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Ancient Sites

Ancient Sites

Ancient Itanos

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Great and powerful ancient city of eastern Crete located 1 km away from the north part of Vai. Founded in prehistoric times, it is believed that the city took its name from the Phoenix or from the Kouriti Itano. The first historical testimony of ancient Itanos exists in Herodotus. The story says that it was the hometown of a porphyry’s fisherman named Korovios, who, when drought fell in Thira, led the people of that city in Libya, where they founded Cyrene (631 BC). During historical times, the city of Itanos was autonomous and, for long periods, dominated the Dionysades Islands, Dragmo, Ambelos and Grammio, the islands of Elasa and Koufonisi (Lefki) as well as the sanctuary of Dikteon Zeus, source of great revenue.

The famous “Arbitration of Magnets” written in stone plate and fitted in front the monastery church Toplou, gives reason to the claims of Itanos people concerning their authority on Lefki island against the city of Ierapytna. Ancient Itanos was a large transshipment port, especially to the East. It flourished during the classical period, as seen from the buildings, temples (Asklepios, Fortune, Athena, etc) and silver coins, real works of art. Important are also the inscriptions found in Itanos. Especially during the Hellenistic times, ancient Itanos was involved in disputes with neighboring cities, like Praisos and Ierapytna, but with the help of the Ptolemies people of Egypt, they did manage to cope without becoming politically dependent. During Roman times, Itanos hold a prominent position, participates to governance of Cretan people and mints its own coins. The city flourished until the early Byzantine period as shown by the remains of large and wealthy churches, and in accordance with indications inhabited during the Venetian era. Itanos was at first detected by the archaeologist Halbherr. Mrs Bursian and Demarge and the French Archaeological School also did some surveys, while investigations continue today led by the Institute for Mediterranean Studies. Many inscriptions, coins, potteries, golden earings etc have been discovered. According to a historic tradition, the inhabitants of Itanos were persecuted from their town during the 17th century, they went away and they founded the town of Sitanos. Today there are a few newer homes in the archaeological site, inhabited in summer. The walkthrough in ancient Itanos, with the great timeless antiquities, the acropolis, and the ruins of Minoan buildings, temple inscriptions as well as the magnificent natural environment is a unique experience.

Minoan Palaikastro

Rousso Lakos
Ancient site
Rousso Lakos 1900
The first excavation in 1900
Rousso Lakos 2014
Excavation 2014
The Palaikastro plain was occupied throughout the Bronze Age. The earliest confirmed habitation, about 2900 B.C. (EM I), was probably on a small scale. So far only one building up on Kastri and two others in the main settlement area have been excavated (fig. 1). Gradually the population expanded and by about 1900 B.C. (the time of the first palaces at Knossos and Phaistos), a large, well-planned town had been established, with overseas contacts, including Egypt and Asia Minor. Around 1760 B.C. an earthquake caused much damage. The following phase (MM III) saw reconstruction and a long period of growth, until (perhaps in 1628 B.C.) another earthquake and flooding again caused much damage. An extensive rebuilding programme followed and the ensuing phase (LM IA) was a time of prosperity (fig. 2). Fine houses with spacious rooms were built by rich traders, who filled their storage rooms with finely decorated pottery and stone vases, and kept track of their transactions on tablets written in Linear A.

At the end of this LM IA phase the town suffered the devastating effects of the Theran eruption that caused earthquakes and rained down ash. Once again the town was rebuilt, but the ensuing years were troublesome, with a sequence of fires, most likely due to human aggression, in the early 15th century (late LM IB), when there were widespread destructions across Crete. Palaikastro also suffered, but here, unlike other towns, the population recovered. Repairs and reconstruction were undertaken during the following century (LM II - LM IIIA) and although there is evidence for a fire around 1370 B.C., contemporary with the final destruction of the palace at Knossos, life continued and prosperity returned. Finally, around 1300 B.C. (LM IIIB) another earthquake struck, after which the town seems to have been slowly abandoned. People moved and settled for a time (LM IIIC) up on Kastri, but by the end of the 12th century B.C. they had left the coastal plain for the safety of the surrounding mountains.

