Ancient hydraulic works

Orraon cistern

Use: Urban Water Supply
Construction era: Classical
Types: Cistern
Operation era: Classical
Location: Greece - Epirus
  • G. Antoniou, R.Xarchakou and A.N.Angelakis, Water Cistern Systems in Greece from Minoan to Hellenistic Period, 1st IWA International Symposium on WATER AND WASTEWATER TECHNOLOGIES IN ANCIENT CIVILIZATIONS, edited by A. N. Angelakis and D. Koutsoyiannis, Greece, 457-462, 2006.

The fortified ancient town of Orraon was founded at the end of ca. 4th century B.C., when Alketas was the king of the Molossoi or, at the latest, in the second quarter of that century. The site and its history are vividly presented at the Guide book “Όρραον” published by the 12th Ephorate of Classical antiquities (Angeli, 2005). The settlement, built on a strategic position, was destroyed by the Romans in 167 B.C., but was subsequently rebuilt and finally was abandoned by its inhabitants, who were forced out to settle down in Nicopolis, after 31 B.C. Many of the houses are still standing two storey high and the street plan network is also well visible. In the town plan twelve narrow parallel streets, in an N-S direction, cross two wider streets. This network forms rectangular oblong town blocks, the insulae, 15 meters wide. A single house usually occupies the full width of each insula. Despite these, the fortification walls, with the bastions and gates, define the area of that impressively well preserved ancient Greek settlement. The cistern is situated near the main gate, at the north east part of the town, which is the area with almost the highest altitude. That big public rectangular cistern is roofless, in contradiction to the more numerous vaulted cisterns of the classical period, built usually to places where crowds were gathering (e.g., sanctuaries of Epidaurus, Delos etc.; many of them, partly curved on the soft rock, have been also found in Piraeus). The place where the cistern is built, at that highest area of the town, reduces to minimum the chances for any kind of natural water flow supply. In addition to that, no traces of aqueducts or equivalent constructions have been discovered up to now. On the other hand, the high amount of rain falling at the west regions of Greece, even during the summer, provided without any doubt the essential water quantities for the cistern. There the rainfall today is much higher than the east regions of Greece and it was also higher in the antiquity, according to the descriptions of ancient writers. An enclosure wall was surrounding the cistern, approx. 2 m away of the edge of its tank and thus a yard was determined. At the middle of the yard’s south wall, was placed the antae framed entrance. The height of the stone built enclosure can be estimated three meters approximately, after the amount of its collapsed parts. Even though the yard wall is mostly ruined, the cistern itself is perfectly preserved, as well as the straight stair at the northeast corner of the tank. The less elaborated widening of the stair, dated probably in the Roman period, is not as nicely preserved. Furthermore, that widening means that the stair was not only for the access of the bottom -for cleaning the tank- but also for getting water from it, since the level of the water in the cistern was, definitely, varying within the year. The masonry of the cistern’s walls is constructed by well formed rectangular stones, made of the local light gray limestone. The very lower parts of the walls are curved on the bedrock, on which is also curved the bottom of the cistern. The edge of the tank’s walls was possibly standing higher than the floor of the walking passage, around the cistern forming a kind of parapet. Moreover there are traces of grooves with iron joints on edge’s stones, which suggest the existence of a parapet. Because of the high enclosure wall, it is concluded that there was care for the hygienic protection of the cistern (preventing of throwing waste or other dirt in it), as well as a kind of controlled access to the tank. Traces of a shrine nearby that could be supplied from the cistern have not been found yet. So it was the cistern itself a kind of arykrene, or was supplying an arykrene. Arykrene (αρυκρήνη) was the kind of shrine from which the water was taken out with a container submerged in the water. The shrines providing natural water flow were called rhookrenes (ροοκρήνες).

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