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Κορυφαίοι αρχαιολογικοί χώροι

Malia
At a glance

The palace of Malia is the third largest palace in Crete, after the ones of Knossos and Phaistos. The Minoan city extended around the palace. The archaeological site is located on the northern coast of eastern Crete, near the modern town of Malia. The ancient name of the Minoan city remains unknown. Nonetheless, it has been suggested that this was the site of Milatos, with Sarpedon as king, son of Zeus and Europa and younger brother of Minos.

Tour

The palace was first built in 1900 BC on a site where earlier habitation (from the middle of the 3rd millennium BC) has been identified. It was destroyed in 1700 BC along with the other palatial centers. It was rebuilt around 1650 BC on the same site, only to be destroyed again in 1450 BC by fire.

Most of the ruins visible today belong to the Νeopalatial complex, while part of the first palace survives to the north-west of the complex. Ostraka (potsherds) found in the area attest to the human presence during the Neolithic period.

The first excavation in the area of the palace was carried out by Iosif Chatzidakis in 1915, who was forced to stop his research due to lack of funding. The discovery of the palace and a large part of the city is mainly due to the French Archaeological School. Excavations are still going on nowadays.

Must see

At the site of Chrysolakkos, 500 m northeast of the palace, a large Paleopalatial necropolis was excavated, a burial complex with rectangular small spaces that served as burial chambers. In one of these spaces, the famous pendant with the two bees was found, which is now housed in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.

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The Phaistos Palace
At first glance

The second largest Minoan palace in Crete is built on a hill, on the west side of the plain of Messara, a place where the goods of the valley as well as the exit to the sea and the ports of the bay (Kalamaki, Kommos, Matala) could be surveyed. As is the case with all Minoan palaces, it was considered to be the administrative, religious and financial centre of the area, and likewise it was surrounded by the Minoan city. According to mythology, the city of Phaistos was reigned by the dynasty of Rhadamanthus who was the son of Zeus and the brother of Minos.

Due to the exquisite architecture and flawless arrangement of its construction, the palace of Phaistos is currently viewed as one of the finest representations of a Minoan palace. The first palace was built in the beginning of the first millennium BC and was destroyed in a massive fire, approximately in 1700 BC. On top of its ruins, a new and more majestic palace was constructed, which would later be destroyed along with all other Minoan centres, in the mid 15th century BC, subsequently being  permanently abandonded.

Places to visit

At the archaeological site, visitors can discover the ruins of the old, as well as the new palace. The site is accessible through a western paved terrace, diagonally intersected by a «processional causeway». On the north side, there are eight deep steps, which functioned as the seats of a theatre, whereas at the southern end of the street stood the «propylon», a monumental gateway to the Old Palace.

On the northeast side of the west terrace, one of the earliest sanctuaries of the site is located, behind which visitors can discover the monumental staircase and the impressive propylaia (meaning gateways) of the new palace, one of the masterpieces of Prehellenic architecture. A wide corridor bridges the west with the «central court», the centre around which the different wings of the compound are symmetrically arranged.

On the west wing of the building, the «repositories» would be located, ten storerooms containing the goods of the palace (wine, oil, honey, grain etc.) inside large pots. On the south side, small sanctuaries were discovered, as deducted by artefacts of worship which were found on site, in addition to engravings of double axes on the walls. On the east wing of the building, workshops would be installed, whereas an external paved corridor, connected to a pipe for the drainage of rainwater, wound up to the small «north court».

Not to be missed

The luxurious «royal quarters», which are accessible through the majestic entrance on the north wing of the building. Here you can catch a glimpse of the «Queen’s Chamber» and on its north side, the «King’s Hall», both decorated with elaborate murals and paved with alabaster tiles. Furthermore, on the northeast end of the palace, a row of rooms belonging to the Old Palace are maintained to this day. They are thought to be rooms which were possibly used as  «archives», since it was there that the prominent and most well-known artefact of the area was discovered, the Phaistos disc, along with signs that display the Linear B writing system.

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Aptera
At a glance

Ancient Aptera was one of the most important city-states of Crete, on a strategic location in the Bay of Souda and two ports: Minoa (at Marathi) and Kisamo (at Kalives). Aptera dates back to the Minoan era, yet it thrived during the Classical and Hellenistic times. A severe earthquake in the 4th century AD caused extensive destructions in the city, which was finally abandoned in the 7th century AD, after another powerful earthquake.

Tour

There are many versions as for the origin of Aptera’s name, the most popular being the myth according to which it originated from a musical competition between the Muses and the Sirens. When the Muses won, the defeated Sirens threw away their wings, which fell into the Bay of Souda and created the white islands of the area. The Sirens were left wingless [a-pteres (without wings)], naming this way the city.

