reopen it to the public. As the Jury of the Europa Nostra Award emphasized, “this project combined methodical research with meticulous conservation resulting in a high-quality restoration of the monument.
The monument of Episkopi is an excellent cultural landmark of which the small island community is particularly proud. During the restoration works of the monument, the reuse of original architectural members was sought as much as possible, as well as stones collected from its surroundings were incorporated. The combination of architectural elements of a Roman era mausoleum with those of a Byzantine temple create a unique monument that is simply mesmerizing.”
There will be a permanent guard at the archaeological site of the Diocese of Sikinos. Every fifteenth of August, the great festival of the Sikinians for Panagia will be revived, while cultural activities will be held in collaboration with the Cyclades EFA.