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The fortress of Eleftheres

The fortress of Eleftheres or Gyftokastro is the most impressive and one of the best preserved ancient fortresses in Greece.

Between Kithairon and Pastra there is the passage of Kaza , through which passes the old national road Athens-Thebes. From there, in antiquity, passed the road "via Eleftheron" or "Dryos Kefalon" or "Trion Kefalon", which connected Thebes with Elefsina and was the main passage from Attica to Boeotia.

The fortress dominates a hill east of this passage, north of the junction to Vilia .

The site has two more characteristic properties: First it controls the fertile and relatively large plain around Mazi (Oinoi) to the south. Second, for some time during the 4th century BC. century was on the border between the city-states of Thebes and Athens and was opposite an important castle of antiquity, the Athenian castle of Oinoi which is 6 km south and from which today survives the wall of a tower.

The prevailing view of the fortress today is that it is a purely military installation built in the 4th century BC. century by the Thebans (and not by the Athenians as previously believed).

The fortification did not enclose the ancient city of Eleftheri but it was probably built on the spot where the citadel of the ancient city was. The position of the Free is not exactly known. It must have been very close to the fortress, probably a little lower, at the entrance to the Kaza gorge.

Eleftheres was originally a city of Boeotia . According to some legend, it was the birthplace of Dionysus, who was worshiped there with the nickname "Free". At some point, towards the end of the 6th century, during the reign of Peisistratos, the Eleftheres sided with the Athenians, a development that should be linked to the transfer of the cult of Dionysus Elefthereos to Athens. Under the Acropolis of Athens was kept the stele of the god, who had come from the Free, apparently in the context of the above alliance. Pausanias states that the Freedmen joined without being forced into war, but because they wanted to become Athenian citizens and because they hated the Thebans.

The city of the Free is also known as the homeland of the sculptor Myron (creator of Diskovolos).

The fortress of the Free , took its current form more or less, in the second quarter of the 4th century. It was built, as mentioned, probably by the Thebans in the time of Epameinondas and probably after the battle of Lefktra (371 BC). That is, it must have been built between 370-350 BC. at the time of the rise of the military power of the city of Thebes. It seems that at that time the Eleftheres had again come under the control of the Boeotians. However, a first construction phase had preceded it in the second half of the 5th century when the fortress was still Athenian.

The fortress for the data of the time had an expensive construction and huge size. It was 12 times bigger than the (Athenian) fortress of the Tribe!
This unusual size reinforces the version that it belonged to the Thebans who wanted to demonstrate their newly acquired hegemonic position in ancient Greece and in addition to consolidate their presence in a time-disputed area. The Athenians had no reason to build a fortress there, as their own fortified city of Oinoi was nearby. In addition, at that time they were too weak (financially, militarily, politically) to have the mood for new luxurious fortifications in low-priority western Attica.

During the last decades of the 4th century, the fortress was repaired and strengthened. This was probably done in the context of the controversy of the Descendants of Alexander the Great and, in this case, between Kassandros and Demetrius. During the years of this conflict the area suffered and was deserted.

The fortress was still under the control of the Boeotians during the second half of the 3rd century BC. Gradually, however, the area declined and was abandoned. The traveler Pausanias who passed through here around 145 AD. states that the fortress was deserted and abandoned.

Later, during the early Byzantine period, the fortress was used again. The last construction phase is the repair work on the south wall, as well as the renovation of the gates (5th - 7th century AD). During this period it surrounded a small settlement. It seems that the existence of the strong fortification was used to protect the population in dangerous times. The medieval use of the fortress is evidenced by the ruins of two early Christian basilicas on the east side of the hill.

There are generally not many historical references to the fortress. Although it was an ambitious construction, it did not play a special historical role nor did it seem to be a serious obstacle for any invader.

The inhabitation of the fortress during the Middle Ages was not continuous. Otherwise, there would be more remains of houses, temples and more surface finds. The reason that the fortress was not used more is its remote location. In times of relative calm, the population had no reason to stay there, away from their fields. The isolation of the area is the reason why the castle was preserved so well as it was not easy to stone (ie use its materials to build other settlements).

At some point the area was inhabited by Roma. This happened either during the late Byzantine period or in the first years of Ottoman rule. Hence the name "Gyftokastro". It should be noted that other castles in the area (such as  Panakto ) have signs of habitation from a population (which was probably Roma) that did not have the appeal to build churches and permanent residences.

19th century travelers (eg Henri Belle) describe the fortress in what it is today.

During World War II the fortress was used by guerrillas. It is supposed to have suffered severe damage then but there are no visible traces of the disasters of this period.

The shape of the fortress is an irregular rectangle with dimensions of about 300✖125 m. The perimeter of the walls is about 860 meters and the area inside the fortress is 29 acres. The average width of the mezzanine towers (ie the sections between the towers) is 2.5 meters. In these, behind the ramparts, there was a corridor 1.5 m wide for the warriors to stand. This corridor communicated with the second floor of the towers. All towers are square, side 6.5m. about, protrude from the wall and their height (from the outside) is about 6 meters.

In its original form, the fortress was protected by 13 towers. Eight towers were on the weak north side, one east and three south. On average, there was one tower every 62 meters. There was also a bastion tower that protected the main gate.

The main entrances were two, to the southwest and to the southeast of the enclosure. At each main entrance there was a second door a little further in, (perhaps to trap opponents). The width of the gates was about 2.5 meters, which is enough to fit a carriage, something unusual for ancient Greek military construction. In general, the construction of the gates as well as other elements of the fortress is considered excessive and in some way inexplicable for a simple military fort. There were also four smaller openings (gates), two on the north and one on the east and south side.

The best surviving part is the north. Along the north side, there are seven three-storey four-sided towers with a very solid construction. The rows of holes in the walls were made for the beams that supported the wooden floors. Archers fired their arrows from the arched windows of the second floor, while the windows of the third were used as catapults.

A short distance from the fortress is the foundation of a church measuring 16.55-8.76 m. Of the 4th century BC. attributed to Dionysos Elefthereas. In the plain area around the temple there are indications of habitation from the archaic to the early Christian years. The foundations of two early Christian basilicas are preserved on the eastern foothills of the hill.

Within the boundaries of the walled area, near the northern part of the fortification, a rectangular floor building has been located, which is divided into two by a central corridor. It may have housed the garrison headquarters. To the west of this building have been excavated ruins of houses that must be remnants of the time when the fortress became a settlement in late antiquity.


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