Aptera’s history begins during the Minoan era and its existence is recorded in Linear B tablets of the 14th century BC. It flourished during the Classical and Hellenistic times, when it began to mint its own coinage, built a strong fortification and a theatre. Locals were skilled archers and fought as mercenaries in various regions outside Crete, bringing wealth to Aptera.

The existence of impressive public buildings indicates that its prosperity continued in the Roman era. However, Aptera declined during the Byzantine period.

There are two water tanks preserved, particularly impressive due to their size and their state of preservation. Together with the two bath complexes further north, to which they supplied water, the two tanks were the largest public works constructed in Aptera during the Greco-Roman period.

At a central point of the ancient city, the Monastery of Agios Ioannis Theologos (St. John) is to be found. The monastery was mentioned in a Chronicle of 1181 AD.

Must see

The ancient theatre of Aptera lies at the southeastern entrance of the city. It was constructed in three phases, from the Hellenistic times to the Roman period, when it underwent complete transformation. It is situated in a natural earth concavity, facing south, overlooking the “Lefka Ori” mountains.

The main parts of the theatre, still visible today, the koilon, the orchestra, and the skené, date back to the Roman period. The theatre’s total capacity in antiquity is estimated at 3,700 spectators. Its orchestra, with a radius of only 5.45 m, is one of the smallest orchestras in an ancient theatre, which suggests that it was mainly intended for musical and theatrical events.

The ancient cobbled street on the eastern side of the theatre is also remarkable, dating back to the Hellenistic period, while it is 55 m long and preserved in very good condition.

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Lissos
Ancient Lissos, at a position called today Ai-Kirkos, in the homonymous bay of the south coast of the prefecture of Chania, was an important city in the historical times of Crete.

In the Hellenistic times it played an important role as a member of the Federation of the Mountains, which consisted of Elyros, Yrtakina, Tarra and Poikilassion. It was a famous worship centre already in the Hellenistic times and until the end of the antiquity. In 183 B.C. it signed, along with other cities of the “Alliance of the Cretans”, a treaty with Eumenes II of Pergamo. After its destruction in the 9th century, it was not inhabited again.

From the Byzantine times to the present day it has been a local, agricultural and religious centre, with the churches of Ai-Kirkos and Panagia built on the ruins of Paleochristian basilicas. With financing from the community program LEADER 1 – OADYK (West Crete Development Organization) being the implementation contractor-, a project of cleaning, path formation, surface research and mapping of ancient Lissos was conducted. A large part of the valley has already been expropriated.

(Authors: Vanna Niniou – Kindeli, Aggeliki Tsingou, archaeologists)

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The Palace of Zakros
At first glance

The fourth in size Minoan palace in Crete, following the palaces of Knossos, Phaistos and Malia, the palace of Zakros constituted a major port and commercial gateway to the East, as verified by many archaeological findings (elephant tusks, faience, copper, etc.). Strategically positioned in the area and sheltered by a cape on the east tip of the island, it was considered the administrative, religious and commercial centre of Zakros, which expanded around it, and had two main construction phases: the old palace was built around 1900 BC, whereas the new palace was constructed approximately in 1600 BC and was destroyed, along all other centres of Minoan Crete, in 1450 BC, when the site was abandoned for good.

Places to visit

The palace of Zakros spreads out over a distance of more than 8,000 square meters and can be found at the exit of the famed Gorge of the Dead. It follows the typical layout of Minoan palaces, with the main gate on the east side, whereas the second main gate is located on the northeast side, leading to a paved road that would connect it to the harbour. A road with steps descending towards the northeast gate and continuing up to the main gate, is thought to be the core of the construction and the place where religious rituals would be held. It was surrounded by facades and porticos with columns-pillars which supported verandas. On the northwest side,  an altar had been built. In order for visitors to grasp the mere size and importance of Zakros during Minoan times, all they need to do is visualise that inside the premises of the palace, 300 rooms of various utilities, as well as many floors have been discovered.

The west wing of the palace would be the primary site for ceremonial activities. This is where you would come across a large hypostyle hall named the «Hall of ceremonies», with a peristyle «lightwell» and halls with pier-and-door partitions («polythyra»), one of which led to the «banquet hall», named after the amphora vases and wine pitchers discovered there. The west side of the wing was devoted to a shrine and consisted of eleven rooms of different dimensions. A small room with an elevated bench for the placement of objects would be the main sanctuary and was unaccessible to the public. Right next to it, there was an underground lustral basin, whereas on the south side, three auxiliary rooms were situated: a stone-carving workshop, a storage room and a treasury. Further on the east side, there was an archive room where pyxes containing clay Linear A signs were found on top of clay shelves.

