The museum was founded at the end of the 19th century, during the Turkish occupation. It has been forced to move location on a number of occasions. Today it is housed in the Commercial Ottoman School, which has been declared a listed building, ceded to the Ministry of Culture by the Municipality of Ierapetra.
Its collections include:
Minoan art: inscribed Minoan sarcophagi, lamps, late Minoan III vessels (1400-1200 BC), mostly stirrup jars and kraters. Geometric period art (figurines, vases), 9th-8th century BC. Archaic art (mostly figurines and relief plaques). Late 7th-6th century BC Classical and Hellenistic art (vases and figurines), 5th to 1st century BC Greco-Roman art (vases and figurines). Late 1st century BC-4th century AD. Roman period reliefs and statues. Funerary and votive inscriptions from Greco-Roman times.
Among the most important exhibits of the Museum are the following:
A clay sarcophagus Excavated from a rock-cut horseshoe-shaped tomb dating from 1450-1400 BC in the area of Episkope, Ierapetra. It is box-shaped, with a saddled lid, which has a bull’s head at one end and a human figure at the other. The decoration covering all the sides of the sarcophagus incorporates framed scenes from everyday life in the countryside.
A stone stele from Hierapytna (modern day Ierapetra). It is made of hard black limestone (titanolithos) and dates back to the Roman period. The larger part of it is preserved. It consists of four pieces, three of which fit together, It is inscribed on both sides. The first contains the text of the treaty between Ierapetra and Antigonos, the king of Macedonia. The other side documents civic equality with the people of Arcadia.
An engraved tablet, erected to commemorate the honors bestowed by the city of Ierapytna on Titus Claudius Aristagoras, proclaiming him protector and defender of the people and their interests, after he repaired the damaged building of the Public Archives at his own expense.
An amphora from the district of Manoliana in Ierapetra, 4th century BC. It is preserved in very good condition. Apart from the palmettes decorating the shoulders of the jar, both sides of the belly carry interesting representations in red: on one side, the preparation of a warrior for battle assisted by a woman, in the presence of an older man, possibly a teacher. On the other side, two male figures walk towards a third man.
A hand-formed clay ‘plastic’ vase The vase is shaped by the comic depiction of an old man crouching. He has a disproportionately large head, a long beard, a huge swollen belly and short legs which can barely support his weight. The rim of the vase is on top of his head.
A Minoan axe mould, in two sections, made of soapstone. The polished surface has been clearly cut to form a nearly rectangular recess with the appropriate curves to form the outer edges of the axe. Judging from its shape and dimensions, it seems that it was intended for use as a tool and not as a weapon.
A marble statue of an upright female figure, standing on a plinth. It was discovered after the seizure of stolen antiquities. It dates from the Roman period, and has a height of 1.57 metres. She wears a long chiton, and a himation which also covers the head. She holds an ear of wheat in one hand while the other is bent at the elbow. She wears a diadem decorated with two snakes on her head.
A marble statue from the Roman period, probably male, standing on a pedestal. Found in Viglia, Ierapetra, height 0.58m. The figure wears a long chiton and a cloak, though only two curls (plaits) of the hair have survived. It holds a lyre in the left hand. This is an indication that it probably represents the god Apollo as ‘kitharodos’, in the style of the Mousagetes (leader of the Muses).
The marble head of a man, larger-than-life size. It was found in the area of the ancient theatre at Viglia, Ierapetra. Height: 0.40 m. The short hair curls in tongues on the forehead. The lips are fleshy, the arch of the eyebrows and the ears are exaggerated. Roman period.
Headless marble statue of a woman found in the ancient theatre at Viglia, Ierapetra, height 1.38m. The statue stands on a circular plinth carved from the same block of marble. The form supports the weight of the body on the left leg, slightly bending the right. Clothed in a long garment draped in folds covering the entire body and falling diagonally across the chest. A long chiton can be discerned reaching to the ankle underneath. The forearm of one hand is missing, and the other arm is broken from the shoulder. Roman period.