SIA 6: Politiko Ayios Mnason

The church and ruined monastery of Ayios Mnason are situated at the top of a steep bluff immediately above the Katouris River. On the far side of the river lies the edge of the Medieval to Modern village of Politiko, and the site of its Archaic to Late Roman predecessor Tamassos. A more gentle slope runs down northwards from Ayios Mnason and into the fertile alluvial plains below. This slope has been known for over a century as one of the principal cemeteries of ancient Tamassos, as is clear not just from the artifacts on the surface but from surviving Roman chamber tombs round the monastery. The greatest amount of activity in the area, as demonstrated by the pottery, came in the Archaic to Classical periods, with Tamassos reaching almost to the Katouris River, and the sanctuary (SCY365) and cemetery on top of the hill opposite. There was continuing though reduced activity in the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods, and then the area reached another peak during the Late Roman period, with material associated with the edge of Tamassos reaching down the Katouris and perhaps slightly beyond it. Apart from the cemetery on the hill opposite, in the area of the later monastery, little else went on beyond the river.

When material started to appear again in the Medieval period, the picture was very different, with the settlement retreating eastwards and the whole SIA having little function other than agricultural. One partial exception to this was, of course, the monastery (SCY346). But even that, with its vineyards and fields, its storage jars and threshing floors, was essentially an agricultural estate. Today, apart from visits to the church and the occasional archaeological field team, the area is devoted to cereal fields, orchards, and a passing herd of goats.

As well as this clear demonstration of changes in landscape and land use, SIA 6 is important for the indications it gives of human activity on the margins of a large settlement. Tamassos was not the only Archaic to Classical city-kingdom to have one or more sanctuaries immediately beyond the confines of the city: Idalion is the most noteable example, but Golgoi and Kition have similar patterns. Every city and settlement from the Archaic right up to the Late Roman period had extensive cemeteries round them, particularly along the approach roads. By comparing the known Roman cemetery round Ayios Mnason with the characteristic functions, condition and density of the artifacts on the surface, we can now recognise the ‘signature’ of a cemetery on the outskirts of a city. This was very different from the Medieval period, clearly, when the graves were in the churchyard at the heart of the settlement. But because of manuring and dumping practices in the sokhorafa, the fields closest to the village, there is again a ‘halo’ of material round the settlement, which is clearly visible at Ayios Mnason. The landscape of Ayios Mnason has clearly been more than a supplier of practical necessities such as crops, building blocks, and communications routes. With its Archaic-Classical sanctuary, a long-lived necropolis and a monastery, right down to the recent rebuilding of the church and SCSP's own appropriation of the Saint’s name, Ayios Mnason has clearly been a succession of sacred landscapes. Often one was adopted into another, as with the Roman tomb at the heart of the Christian monastery, or the classical grave stele built into its church. The Medieval and Ottoman dead, unlike their Roman predecessors, abandoned Ayios Mnason in order to rest within their community around the village church.