On the east wing is where the «royal quarters» would be situated, as well as the administrative centre, whereas through the main gate, a pier-and-door partition hall led to the so-called «cistern room». On the south wing, a small complex of workshops could be found, dedicated to the production of perfumes and small items made of faience, rock crystal and other valuable materials. On the south wing, there was a large flight of stairs which led up to the first floor, where you would find the «royal repositories», a lustral basin and a large room accessible through a corridor, which is believed to have been the kitchen area and probably served as the banquet hall of the upper floor.

Not to be missed

The Treasury, the only Minoan artefact of its kind that was unearthed without any signs of pillaging, provided us with a vast array of exquisite ritual vessels, as well as breathtaking findings which were brought to light during excavations by the Greek archaeologist Nikolaos Platon. Most of these artefacts are displayed in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum.

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Gortys
The ruins of the ancient city of Gortys with its acropolis and necropolis extend in an area of about 1.000 acres, from the hills Ai-Giannis, Volakas and Prophitis Ilias in the north to the villages Agioi Deka and Metropolis in the south.

The area of Gortys was inhabited already in the Neolithic Times, as finds from this period have been spotted in the plain and the hills, few of which of Minoan origin. At the site Kania, south of the village Metropolis, a late Minoan country villa with remarkable finds has been excavated. In the Geometric Period (1.100 – 700 B.C.) the settlement was built on the acropolis and villages were built at the foot of the hills. In the Archaic Times (700 – 500 B.C.) the city was extended into the area of the later Conservatory and the plain, in the place of the later temple of “Pythian” Apollo. From the city of the classical period the remains of the synagogue in the place of today’s Conservatory have been spotted, the most important monument being the Great Inscription in the northern circular wall of the Conservatory.

In the Hellenistic Times (end of the 4th century B.C. – 67 B.C.) Gortys was one of the largest cities of Crete. In the beginning of the 3rd century B.C. it was the head of one of the three city unions and in the 2nd century B.C., when Rome intervened in the internal affairs of Crete, Gortys took the side of the Romans. After the Roman conquest it became the capital of the Roman province of Crete and the Cyrene and experienced great building development. In the early Byzantine period the administrative and urban centre of the city was transferred to the Christian neighbourhood in the modern village Metropolis, while a second centre of the early Byzantine city was located at the church of Agioi Deka. After the Arab conquest, Gortys was ruined.
(Author: Maria Egglezou)

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Knossos
At first glance

The largest centre of the Minoan civilization, home of the legendary king Minos and the capital city of his reign, is located 5 kilometers southeast of Heraklion, on a low hill known as Kefalas hill and next to the river Kairatos. The city of Knossos was continually inhabited from the late seventh millennium until Roman times and it is famed for the fascinating legends of the fabled Labyrinth, the Minotaur, Daedalus, and Icarus. During the Minoan era, the city experienced its prime, leading to the construction of the monumental Knossos palace, which was brought to light by the British archaeologist Arthur Evans in the early 20th century. While excavations were underway, Evans also conducted extensive work to reconstruct and renovate the palace, resulting in the unique archaeological site we know today, which is progressively undergoing adjustments to its premises.

Places to visit

The Knossos palace was considered to be the religious, administrative and financial centre of the area and the city of Knossos would spread around it. According to Evans, the population reached 80,000 residents. The palace complex had multiple floors and stretched out over a distance of around 20,000 square meters. It was built using various different materials and was decorated with captivating frescoes. For the construction of the palace, original techniques were employed, which surpassed architectural and structural conventions of the time, such as the «lightwells» and the «polythyra» (halls with pier-and-door partitions), allowing for a better air-flow and more light coming in the rooms of the vast compound.

Evidence of an advanced civilisation in the city of Knossos is corroborated by the extended sewerage and water systems which can be seen in many parts of the palace complex. The edifice was organised in wings around a large «central courtyard». On the west side, a second courtyard functioned as the official entrance to the building, through a monumental propylon (gateway) and a large corridor with a procession fresco. On the west wing were the storage rooms, a row of rectangular rooms that contained big «pithoi» (large storage containers) and chests. On site, there were also discoveries of Linear B signs with records referring to products that were being stored. Next to the storage rooms, the «Central Sanctuary» and the «Sacred Treasuries» were situated, areas where exquisite Minoan art pieces were unearthed, whereas on the northern part was the legendary «Throne room», known for its stone throne that is surrounded by frescoes.

