Ephorate of Antiquities of Aitoloakarnania and Lefkada is responsible for the works at Aktio Fortress, Vonitsa and Nafpaktos Castles. The works in all three castles started in the summer of 2020 when the recruitment of the required personnel was completed according to the current legislation. Immediately, hand tools, technological equipment (laptops, printers, digital cameras, etc.) were purchased, the supply of fuel was contracted, project launch signs were placed at the castles, and the first aerial photography of all three monuments was carried out.
The supply of building and special building materials and the rental of various (for each castle) vehicles-machines with operator – after a tender – are in the stage of contracting. The scientific staff of the project (archaeologists and architects) conducts historical and archaeological research for all three castles. The composition of studies began, as well as the collection of the necessary display material (drawings, engravings, old photographs, etc.). At the same time, entries are being written, and display material is being collected for ca. 15 more Byzantine and post-Byzantine castles in Aetolia-Acarnania, material that will be used in the implementation of the permanent digital exhibition at the Castle of Vonitsa.
A detailed photographic archive for each monument is gradually created (photographs with details of the fortification and the various monuments inside, as well as photographs before, during and after the completion of each work).
At the Castle of Vonitsa, which dominates a hill above the modern picturesque town and has a stunning view of the Ambracian Gulf (Figure 1), extensive purifying was carried out inside, but also in a zone 5-10 m around it. Trees were cut down and plants, which caused the aesthetic and static defect to the monument, were uprooted from the allure and the fronts of the fortification walls (Figure 2 A-B). A prefabricated post was placed at the entrance of the castle (Figure 3), and a proposal was composed on the improvement of its functionality and safety (installation of garbage bins and protective railings in places considered dangerous for visitors).
Regarding the planned restoration works, scaffolding has already been placed in a part of the cross-wall of the third bailey of the fortification (Figure 4), where fastening and restoration works will be carried out. The relevant study has been carried out, and the approval for its implementation is pending by the competent Council of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture. In anticipation of this, the cleaning of the fortification walls from the vegetation and the loose materials with the process of water blasting began.
The repair of the two-storey stone building of “Ali Pasha” (Figure 5) was assigned to a contractor and will be completed by the 31.03.2021. On its ground floor, a permanent digital exhibition is planned to be created by the 31.07.2021 to inform the public about the Castle of Vonitsa, as well as about the corresponding monuments (castles) of the Byzantine and post-Byzantine period of Aetolia-Acarnania.
Figure 1: Aerial photo of the Vonitsa Castle against the backdrop of the Ambracian Gulf. The castle of Vonitsa is an excellent example of fortification architecture of the Byzantine and post-Byzantine times. Its original construction dates to the Byzantine period (9th – 10th century). Its long historical path is reflected in its fortification walls with successive building phases, while it seems to have taken its final form by the Venetians in the 17th and 18th centuries. It presents the Middle Byzantine citadels’ typical tripartite arrangement and bears an irregular fusiform shape following the hill’s morphology. The photo shows the cross-wall of the 3rd enclosure where restoration work will be carried out under the CoHeN project, and the two-storey stone building (the so-called “Ali Pasha’s”), where a permanent digital exhibition will be created.
Figure 2A – 2B. View of part of the cross-wall of the 3rd enclosure of the Vonitsa Castle, before and after its cleaning. The Vonitsa Castle’s 3rd enclosure is divided into two parts by an internal defensive cross-wall, which bears two semi-circular towers. This particular cross-wall has undergone many interventions and damage over time and therefore requires restoration and repair scheduled to be implemented within the framework of CoHeN project.
Figure 3. View of the portable cabin – outpost placed at the Vonitsa Castle entrance, within the CoHeN project, to improve its functionality (service to the guards working there, but also to the visitors).
Figure 4. View of part of the cross-wall of the 3rd enclosure of the Vonitsa Castle, where scaffolding has been placed. Restoration and preservation works will be carried out at this site as part of the CoHeN project. Work has already begun with diligent cleaning of the fortification walls and water blasting.
Figure 5. The two-storey stone building (the so-called “Ali Pasha’s”) dominates the Vonitsa castle’s interior since it is located relatively close to its highest point, i.e. the acropolis. Ali Pasha of Ioannina erected the building after 1798, i.e. after the recovery of Vonitsa by the Franks and the French. It was used as the residence of the Albanian guard placed in the castle. As part of the CoHeN project, Ali Pasha’s building will be restored – renovated, and a permanent digital exhibition will be created inside. This exhibition will present the Castle of Vonitsa (via a digital tour) and all the other Byzantine and post-Byzantine castles of Aetolia-Acarnania.
Figure 6. View of the acropolis of the Vonitsa Castle. Its fortification dates to the late Turkish occupation and consists of a low enclosure with gun-slits. The building dominating the top (the so-called Kazarma) originally functioned as a Latin church (dedicated to the Virgin Mary or St. Justina). It later probably became a place of residence for the governors of the castle.
Figure 7A – 7B. View of the church of Agia Sophia, located inside the Castle of Vonitsa. The church has an irregular seven-sided shape externally with a pyramidal tiled roof. Inside it has the form of a free cross with a dome and a niche on the eastern side. The lack of morphological and decorative elements (painted and sculptural), makes it difficult to date; however, its initial construction phase dates probably in the Middle Byzantine period.
Figure 8. View of the Kinsterna (cistern) of the Vonitsa Castle. It is located inside the 2nd enclosure of the castle, near the Ali Pasha Building. It is a two-storey, rectangular structure, on the roof of which lies the well mouth, from which the water was pumped.
Figure 9A – 9B. View of the two main towers of the E–SE side of the Vonitsa Castle. These external towers have the form of a five-sided prism. Internally and in height, they are divided into three levels that allowed the guard’s accommodation. Thus they offered autonomous defensive function and full support of the defence of the ramparts of the enclosure. The furthest NE tower protected the main gate of the castle.
Figure 10A. Panoramic view of the Vonitsa Castle. The cross-wall of the 3rd enclosure is visible, along with the city of Vonitsa, the island of Koukoumitsa, and the Ambracian Gulf in the distance. The castle of Vonitsa was probably erected in the 9th – 10th century, but its final form was attained by the Venetians (17th – 18th century). It has an irregular fusiform shape, following the hill’s morphology. It presents the typical tripartite arrangement of the Middle Byzantine citadels.
Figure 10B. Panoramic view of the Vonitsa Castle. There is the cross-wall of the 3rd enclosure with the island of Koukoumitsa and the Ambracian Gulf in the distance. The castle of Vonitsa was probably erected in the 9th – 10th century, but its final form was attained by the Venetians (17th – 18th century). It has an irregular fusiform shape, following the hill’s morphology. It presents the typical tripartite arrangement of the Middle Byzantine citadels.