The excavators

excavators1 In April 1902, Robert Carr Bosanquet (center) went to Palaikastro to find the Minoan palace, like those recently discovered at Knossos and Phaistos, and the temple of Diktaian Zeus, famous from the inscription with the Magnesian arbitration award in the Toplou Monastery. He returned in 1903-5 with R. M. Dawkins (left), C. T. Currelly (right) and M. N. Tod. They uncovered the Minoan town blocks A to S at Roussolakkos, while J. L. Myres excavated the peak sanctuary at Petsofas and W. L. H. Duckworth and C. H. Hawes studied the Minoan cemeteries. They failed to find the Minoan palace, but found the inscription with the Hymn to the Greatest Kouros, which proved that Palaikastro was the ancient Diktaion - the sanctuary of Cretan-born, or Diktaian Zeus, the main Cretan deity. L. H. Sackett (center) returned again in 1983 with J. A. MacGillivray (right) and J. M. Driessen (left) to conduct a new search for the Minoan palace. They began with a site survey using magnetometer and surface indicators, which determined that Minoan Palaikastro was 30 hectares in extent. In 1986, with a large international team, they uncovered the southwest sector of the city with Buildings 1 to 7. Their greatest find, the Palaikastro Kouros, indicated that the ancient Diktaion probably had a Minoan predecessor. The recent geophysical survey directed by I. K. Whitbread and M. Boyd showed that the town was even larger and has located the traces of a large structure in a previously unexplored area.

The Palaikastro Kouros

The Palaikastro Kouros is a youthful male figure (fig. 1), carved in ivory and clad in gold by a sculptor with an extraordinary talent for naturalistic detail. Its broken and burnt fragments (fig. 4 a) lay scattered in Building 5, interpreted as a town sanctuary, and in the street outside (figs. 6a, c), just as they had fallen during the great fire destruction of the early 15th century B.C.

A Masterpiece of Minoan Art
The figure was composed of serpentine (hair), rock crystal (eyes), wood and Egyptian blue (base), as well as gold (sandals, loincloth) and dowelled pieces of ivory (body) ). It is called the ΄Kouros΄ because we believe it is linked to the Kouros of the later ΄Hymn to Zeus΄ , and like Greek Archaic statues, it drew on a millennia-long sequence of Egyptian figures, who stand stiffly with left foot forward.

The Santorini Eruption

sanotrini The volcano on the island of Santorini or Thera, just 100 km north of Crete, erupted during the LM IA period (c. 1600-1520 B.C.) in one of the most cataclysmic events in human history. The eruption caused tidal waves (tsunamis) and ejected huge amounts of ash, darkening the skies for days, polluting agricultural and water resources. Earthquakes destroyed houses and thick layers of pumice were brought by the sea to wash up on the shores of Crete.

Building 6 was damaged by an earthquake and had to be demolished, but before any reconstruction was possible, the eruption struck, the ruins were covered in ash, found up to 12 cms. deep in places and the area was never reoccupied. Instead, in LM IB two new wells were dug here to replace those in Building 5 and Block B, which went out of use, probably because they were polluted by ash.

Minoan Palace of Zakros

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Kato Zakros is one of the most picturesque places of Crete. Here the quiet of the countryside, the deep blue sea, the gorge of "Dead" that ends near the coastal Minoan palace of King Minos, flood the senses and mind, to travel in the past where everything is beautiful, untouched, unique .

The archaeological site of Ancient Zakros is located 8 km southeast of Zakros (39 km from the town of Sitia). That point, where is nowadays located Kato-Zakros, is the easternmost part of the island. Here was found the 4th Minoan palace of Crete, which is the only one that was not looted. It was built around 1600 BC, consisted of 180 compartments and had an area of 8,000 square meters. The excavations began by DG Hogarth but the main excavator of the palace is the professor Platon. The palace of Ancient Zakros is smaller than the other palaces but has similar ordinance than the palaces of Knossos and Phaistos. It has central courtyard (paved) around which the buildings with labyrinthine ordinance are set, with three western entries and a main entrance where there is an altar. On the west side of the palace are the officers’ rooms while in the northern side are the conferences rooms, the skylights while on the same side were found big basins that had devotional character. The main apartments and the various laboratories were found in eastern and southern side respectively. The location of the palace was important because the chosen area allowed trading with the East as well as the other palaces of the island. Many vessels, placed in the vault of the palace, were found in the archaeological site. Also, among the interesting discoveries, big swords with leaves of gold, ivory, bronze ornaments from Cyprus and an amphora depicting a holy hill and wild animals distinguish. Many of these findings are in the Archaeological Museum of Sitia, Agios Nikolaos and Heraklion. The palace of Zakros has two main buildings phases: the oldest was built in 1900 BC approximately, while the youngest around 1600 BC and destroyed like other centers of Minoan Crete in 1450 BC. Today, visitors can see an archaeological site in very good condition, clean and sophisticated thanks to the care of the few people that, with passion and love for the significant value of these ancient treasures, care and keep this priceless site.

Minoan turtle
The strange thing though is happening in this area and that has attracted the attention of several researchers, are turtles living in the wells and in the archaeological site. While in the surroundings of the area there are cisterns, wells and ponds, conditions i.e. which allow life for a turtle, they live only within the area of the palace. German scientists who come occasionally and who study them, talk about rare turtles likely to survive the Minoan era.

Permission Granted by directors: Mr H.Sackett, Professor A.MacGillivray, Professor J. Driessen and the British School At Athens Archivist.