On the north side of the courtyard, there was another entrance that connected the palace to the harbour and it was decorated with a bull-leaping fresco. On both sides, there were storage rooms and archive rooms, whereas on the north side, the «Custom’s House» was located, a large hypostyle hall which was hypothesised to be the place where trading goods would be checked when coming from the harbour to the palace.

On the east wing, the «Grand Staircase» led to floors bellow the level of the courtyard, where the «royal quarters» would be located. On one of the floors, which is known as the «Queen’s Megaron», a painted clay wash-basin, a washroom and sanitary facilities were discovered. Next to it was the so-called «King’s Megaron», also known as the «Hall of the Double axes», due to the sacred symbol of the double axes that was engraved on the walls. On the north side of the wing, stone carving and pottery workshops were found, whereas on the south wing was the South Propylon and the South Entrance, decorated with frescoes that depicted the Prince of the Lilies.

Not to be missed

Visitors are given the chance to wander the ceremonial rooms, the storage rooms, the royal quarters, the workshops and of course, the imposing «Throne room». The frescoes, as well as objects that adorn the premises, are exact copies of the original artefacts which are displayed in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. After touring ancient Knossos, the museum is definitely worth visiting in order to gain a full perspective of the grandeur of the Minoan civilisation and of the archaeological site itself.

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Eleftherna
At first glance

On the foothills of Mount Ida, the most important archaeological site in the municipality of Rethymno is based, providing visitors with the opportunity to experience what life was like in the past. Nowadays, excavations and research are still underway in the premises of the site. Approximately 25 kilometers south ofRethymno, Eleutherna- which according to tradition was named after Eleutheras, one of the Kouriteswho beat upon their bronze shields in order to preventCronusfromhearingthe cries of baby Zeus and devouring his son- was considered one of the greatest ancient cities in Creteduring the GeometricandArchaic periods, times when the Homeric poems were in circulation. Moreover, since thefourthcenturyBC, the city minted its own coins.

Onsite systematicexcavationsbeganin 1985 by the University of Crete and are continuing to  this day, having brought to light important archaeological findings which date back from the thirdmillennium BCto modern times.

Places to visit

The ancient city of Eleuthernastretches out on the PyrgiandNisi hills wherevariousmonumentsandmaterialremnantshavebeen found, scattered throughout the site. At the acropolis,remains ofbuilding materials, mainly dating back to the Roman times andthe pre-Christian era have been found, as well as one part of afortificationtower. A couple of roman houses that were destroyed by a powerful earthquake in 365 AD stand out, along with large water cisterns, ahuge limestone quarry, roman necropolesand a roman bathhouse with twofurnaces, a stone-paved street, an entirequarterfrom theHellenistic periodwithresidencesand a five-column Doric propylon (gateway) dating back to 400 BC, as well as a big publicbuilding, probably of the Hellenisticperiod (second to first centuries BC). Furthermore, of particular interest isthe exceptionally well-preserved bowstring arch bridge, which is estimated to have been constructedduring the Hellenistic period (second century BC), whereas at the site ofKatsivelos,a basilica dedicatedto the Archangel Michaelhas been unearthed, dating back tothe fifth century AD and built upon an older Hellenistic sanctuary.

On the west slope of the hill at the site ofOrthiPetra, a necropolis dating back to the Geometric and Archaic times has been unearthed. Among the many valuable and spectacularfindings is afunerarypyreof the eighth century BC (730 to 710 BC), belonging to a prominentmale warrior around 30 years of age. The burial rite and lack of grave offerings, as well asthe discovery ofaheadless and unburnt body close to the pyre, points to the Homericdescriptionof the burial ofPatroclus in the Iliad (Book XXIII). Another important finding is the digging of a cenotaph (an empty tomb). It consists of a large, practically square building, which was probably constructed in order to commemoratethosewho died in times of war and far away from their homeland. It was essentially an early prototype ofmemorial tomb of theUnknownSoldier. In otherburial sites, ornate jewellery and pots were brought to light, attesting to therelations between Eleutherna and Phoenicia, Egypt, Cyprus, theCycladesandEastMediterranean territories. A prime example is theburialcomplexcontainingthe skeletal remains of fourwomen, approximately from 7 to 70 yearsof age, whowererelatedand heldprominentpositionsinthe localcommunity and died all together, possiblydue toa type ofpandemic. Thisfuneraryassemblageofthe four «nobles-priestesses» as it was called, placed Eleutherna among the 10 archaeological sites in the world with the most impressive findings for the year 2009, accordingtothe magazine Archaeology.

