The city of Kaulon, colony of Magna Graecia, founded by the Achaeans of Greek Achaia, the same population who founded Crotone and Sybaris, and later re-colonized by Crotone, was identified with modern day town of Monasterace by Paolo Orsi.
The famous archaeologist came to Monasterace in 1891 and began the excavation which over the years, with the support of the Superintendence for Archaeological Heritage of Calabria and several Italian and foreign academic research institutes (such as the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa, the University of Florence and the University of Reggio Calabria), collected important data on the extension of the city walls, on the location of the sacred areas, the necropolis and some private construction dedicated districts.
The first excavations were undertaken at the beginning of the twentieth century and supervised by Archeologist Paolo Orsi. They explored the sacred area, the Doric temple and part of the walls, then in the 1950s topographic and urban studies were conducted by Schmiedt and Chevallier.
The excavation of the House of the Dragon is attributed to Alfonso De Franciscis, following his researches there were others investigating the temple, the walls and one of the residential areas.
The archeological investigations of the Ancient town of Kaulon started again only in the 1980s, thanks to the efforts of the Archeological Superintendence of Calabria in collaboration with the national scholastic system and other institutions, both Italian and foreign.
The researches made in the last decades studied almost exclusively the side of the town that oversees the sea: the temple area is being studied by the University of Pisa and the Scuola Normale Superiore; the vast complex of the Casa Matta is being investigated by the Archeological Superintendence of Calabria with the contribution of the Mediterranean University of Reggio Calabria and the University of Calabria; while the University of Florence has been investigating the northern part of the ancient residential area, known as San Marco, since 2003.
A path running parallel to the coastline, mimicking one of the main streets of the ancient city of Kaulon, allows visitors to observe the ruins of the residential area with its regular structure and its houses, preserved at the level of the foundations, starting from the buildings discovered in the area called San Marco, inhabited since the mid eight century B.C.
Here were discovered some archaic structures to whose other buildings were superimposed, the “Casa del Personaggio Grottesco” (i.e. House of the Grotesque Character) built in the classical period and then a Hellenic period house on top of it.
Continuing along the path, you get to the so-called Casa Matta (Crazy House), where they brought to light a luxe mansion that served different purposes in the course of time. In the same area you can see the ruins of a thermal complex, the so-called Thermal Baths of Nannon, boasting one of the most important and big mosaics of the Magna Graecia, the mosaic with dragons, dolphins and hippocampuses.
In the last section of the itinerary you can see the sacred area with the Doric temple of which you can distinguish the base, the altar, the stairs and other structures of sacred character.
Going back, a little road takes you to one of the most luxurious mansions of the ancient Kaulon, the House of the Dragon, where the mosaic now displayed in the museum was found.
An underway located on the opposite side from the first will now lead you to a residential area at the feet of the hill of Punta Stilo’s lighthouse.
The Archeological Park also includes a wide underwater archeological area, extending from the Doric temple to the Assi torrent, which is now submerged and under protection, and it coincides with a Hellenic period complex for the manufacturing of stone.
The founding of the city dates back to the end of the eighth century B.C.
After a long period of autonomy and prosperity, during the second half of the sixth century B.C., as evidenced by the splendid incuse silver staters, in 389 BC the city of Kaulon was conquered by Dionysius I, tyrant of Syracuse, who deported the inhabitants and annexed the territory to his alley Locri.
The city was rebuilt and it experienced a period of peace until, during the third century B.C., a series of negative events happened: the domination by the Brettii, warmongering indigenous people who conquered many Greek cities of Calabria; the conquest by the Campani (280-270 B.C.); the conquest by Hannibal during the Second Punic War.
The sequence of events that interested Kaulon ended with it being conquered by the Romans: in 205 B.C. Pliny describes the city as being in ruins.
According to the Itinerarium Maritimum, the site survived, with the name Stilida, as way station of the coastal road linking Crotone to Reggio.
