Kilada and the Franchthi Cave (Peloponnese)

Known in ancient times as Kilada was once ruled from the ancient city of Hermione and served as an auxiliary port. Homer tells that it participated in the Trojan War under the command of the Argive king Diomedes. Kilada became the main port of the developing town of Kranidi from the late Middle Ages to the nineteenth century. 

Today, this traditional fishing village is one of the last locations in the area where traditional wooden fishing boats are made. A variety of restaurants line the port front, and you will find a small local beach at the far end of the harbor after the church. The sandy Lepitsa beach is 1 kilometer away, with an adjacent fish taverna. Kilada is famous for its annual August Fishermen’s Festival, featuring fish and seafood, local wine, dancing, and music.

Frachthi Cave

Across the bay, at the end of a limestone headland, you can see the famous 40,000-year-old Franchthi Cave, the oldest continuously inhabited cave dwelling in the world. Excavations between 1967 and 1979 revealed that humans first occupied the cave around 38,000 BC, during the Upper Paleolithic era. The cave was inhabited or visited, likely with short periods of abandonment, across the Mesolithic and Neolithic eras, up until about 3,000 BC. Frachthi cave thus served as a shelter for around 35,000 years and is among the most important stone age sites in southeastern Europe.

Franchthi Cave interior

Paleolithic

During this era, the cave’s seasonal inhabitants, generally groups of 25–30 people, resided on a coastal plain as sea levels were approximately 120 metres (400 feet) lower. As these levels, the plain gradually became submerged. These peoples were hunters, predominately of wild ass and red deer. The cave increasingly served as a campsite after the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). Obsidian from the island of Melos, appearing at Franchthi as early as 13,000 BC, provides the earliest evidence of seafaring and navigational skills by anatomically modern humans in Greece.

Franchthi Cave Paralia

Mesolithic

Occupation of the Franchthi Cave was interrupted as a result of the Younger Dryas climate cooling event but resumed with the warm Holocene climate that continues today. A Mesolithic culture grew up at Franchthi, which is typical of the few other Mesolithic sites in Greece in being close to the coast. Denizens relied less on big game hunting and broadened their diet to include small game, wild plants, fish, and mollusks. Evidence of increased consumption of fish and use of obsidian from Melos indicates that these were an accomplished seafaring people. A 400-year span (c. 7,900–7,500 BC) when tuna formed a major dietary component at Franchthi Cave implies deep-sea fishing capacity, although tuna could also have been caught with nets placed near the shore.

A few graves found in the cave during the Mesolithic indicate care for the dead.

Franchthi Cave interior

Neolithic

Franchthi Cave during this period was likely inhabited year-round, with subsistence based on farming and animal husbandry. Excavation has also yielded some of the earliest evidence of agriculture in Greece. Remains from approximately 7,000 BC of domesticated plants and animals suggest that the inhabitants had either begun to practice agriculture or were trading for seeds and meat with the Neolithic peoples recently arrived from the Near East. Current scholarship holds that “emigrants from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B cultures of the Near East arrived by boat at the beginning of the seventh millennium BC to settle Greece (c. 6900 BC), introducing agriculture…. [D]etailed study of the remains [at Franchthi] has demonstrated that the evidence supports the foreign introduction of domesticated plants and animals. The Mesolithic hunter-gatherers of Greece rapidly adopted the methods introduced to them by Neolithic colonists, including at Franchthi Cave” (from Wikipedia).

During the Neolithic, until about 3,000 BC, the settlement at Franchthi expanded, with inhabitants residing primarily in the Paralia (the seaside), the area outside the entrance and along the seashore. These farmers, herders, and hunters built houses with stone foundations, clay floors, and plastered walls, indicating an understanding of both insulation and hygiene. They also fashioned and occasionally decorated clay pots and made sharp tools of flint and obsidian. Several anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines discovered at Franchthi date from the Neolithic, and cockle-shell beads may have been made here for trade with inland communities.

The inhabitants may also have lived in a village, now submerged, below the Paralia.

Franchthi Cave Paralia

Modern Era

Since the Neolithic, easily accessible caves like Frachthi have served as shelters for livestock. In the twentieth century, Frachthi was used by one family from Fourni as a pen between October and May for its sheep and goats, with which it produced meat, cheese, and fleece. The cave served as shelter for the livestock as well as the temporary residence for two to three people and their pack animals (horses and mules) and dogs. The pen and other structures were constructed with stones from the cave, topped with thorny brush to discourage animals from jumping out. The preserved part of the pen has been restored and is viewable today. 
Franchthi Cave sunset

Underwater Villages

A submerged Neolithic village may lie beneath the Franchthi area of Kilada Bay. While awaiting permission to conduct a survey of the area, a research team conducted training dives several hundred metres north, just outside the mouth of the bay, at Lambayanna Beach. These dives revealed very old pottery fragments and odd seafloor anomalies. The team subsequently found the ruins of an Early Bronze Age city, spanning 1.2 hectars (3.0 acres) beneath 1 and 3 m (3 and 10 ft) of water. The ruins include “the foundations of buildings, stone paved surfaces that are likely roads, and what appear to be the remains of a fortification wall with three large towers. Such a defensive structure would be the first of its kind to be discovered from the Early Bronze Age in Greece” (from Wikipedia).

“The visible remains of Lambayanna are dated to the Early Helladic II era (c. 2650 – c. 2200 BC), making it a contemporary of the House of the Tiles at Lerna, the building of the Great Pyramids, and both the Cycladic and Minoan cultures of the nearby Aegean islands. A second layer of Lambayanna has been identified as Early Helladic I (c. 3200 – c. 2650 BC), and a third layer has revealed pottery that dates all the way back to an intermediary period between the Bronze Age and the Neolithic, suggesting not only that the site is well over 5,000 years old, but that it may have had an overlapping relationship with the Neolithic Franchthi community” (from Wikipedia).

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