Not to be missed

An archaeological park full of pathwaysand signposts has been created in the area, connecting the various excavated sites and all other places of interest together. Visitors can combine a tour to the park with a stop at the Museum of Ancient Eleutherna in order to enjoy a detailednarrationaboutthe fascinating and unknown parts of the ancient city and subsequently Cretan history itself.

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Necropolis of Armeni
The layout of the cemetery seems to have been carefully pre-planned. All the tombs are rock-chiselled chamber tombs with a “dromos”, with the exception of the built “tholos tomb” no. 200.

Unworked stones and pyramidal or slab stelae were erected over the tombs as markers. They were all family tombs, containing multiple burials, either placed directly on the floor or inside larnakes. The grave offerings – pottery, weapons, tools and jewellery – provide us with useful information on the art, the religion and the social organization of that period.

In 1969, two pupils gave the Archaeological Museum of Rethymnon two vases they had found at a site called Prinokephalo, in the community of Armenoi. Investigation of the area proved the existence of an extensive Late Minoan cemetery. Since then, the site has been systematically excavated, and more than 220 tombs have been brought to light.

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Spinaloga
At first glance

A place of historical importance and particular beauty, the islet of Spinalonga, just 85 acres in size, is located at the northern entrance of Elounda bay, in a key position for the control of its natural harbour. An important Venetian fortress, a refuge for revolutionaries during the Cretan War, an Ottoman settlement during the Turkish occupation and a leprosarium from the early to mid 20th century, it was the setting for the novel «TheIsland» by British author Victoria Hislop, which has been translated into 35 languages and has sold more than 6 million copies worldwide.

Places to visit

Spinalonga was fortified in antiquity, probably during the Hellenistic period, and on the ruins of the ancient castle, the Venetians built a strong fortress, designed according to the fortification practice of the bastion system by GeneseBressani and LatinoOrsini. The first phase of the construction lasted from 1579 to 1586. It was built using local hard limestone and soft sandstone, quarried from the eastern side of the island and from the adjacent peninsula. Repairs and alterations to the fortress were made before and during the Cretan War (1645 to 1669).

 

The fortification of the island consists of two zones. The first follows the contour of the coasts, whereas the second one is founded on the rocks of the ridge. Two transverse wall sections, one to the southwest and the other to the northeast of the islet, link the two zones. At strategic points of the fortification are the Michel crescent and the Moceniga or Barbariga crescent, both very important works of fortification architecture.

During the Venetian period, the fortress was used for military purposes. The premiseswere used to cover the needs of the garrison. During the Cretan War (1645 to 1669), refugees and revolutionaries (the so-called Chainides) took refuge in Spinalonga, using the island as a base to harass the Turks. Since the Venetian period, the vaulted tanks, the garrison building, the triple building and the powder magazine, situated next to the church of Agios Nikolaos which predates the fortress, are preserved. During the period of the Cretan War, the churches of Agios Panteleimon and Agios Georgios were built.

Crete fell to the hands of the Turks in 1669 but Spinalonga remained the property of Venice until 1715, when it was occupied by the Turks and gradually became a purely Ottoman settlement.

Initially, the fortress was marginalised and used as a place of exile and isolation but in the late 18th century, the role of the port was upgraded, as it was licensed for export trade. Thus, in the mid 19th century, a large number of inhabitants – the majority of whom were merchants and sailors – gathered in Spinalonga, taking advantage of the security of the fortified settlement to exploit the trade routes of the Eastern Mediterranean.

The lifespan of the settlement was abruptly cut shortduring the last years of the 19th century, as the revolutionary activity of the Christians forced the majority of the Ottoman inhabitants of Spinalonga to emigrate. In 1897, French military forces settled on the island.

In 1903, the Cretan State decided to establish a leprosarium in Spinalonga in order to provide more coordinated assistance to those suffering from leprosy. The harsh living conditions of the people who stayed on the island until 1957, brandedSpinalonga as a place of martyrdom and would forever evoke strongemotions for all time.

Not to be missed

A tour of the fortress and the castle town of Spinalonga – both of which are preserved to this day in very good condition – is a unique experience, offering powerful visuals and sensations to the visitor. The island itself is considered as one of the most important sea forts in the Mediterranean. It is worth exploring the traditional settlement in the centre of the islet, with its ruined houses, the theatre on the north coast, the small Venetian church of Agios Georgios and the cemetery with a plaque with the names of those buried on the site – the last inhabitant of the island was a priest who remained in Spinalonga until 1962, carrying out the mission to «commemorate» those who died from Hansen’s disease.

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