The Cretan land is full of ancient graves, highlighting the great care of the Cretans for the dead. In the Bronze Age (6000 BC-3500 BC) the simple deposition of dead inside caves was abandoned and use of cemeteries was widespread.
During the Minoan era, in some areas of eastern Crete, including Gournia, Mochlos and Palekastro, the tombs were rectangular and could be used again for the burial of many bodies. At Chrysolakos by Malia, Palekastro, Arhanes and Platanos, archaeologists identified entire burial buildings, but the most prevalent types of tombs in Crete were vaulted (tholos) and domed. Large vaulted tombs have been identified at Kamilari, next to the monastery of Odigitria, Koumasa, Maleme, Ahladia, Stylos, Fylaki by Vamos, Margarites, Apodoulou and Gerokambos. Large cemeteries (necropoleis) of the era, with hundreds of tombs have been found at the hill of Fourni by Arhanes and at Armeni by Rethymnon.
During the Roman era, a large number of tombs were carved into the soft limestone that abounds in Crete. The most famous cemetery with carved caves of this season is Matala, where hippies lived in the 70s. Impressive carved tombs are also found at ancient Kydonia (Chania), at Trialonia, at Siderospilia by Prinias and at the lush ravine of Pente Parthenes (ancient Lappa). In particular, the area of Agios Thomas, with the tremendous carved tombs of Gra Mandra, was an important center for the worship of chthonic deities.
CAVE OF PSYCHRO
The cave of Psychro is one of the most important cult places of Minoan Crete. The use of caves as cult places was one of the basic characteristics of the religious beliefs of the ancient Cretans.
Cult practice probably begins in the Early Minoan period (2800-2300 B.C.) – although in the antechamber are preserved traces of an even earlier occupation – but the most important finds date from the Middle Minoan period (1800 B.C.) and later, as it was used for many centuries, until the Geometric (8th century B.C.) and the Orientalising-Archaic period (7th-6th century B.C.). The finds prove that it was visited as late as the Roman period.
Pilgrims dedicated many offerings, such as figurines of humans, gods, animals, double axes etc. The excavators and several scholars identify the cave as the famous “Diktaian Cave”, where Zeus was born and brought up with the aid of Amaltheia and the Kouretes, and which is connected with myths as this of the seer Epimenides who “slept” here, or the coupling of Zeus with Europa.
In the last decades of the previous century, inhabitants of the area found ancient items inside the cave; this fact led in 1886, the archaeologists Joseph Chatzidakis and F. Halbherr to the site, where they conducted an excavation, but not on a large scale. The cave was also investigated by A. Evans in 1897, by J. Demargne, and by G. Hogarth in 1899, but systematic excavation has not taken place yet. The finds uncovered during legal and illegal excavations were almost all published in 1961 by J. Boardman.
The numerous offerings to the cave are now exhibited in the Herakleion Museum and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. At 1,025 m. a.s.l., a steep path leads up to a plateau in front of the narrow entrance to the cave. On the right side is an antechamber (42 x 19 m.) with a rectangular altar, 1m. high, built of field stones; this area yielded Neolithic potsherds, Early Minoan burials (2800-2200 B.C.), and offerings of the Middle Minoan period (2200-1550 B.C.). In the northern part of the antechamber, at a lower level, a chamber is formed, which included an irregular enclosure with patches of roughly paved floor, forming a sort of a temenos. The large hall (84 x 38 m.) has an inclined floor and a small chamber opening to the left end; one of its niches is called the “liknon” of Zeus. A larger chamber (25 x 12 m.) formed on the right side is divided into two parts: one has a small pool, and the other a very impressive stalactite, known as “the mantle of Zeus”. Inside the main chamber had been deposited many offerings, mostly bronze figurines and sheets (1, 2), daggers, arrowheads, and double axes.
Source: Ministry of Culture and Sports: www.odysseus.culture.gr
The remains of ancient Itanos are situated 27 kms to the East of Sitia near Vai Palm Forest. This area is known as Erimoupli or Ermoupoli.
The founding of Itanos can be traced back to the prehistoric era and Homer provides the first written evidence of its existence. It was an important commercial hub on the trading routes between Europe and the Middle East and exported porphyry, sponges, glass and fish. Itanos dominated the Eastern coast of the region of Sitia and its boundaries extended from the headland of Samonio (Kavo- Sidero) to the headland of Erithreo (Goudouras). The trading links established using products from its territories, combined with the income assured by the Priesthood of Zeus in Palekastro, meant that the town became extremely rich, proof of which can be seen in the remains of many temples and luxurious marble dwellings.
Of historical interest is a stone tablet built into the walls of the Monastery of Toplou which informs us that in 146 BC the people of Itanos requested the aid of Ptolemy Filomitora, King of Egypt, in their conflict with the people of Presos. The Pharoah is recorded as having sent military forces including guards. This help sent by the King of Egypt combined with the fact that Presos became embroiled in a conflict with Ierapetra, put an end to the war. However the people of Itanos were not to know peace. A neighbouring war lord invaded Presos and Ierapetra and set his sights on Itanos. These conflicts continued up until the Roman invasion in AD67. During the Roman era Itanos regained its dominance. The Romans allowed Itanos to mint its own coins and to take part in the Cretan parliament.