The topography of the city
The city of Kaulon, surrounded by walls with gates and towers, was organized following a systematic urban development plan, based on a network of roads perpendicular to each other that formed narrow and elongated blocks all having the same area, where they built same sized residential complexes, with a few exceptions, like the house recently found during excavations near the Crazy House and the House of the dragon, famous for its polychrome mosaic depicting a sea monster. Between the portion of residential area next to this house and the temple, one could perhaps have found the agorà, the square representing the political and administrative center of the polis.
Within the city there was a sanctuary with a large Doric temple (430-420 B.C.); another sacred area was located on the hill of the lighthouse, as attested by numerous ex-votos and archaic architectural terracottas. Then outside the city, on the hill of Passoliera, there was another sanctuary: the Archaeological Museum of Monasterace displays splendid polychrome architectural terracottas coming from various sites of worship, including at least one temple.
The areas of the necropolis were located outside the city walls: to the West Paolo Orsi identified a part of the Greek necropolis, recovering rather modest grave goods, while recent excavations have revealed part of a necropolis belonging to the Brettii, Italic population that conquered Kaulon in the third century B.C., who is also to be connected to an artisan suburban neighborhood recently found in an area south of the city walls.
Thanks to the data acquired with underwater exploration, it has been hyphotized, for Kaulon, to have had at least one landing point at the mouth of the Assi torrent (maybe a canal harbour) associated with another docking point on the coast in front of the Doric temple.
A hypothetical reconstruction of Punta Stilo, once known as Cocyntho promontory, was also taken into consideration. The promontory is currently submerged for a variety of geological phenomena.
As for the surrounding area, during the Greek period many small rural farms were distributed in the countryside, while in Roman times we have proof of the presence, in Fontanelle, and in other areas of the territory, of villas, part of a territorial organization linking large estates.
The urban layout
Kaulon, like all the other colonies of Magna Graecia, had to be organized, already in the Archaic period, according to a precise urban plan. We currently know just the structure of the city as it was rebuilt after being destroyed by the tyrant Dionysius I of Syracuse (389 B.C.).
The city was reorganized according to a systematic and well planned layout, named “Hippodamian” after the architect Hippodamus of Miletus, who is credited with its creation. This system envisaged a road network consisting of many narrow streets (called stenopoi), closely spaced and parallel, arranged from upstream to sea in order to facilitate the flow of water, those intersected orthogonally with wide streets (called plateiai), which were also parallel but more widely spaced.
They formed narrow rectangular blocks which very extremely elongated in the East to West direction, so that they measured approximately 105 x 35 m.
The blocks themselves were divided into two lots each, both subdivided into two houses, which turned out to be quadrangular (17 x 17.50 m).
The houses of Kaulon had standard dimensions, but there were some exceptions: the House of the Dragon occupied a whole lot, boasting a width of 35 meters.
Of course the project could undergo changes, which were mainly related to occasional irregularities of the land: the blocks near the beach, for lack of space, were smaller.
The houses were built using simple, low cost materials. The walls were composed by a foundation socle made of pebbles and stones, upon which they raised walls realized in mudbricks made out of raw clay which wasn’t cooked in the furnace, but just left to dry in the sun. Only the roofs were built using tiles (tegulas and hip-tiles) manufactured by ceramics workshops, which ensured more impermeability. The walls were protected by modest white plastering and only exceptionally painted. The floors were left as simple planking levels, just leveled and pressed, and rarely presented more accurate choices in paving. Only reception rooms of luxurious residences were decorated with mosaics, as evidenced by the famous House of the Dragon.
The courtyard played a key role in the house: in addition to connecting environments, ensuring light and fresh air, it was the site of many domestic activities.
Courtyards were frequently paved in gravel because it ensured good water drainage. The houses were completed by wells and sewage systems for the downflow of water.
The roads of the ancient city of Kaulon were paved in sand and gravel, with the addiction of ceramic fragments that facilitated the absorption of water, preventing the formation of mud.
some ceramic fragments that facilitated the absorption of water, avoiding the formation of mud.