Architecture and function of a public guest house in Aigeira

A guest house in Aigeira in use from the 4th to the 1st century BCE is a special feature in the synchronous architectural spectrum. The layout of the typical late Classical residential house was adapted for this purpose. In terms of the urban development of Aigeira the building represents a link between the pre-Hellenistic and the Hellenistic urban structure.

From 1999 to 2011 the area Solon, a sprawling building complex, was excavated in Aigeira and from 2012 to 2013 the final documentation was carried out.

A well preserved ground plan of a building was uncovered and over the course of several building phases its function appears to have been a public guest house. The building was founded in the mid-4th century BCE. In the early 3rd century BCE the building was extended to the north; following several specific changes to the building, the complex was intentionally abandoned towards the end of the 1st century BCE.

Building and function typology

The foundation phase corresponds to the type of the unified residential house of the 5th and 4th century BCE which was developed within the context of a regular urban planning. The diagnostic room furnishings and the room layout, however, suggest a different form of use of the building. Instead of the – for a residential building – obligatory oikos there is a formal banquet room for up to 11 kline furnished with a figural pebble mosaic. Furthermore, in the entrance area of the building a bathroom is located with four bathtubs so that in contrast to the canonical house a public function as guest house must be deduced. The consistent reuse of large, worked ashlar blocks in the foundation further substantiates its public nature. Thus, the building provides evidence for a flexible adaptation of the typical residential house into a functionally different building which can also be demonstrated in other urban contexts.

The south wing added in the expansion phase of the 3rd century BCE includes another banquet room and a bathroom as well as a formal peristyle courtyard. The original function of the guest house was retained and with its specific selection of rooms considerably expanded.

Typology of the guest house

The term guest house within an urban context remains blurred because such houses are hardly accounted for in the synchronous architectural spectrum – in contrast to the guest houses for example in sanctuaries. This leads to the need for a specifically local explanation. Aigeira also functioned as meeting place within the framework of the Achaean League so that it would be possible that the guest house was used as temporary residence or living quarter for the meeting elite.

Urban function

Regarding the urban development of the polis of Aigeira, the foundation phase of the late Classical building took place significantly earlier than the development of the generously sized town of the 3rd century BCE. Topographically as well as chronologically the building still belongs to the Archaic-Classical settlement that developed in the extended environs of the so-called acropolis.

Despite the relocation of the public center to the area of the Hellenistic city, the building retained its original function at least into the late Hellenistic period.