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   Biblical Sites in Greece

    Neapolis (Kavalla)


Acts 16:11

 

Following the vision of the Macedonian man St. Paul received at Troas, he journeyed to Neapolis (by way of the island of Samothrace). Of the "abundance of Revelations" St. Paul had received, we are only privy to three in significant detail: the vision into Heaven with words he "could not utter", the Macedonian man vision at Troas and the vision of the Risen Savior on the Damascus road.

It may be that Luke joins St. Paul here at Neapolis, since the pronouns in the Book of Acts change from "them" to "we", suggesting the writer's personal presence in the events until Philippi. The two-day journey from Troas to Neapolis on the second journey suggests the weather was good. The same journey took five days in less cooperative weather for the friends of St. Paul that were coming to see him in Troas from Philippi's port, which is Neapolis (cp. Acts 20:6).

Set against the slopes of Mt. Simvolo, the city of Kavalla appears as a great amphitheatre surrounding a concave harbor. The streets of the city rise up from the harbor into the mountainside. Though a city of more than one hundred thousand people, the place has a village feel. An important trade route of antiquity, this city still enjoys the prosperity as the center of a lucrative tobacco trade, and is set along a major east - west traffic route less than two hundred kilometers (170) from Thessaloniki. In the Roman period, the city acted as a port for the important Roman garrison at Philippi about fifteen kilometers away.

The history of the region is thought by local archaeologists to extend back to the Neolithic period. Nearby emergency excavations have revealed traces of a string of tiny ancient villages that appeared in the Classical Period (500-336 BCE). The city of Kavalla's history is best illustrated through a series of name changes over the centuries.

The oldest village was established between 3000 BCE and 500 BCE as a natural seaport, though scholars are uncertain of its ancient name. After 300 BCE, the village was rebuilt and referred to as "Neo-Porticus" perhaps due to some large stoas built as warehouses at the port. At least one source suggests that Philip II and his son Alexander the Great allowed the city become an "asylum" home for those who worked the Mt. Pangeo gold mines.

Roman control was extended to the city by 168 BCE. Before the Battle of Philippi in 42 BCE, the city was the station of Brutus and Casius. The primary purpose of the Roman city was to act as a port for the nearby garrison at Philippi, accessible only by a steep climb from the port over the western spur of Mt. Simvolo. After their defeat by Marc Antony and Octavian, the city was renamed "Neapolis" (new city) and held that name at the time of St. Paul's visit (Acts 16).

As a result of the message of Christianity taking hold in the region, the church grew in strength, and under the Byzantines the seat of the Bishop of Philippi was established there, with yet another name change to "Christopolis" (350 CE). References to the city throughout the period of Byzantine control refer to the city this way. Even the Crusaders (Franks) called the port "Christople".

With the rise of Ottoman control, the fourteenth century Ottomans renamed the port Cavallo, a vulgarization of Latin word "horse", perhaps because of use in postal service of Ottoman postal system. Some have suggested the name originally came from the shape of the peninsula in the place of the Old City. By the sixteenth century, the city had an essential role, as the flow of postal information to the Balkan holdings of the Ottomans was dependent on the key cities of the route. Sultan Sulieman "the Magnificent" added stability to the city by providing the impressive aqueduct that carried water from springs on the upper slope of Simvolo to the walled peninsula.

Inside the walled village of the Cavallo of the Ottoman Empire Muhammad Ali (1769-1849) was born. Ali was the Egyptian ruler of peasant revolt of 1805. As a result of the revolt, Muhammad Ali eventually broke with the Ottomans and established the last dynasty on the Egyptian throne that ended with King Fuad in 1953 (with the rise of Nasser).

Because of its position, the city bore the brunt of Greek - Turkish wars as the Ottoman Empire collapsed and the Balkans plunged into war at the time of the First World War. The town was occupied by Bulgarians, and eventually fell to German control by 1941. It was not until after World War II that the port was returned to Greece in late 1944. It now serves as the principal port for the export of tobacco, wheat, textiles and sugar beets. Its trading center is considered one of the most important for the continued strong economy of the Macedonia and Thrace regions.

The city has several important churches that attract visitors: the Church of St. Paul (established 1928); and the Church of St. Nicholas (formerly a church of St. Paul), which was converted to mosque under Ottoman occupation. All the churches had the desire to recall the "initiation of Christendom in Europe" in St. Paul's Second Journey.

Beyond the churches, other historical sites of interest include: the "Old Quarter" named Panayia, after the Virgin Mary Church that once stood in the district on the peninsula area in the east of city. The fortress is from the early Paleologian Byzantine revival 13th CE. The former "Imaret" is one of the largest Muslim buildings in Europe (Kowa, "Bistro!"). Other important Ottoman buildings include the "House of Muhammed Ali" and the Kameres Aqueduct, built by Sulieman.

 

 
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