Prefecture of Kavala: Culture
The old town of Kavala was founded on the location of Neapolis, the port of Philippi. The name derived from the inhabitants of the town Skavala, who had probably settled there. Nowadays, the remains of a fortified acropolis, which went under renovation and repairs many times in later years, particularly in the Justinian Era, can be seen. Occupying a key-location, between the East and the West, Neapolis was on the crossroad of two very important routes: the Thassos-Kavala and the Rome-Kavala-Constantinople. Neapolis became known after the Plataies battle as an ally of Athens, and remained faithful to the Athenians for a long period of time. Eventually, Kavala was conquered by the Macedonians and had a particular importance due to the port, thus losing its autonomy and becoming annexed to the nearby Macedonian town of Philippi, being its seaport. In the Roman period Kavala flourished as a commercial post on Via Egnatia. The town went through a prosperous phase when Jews from Rome came to Greece, but it was destroyed by the Huns in the 5th cent. BC. In the Byzantine period (between 8th and 9th cent. AD) the town was named Christoupolis in honour of Apostle Paul, who arrived here during his voyage. It was the first place in Europe that embraced the Christian religion. Christoupolis was also burned by the Normans in the 12th cent. In 1380 it was occupied by the Ottomans who tried to Islamise the people. In 1769 the founder of the last Egyptian dynasty Mehmet Ali was born in Kavala. He was a benefactor and funded the construction of Imaret, a house for the poor, in 1817. The population of the town increased when 25.000 refugees arrived in 1922. The town prospered significantly in the middle of the 19th century due to commerce and tobacco processing. In the Balkan Wars, Kavala was initially under the control of Bulgaria but on the 26th of June 1913 the Greek army liberated it. In 1916, in WWI it was occupied once again by the Bulgarians who had always wanted Kavala and Thessaloniki as seaports and their stepping stone for their exit to the Aegean Sea. It was liberated after two years and it suffered again during the WWII.
The archaeological site of Philippi lies in the middle of the plain of Philippi which extends from the foot of ancient Orvilos up to the gold bearing Mt Pangaion. The region was correlated with legends, myths, cults and historical events. Mt Pangaion had always been not only an important religious centre with ancient mythological tradition, but also a crucial economical factor with big forests and rich mines. According to the ancient tradition, the Phoenician Cadmus was the first to find the gold mines and here the first coins of the region were struck, bearing representations of Dionysus. Towards the peak of the mountain there was the oracle of Dionysus, one of the most significant along with the oracles at Delphi and at Dodoni. The prophetess, the Promantis, spoke the oracles and the priests of the god announced them to the believers. According to the ancient myths, Orpheus was devoured by the Maenads on Mt Pangaion. This is also the locus for the myth of Lycurgus, king of the Edones, rival of Dionysus. On the dense forests of the mountain the Dionysian thiasos gathered for the first time and ideas on immortality were developed. When Peisistratus was exiled, he came to Pangaion to find gold. It is here that Thucydides as well spent his years of exile, writing the History of the Peloponnesian War and he might have died here. The gold mines contributed a great deal in the prosperity of the Macedonian Kingdom.
The area of Philippi has a long history. Prior to the arrival of the Greeks at Philippi, there was a Neolithic settlement near water springs at Dikili Tash, which was discovered few decades ago. The finds are dated back to the Early Helladic Period (2850-2250 BC) while new discoveries date the settlement in 1700-1500 BC.
The Thracian tribes, known for their skills at war, were succeeded by the Greeks. The Athenians were the first who tried to occupy the region but they were defeated by the Thracian tribes in a battle in 465 BC. At a later date, in 360/359 BC, Greek colonizers from Thassos reached the region, led by Callistratus, an exiled Athenian rhetor and politician, and they built the first small town, Crenides. Philip II, realising the strategic and economic importance of this town, increased the population with Macedonian settlers and named it after himself. He fortified the town with a strong wall and built a theatre, one of the most eminent in ancient Greece. The town came under the Roman authority in 168 BC. In 42 BC an event of prime importance for Roman history took place, the Battle at Philippi, which determined the conflict over the throne of the Roman Empire. In 49 or 50 AD Apostle Paul with Timothy and probably Luke arrive in town and preach the new religion. In the Byzantine period the town was ravaged by the raids of attacking tribes.
Thassos, as Herodotus delivers, was named after Thassos, Europe's brother, who according to tradition founded the first settlement in the area, while he was seeking his sister who had been abducted by Zeus. Thassos was initially a colony of Paros. It prospered in late 6th cent. and early 5th cent BC.
In the archaeological site of Philippi the visitor can see the octagonal basilica and admire the finds from the prehistoric to the Byzantine period that are exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Philippi, next to the ancient theatre.
The Archaeological Museum of Kavala houses the finds from Dikili Tash, grave stelae and architectural sculptures of the Roman period, inscriptions, sculptures and gold coins from Neapolis and the Sanctuary of Parthenos. In addition, exhibits from the colonies of Thassos, Galypsos, Oisyme and Stryme, from Avdera and other sites in East Macedonia and Thrace are on display. The Ethnological Museum and the Tobacco Museum provide evidence for the modern history of Kavala.
The wonderful buildings from the heyday of the tobacco traders still remain in the old town, whereas in the district of Panagia the imposing castle dominates the top of the hill with the Imaret and the neoclassical masterpieces of architecture on the stone paved alleys. The residence of Mehmet Ali, founder of the last Egyptian dynasty, is still preserved in an excellent condition and functions as a museum. Adjacent to it, there is another impressive monument, the 'kamares', built over the traces of the long wall constructed by the emperor Andronicus II Palaeologos. This construction did not serve only defensive purposes but it was also an aqueduct, supplying water to the town from a spring on a hill at the opposite side.
The Historical and Literary Archives of Kavala preserve the records of the local history. The collection includes hundreds of historical maps, thousands of photographs and books, collections of coins issued from the establishment of the Greek State to the 1950's, advertisements, posters and leaflets from the early 20th century to the present day. The Election Material Archive is of particular importance, preserving election ballots, political leaflets and photographs of historical electoral rallies.
The excavations on Thassos revealed many clusters of buildings, such as the sanctuaries of Poseidon, Dionysus, Artemis, and Heracles. On the Acropolis of Limenas lie the sanctuaries of Apollo Pythios, Athena Poliouchos (guardian) and Pan, as well as the imposing defensive walls of the 5th century. The Archaeological Museum of Thassos houses collections of sculptures, vases and architectural membra. During the summer months many theatrical performances are staged in the Roman theatre that stands on a hill with pine trees.
The Ethnic Cosmopolis Festival, which takes place in Kavala (5-15 July), hosts music concerts and performances and a colourful combination of the gastronomy of different countries. During the annual Philippi Festival in Thassos (15 July-6 September) classic theatrical plays are staged, as well as bold performances of ancient Greek Drama. The International Folklore Festival 'Sun and Stone' is organised in the cultural village Akontisma at Nea Karvali.
Kavala is the birthplace of many eminent literature figures, namely Vassilis Vassilikos, Prodromos Markoglou, Chrones Missios and Diamantis Axiotis.