Today the visitor can wander through the ruins noting the remains of a large guard tower made from black stone to the west, the ancient Christian church on the east side, the Hellenistic settlement, two Christian churches at the foot of the hills leading to Vai and the cemetery on the outskirts of the city. The city was destroyed by the Byzantines but is believed to have been resettled in Venetian times.
Source: Municipality of Sitia: www.sitia.gr
The first excavations of this site were carried out at the end of the 19th century by the Italian archaeologists Halbherr and Mariani. In 1901 the director of the English School of Archaeology, R C Bousanquet, started more methodic excavations.
Ancient Presos extends over three hilltops 1km to the north of the village of Presos (Babeli). Hilltop (Akrotiri) Α ,the tallest, consists of a wall which can be seen today on the north-east side. A remarkable Hellenistic dwelling, probably the house of a landlord or a guest-house, has also been excavated here. Hilltop (Akrotiri) C was named Hill Altar because a sacrificial altar was discovered here dating from 8th – 7th century BC with two inscriptions in Heteocretan along with other artefacts such as shields, helmets, breast plates, leg armour and bronze and clay figurines (of note is the clay figurine of a lion – the symbol of the Goddess Rhea).
Also a significant find was a series of four domed tombs containing a range of items buried with the dead.
Source: Municipality of Sitia www.sitia.gr
Ancient Dreros (or Driros) was built on the Mount Kadistos, next to the current church of St. Anthony, 2km northeast of Neapolis town. The town was inhabited by Eteocretans and Dorians (who arrived in Crete in 1100BC) and flourished in the Classical – Hellenistic Period.
The city was discovered in 1855, when some locals identified a pessary with an inscription of the 3rd century BC with the oath of 180 teenagers for their devotion to their city and their allies. The first systematic excavations started in 1917 by the archaeologists Xanthoudidis and Marinatos, and continued in 1932 by Demargne and Van Effenterre.
They brought to light several buildings with the greatest being the temple of Apollo Delphinios, with the bronze statues of Apollo, Artemis and Leto (7th century BC) and an altar for sacrificing goats. Moreover, it is interesting to see the central square (agora) of the city with the small type of theater, in the center of which there was a large tank. Inside the tank some inscriptions with laws were found (regarded the earliest legislation in Greek) and an inscription in Greek and Eteocretan language. Dreros seems to have minted coins depicting the head of Athena and the letters DR (ΔΡ). The town was destroyed by civil war that began in 220BC and resulted in its decline.
VILLAGE OF VOILA
The village of Voila is 1km away from the village of Handras. It is a medieval deserted village protected by the Archaeological Offices of Eastern Crete. Passing through the village’s alleys you can still see the ruins of old houses and their rooms, their venetian features and through this sacred silence of the place you have the impression that you hear the Byzantine king, the medieval knight or the Turk fighter gallop away.
The name of the village probably comes from the Byzantine word VOILAS or VOLIAS meaning the nobleman, the land owner. Many elements show that the village belonged to the Venetian family of Zenos which during the Turkish occupation adopted the Ottoman religion and was renamed. At the south of the castle there is a ruined church known as the church of Ginali.
Other attraction at the area is the old painted church of St. George dated back to the 15th century. From the inscription it is obvious that there is a family tomb of Solomos. At the top of the hill overlooking the village there is a fortress dated back to the Venetian occupation of the island of Crete.
The Minoans left their towns unfortified, as their naval empire was not threatened by external enemies. Much later, Cretan cities such as Gortys, Smari and Polyrhenia were protected by citadels and strong walls still visible.
During the Venetian and Ottoman Era, hundreds of forts were constructed to attend the crucial passages throughout the island. At the same time, the main cities of Crete (Candia, Chania, Rethymnon, Sitia and Ierapetra) were fortified with colossal walls.
Large Venetian fortresses, castels, still dominate the key positions on the island. The most imposing is the fortress of Koules in Heraklion harbor. The Fortress Intzedin that protected Souda Bay, Frangokastelo, Firkas at Chania harbor, Kazarma at Sitia, Kales in Ierapetra, Fortezza at Rethymnon and the famous fortified islets Spinalonga, Gramvousa and Souda are all preserved in excellent condition. Remnants of other forts are dispersed all over the island, reminding of their old mission.
Especially after the Great Cretan Revolution of 1866-69, the Ottomans tried to consolidate their aspiration for continuous domination of Crete by building about 150 small and large towers to monitor the passages of the island. The towers, which were called koules, are still visible atop almost every summit of Crete that oversees strategic passages, especially in areas with strong revolutionary action, such as Sfakia and Milopotamos.
Built in the old city (Kato Mera) at the end of the 19th century, when the Turks conquered Ierapetra and modified the church of Agios Ioannis for their religious purposes. It is held to date in a pretty good condition. It is spacious and has a Muslim inscription from the Koran on the marble lintel of the entrance. Its minaret was repaired around 1953 and dominates the district. Opposite the mosque there is a Muslim fountain, which has also been restored.
Source: Municipality of Ierapetra