Akrotiri-Lania (Lamies) ‘caves’: place of mysteries?
Please note that this site is inside RAF Akrotiri airbase, and is not accessible to the general public.
The eastern chamber, looking north towards the entrance.
Close to the centre of the rocky Akrotiri peninsula lies an ancient quarry, in which traces can be seen of where squared sandstone building blocks had been cut. However, the site also possesses more elaborate features. One was a deep, carefully-cut cylindrical cistern combined with steps leading to a small underground room. But the most remarkable are two large artificial chambers cut from the rock, aligned north-south with two rows of pillars supporting their roofs.
Since they were created, apparently in the Roman period (AD1—400), the chambers have been much modified, not least in Byzantine Christian times (AD400—650). In the early twentieth century they were used as livestock pens. The roof of the western chamber collapsed at some stage, while the interior of the eastern chamber has been completely stripped out. Excavation by the Republic of Cyprus Department of Antiquities during 1995—96, in cooperation with the British Army’s Royal Engineers, produced material dated to the 7th century AD beneath debris of the fallen roof.
The modern place name relates to the Lamies, mythical Greek female monsters, and the chambers remain somewhat mysterious. Before Christianity, the Greco-Roman world venerated many gods. Some cults required initiation into their holy secrets: so-called ‘mystery religions’. Could the Lania chambers originally have been shrines for one such vanished religion? A more likely possibility is that they were unusually elaborate chamber tombs. Traces of recesses and niches inside the caves could be from grave structures. They may well still have been used as burial places into early Christian times. However, later reuse removed almost all of the archaeological evidence, making it hard to be certain of their history.
Today the dark interior of the eastern chamber is a refuge for Schreibers’ bats (Miniopterus schreibersii); conservation of Akrotiri’s natural and historical heritages are closely intertwined.
The plan is based on Francis Haggerty’s survey, with his kind permission. For short accounts of the chambers see:
Procopiou, E. 1997 “Akrotiri -Lania”, “Basilique Paleochretienne” & “Souni Chiliandri”, Chronique des fouilles et decouvertes arch´eologiques a Chypre en 1996″ BCH 121, (,902,904-5,929.
Ίδιο στα Αγγλικά στο ARDAC 1996 (Nicosia 2003), 47-4.
Procopiou, E. 2006. «Τα μνημεία της πόλης και Επαρχίας Λεμεσού κατά την παλαιοχριστιανική, πρωτοβυζαντινή και μεσοβυζαντινή περίοδο 324-1191», (επιμ. Άννα Μαραγγού), Λεμεσός, Ταξίδι στους χρόνους μιας πόλης, Λεμεσός, 118-119, εικ.13.
The Lania quarry and artificial chambers (redrawn by Simon James from survey plans by Francis Haggerty