Panormos becomes Fiskardo

A new excavation at Fiskardo has drawn me back to this little port in north-east Kefalonia. The dig has brought more tombs to light. The earliest belongs to the Mid (Roman) Empire, like the sea-shore line of tombs excavated some years ago and now conserved for public display. But there are simple tile covered later Roman tombs too. Remains of an insubstantial stone building post-dating the cemetery may be medieval or early modern in date.

The dig has made me think again about Fiskardo. I have managed to piece together a modest urban story. Fiskardo, it seems, was once Panormos.

The new dig

Panormos is attested in ancient sources. On a stele, which was moved in the 19th century to the Ponza islands, Armodios is mentioned as a councillor of the people of Panormos, at Kefalonia. In the Palatine Anthology, Panormos, which is geographically located opposite the rugged island of Ithaca, is mentioned as the abode of the Kefalonian god, Phoivos, while in Artemidoros by Porphyrios, Panormos possessed a cave of the Nymphs.

Likely as not, this cave of the nymphs was located high above the south side of the bay (beside the so-called Cypress circular trail) where remains of cyclopean walling for such an early sanctuary exists.

Fiskardo bay

This pre-Roman sanctuary may explain the making of Roman Panormos. Fine tombs seem to be dotted all around the bay, as though this was a place of pilgrimage or at least the resting place of seafarers. One close to the edge of the town is especially monumental, another known as the ‘Queen’s Throne’ is about a kilometre from the bay beside the old track that bisects the northern peninsula.

Queen of Thrones mausoleum

Panormos was more than just a necropolis. Beside the Tselentis Bakery a presently overgrown plot apparently contains the pavement of a small forum. The trenches are still open but the Roman remains lie below water. Inscriptions found here indicate that there was a municipal government, Panormos being more than a cemetery for sailors or worshippers of the nymphs. This was confirmed by the discovery of a small ashlar-made odeon further up the hill, and elsewhere of a stepped street.

Then Panormos disappears in late antquity. Quite why is puzzling. The bay seems unoccupied until late Venetian or early English times, when it was graced by a covey of fine dwellings and warehouses.

The seamark where Guiscard died

Fiskardo, though, re-emerged as a sea-mark, possibly a new sanctuary, with its twin-towered abbey commanding the head-land eclipsing the millennium-old sanctuary on the hill-slope behind. The earliest abbey probably dates to the later 5th or 6th centuries and is distinctive for its carefully coursed tile bonding for seismic purposes. Then, the towers were rebuilt without recourse to neat coursing. This latter stonework surely belongs to the 11th-century church, the final resting place of the Norman buccaneer, Robert Guiscard, who had sacked Rome in his colourful career. A confection of his name was adopted for this place, wilfully eclipsing all memory of Panormos, the nymphs and the necropolis.

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