Archanes and its environs is a wonderful place to visit if you are interested
in archaeology. No fewer than three important Bronze-Age sites can be found around
the modern town of Archanes (see below), and in addition to these, there are four
important sites in the centre of the town itself. These are the "palace"
building, in an area known as "Tourkoyetonia"
(pic); a circular "reservoir", first excavated by Arthur Evans; a "theatre
area" by the church of Aghios Nikolaos, and an archive - in which were found rare
"linear A" tablets, and seal stones, such as one of a fly
(pic) - a couple of hundred metres west of the theatre area. Much in the same way that
Aghia Triadha, is linked to Phaistos, in the Messara plain, Archanes, has been called the
"summer palace" of the "royal house" of Knossos. This obsession with
royal families, palaces and summer palaces, can be traced back to Evans, who was in fact
(despite rumours), a very broad-minded man, but who appeared to have difficulties in
separating the Victorian times he was brought-up in, to that of his "Minoans",
who lived some 3,500 years before. The sites of Bronze Age Archanes, are liberally
spread in, and around, the modern town. Like Chania (ancient Kydonia), the town is
currently inhabited and, therefore, any thorough excavation, is hampered by the fact that
most of what might be found, lies below the modern town. That's not to say that the
ancient site of Archanes isn't worth a visit - far from it - and the sites of Fourni and
Anemospilia, in the towns environs, are most certainly worth going out-of-your-way to see.
Archanes, itself, is a rather nice modern town, with the remains of a "palace"
complex, hidden beneath its centre. Tourkoyetonia, is the site of "palace"
complex, though this is not recognised as one of the five Minoan palaces of Crete
(Knossos, Malia, Zakros, Phaistos and Petras; don't ask me why; I would personally
include Archanes and Aghia Triadha to that list, as they seem to fit the bill!) but has
many of the same attributes: alters and a platform, as well as a central court, and
some fabulous examples of wall paintings (albeit rather fragmented ones). A couple of very
interesting finds, from this area, are a terracotta building, showing precisely
what a "Minoan" house (see pic below) - compare and contrast this to the one
found at Akrotiri on the island of Santorini (see pic below) - would have looked like. A
number of tiles had been found at Knossos, showing the make-up of the houses, but the
three dimensional nature of this, proved that the "capitals" on top of the
columns, were indeed square, and not "flags" as had been previously thought.
Another teracotta building, which may well be a Tholos tomb, can be seen in the
archaeological museum of Herakleion. The latter (see pic below), was found in instalments,
and features a woman, within a building (tholos tomb?), with two men and a dog on the
roof. It's protogeometric (c1000-900 BC), so a hundred years or so later than Bronze-age,
but nonetheless, a truly fascinating artifact. In the previous chapter, I mentioned
the hymn of Callimachus, which called "all Cretans lairs", as they had said that
Zeus was dead and buried in this area. Before excavations began in earnest, in the early
20th century, travellers made pilgrimages to Archanes, to try to find Zeus' grave; and
ironically enough, a Venetian coin was found in "Tholos tomb A", (q.v.
Sakellarakis) at Fourni (see below)
(windy caves), is one of the Aegean's most important archaeological sites, though it
wasn't until the late 1970's that this came to light. The subsequent excavation, affected
the island's whole Bronze-Age history, or at least people's perception of it. This is a
"spirit of place" site. There's not a great deal to see, but if you know a thing
or two about the site's grizzly background, I defy you to keep the hair on the back of
your neck, from doing a jig! In 1979, the team of, John (Yannis) and Efi
Sakellarakis, discovered a collapsed building, within which, lay evidence of the
previously unthinkable. The "'Minoans" (or more accurately, the people of Bronze
Age Crete), had always been thought of as a peaceful people, but within this collapsed
protopalatial (c.17th century BC) building, lay unequivocal evidence of a human
sacrifice. Tied to an alter, lay the skeleton of a man, whose throat had been cut,
much the way a bull would have been sacrificed (the knife, which was found upon his
skeleton, currently resides in the museum in
Archanes town, and has a rather strange, hybrid, boar-like animal on its blade). Three
other skeletons lay in or around the scene - a re-creation of which can be found here.
Within the "west room", were a "priest", a "priestess"
and, in the antechamber, as if attempting to escape, lay the remains of a fourth
body. This fourth person, had been carrying a vase, similar to those depicted on
sarcophagi, ordinarily used to collect blood from bull sacrifices. If the executors had
believed that this sacrifice would appease the Gods, they were very much mistaken. An
earthquake - presumably the reason for the sacrifice in the first place - caused the
building to collapse, trapping the killers in the very building used for their act. This
discovery caused outrage and enormous controversy in archaeological circles. Surely the
"Minoans" didn't do such things! Well, it would appear that they did! A later
find at Knossos, seems to prove that child-sacrifice - and perhaps even cannibalism - was
also practised, though - we hope - rarely! One of the interesting finds, was that of a
silver and iron ring, upon the skeletal fingers of the "priest" (who stood 5
foot, 10 inches tall 1.78 metres, so must have been a giant of a man, in those days, when the average
height of a "Minoan" male, was 1.67 metres or a little under 5'6" ). Iron
was a very valuable commodity indeed, back in those days; in fact this is the earliest
example of it being found in the Aegean; it's also - according to J
Lesley Fitton, in her book 'Minoans', the only Mycenaean or Minoan ring found in
position on the owner's finger. The building itself, is unique in Crete. A
couple of clay feet of the "xoanon"
(pic), are all that remains, of what once must have been a slightly larger-than-life-size
statue. According to the Sakellarakis', ('Archanes: Minoan Crete in a New Light') the feet
would have worn shoes at one stage! It would seem certain that the rest of the body was
wooden, and consequently destroyed by the fires that ravished the building - shortly after
the earthquake - due to the use of oil lamps. It was never rebuilt.
Fourni (Phourni): This is by far the largest Bronze-Age cemetery on
Crete. "Mycenaean" grave circles and funerary buildings co-exist at Fourni,
which lies just north of the town of Ano Archanes. The sheer time-span that this grave
complex encompasses, is staggering, covering, as it does, at least 1,300 years of burials.
The burial practice in those days, was to encase the body in a either a pithos (large
vase) or a sarcophagus, and plenty have been found. There are no fewer than five
"tholos" (roofed or vaulted) tombs, dubbed "bee-hive" by Arthur Evans.
One of these tombs, known as "Archanes
Tholos tomb A" (pic), had been known for years, and was even used as a
hiding place during W.W.II. According to J&E Sakellarakis, the tomb was known as the
"hut", by locals, and was clearly visible for all to see. Little did they know,
that this "hut" was close 3,500 years old (it dates to the beginning of the 14th
century BC), and had been used as a burial place for the dignitaries of Archanes. Whilst
there are other examples of Tholoi in Crete (such as the ones at Kamelari,
Apesokari, Koumasa and Platanos), this is the tallest of them all, at 5.04 metres
(16'6"); it's 4.31 metres (14'1") in diameter. The most interesting find,
as far as bodies are concerned, was that of a woman - judging from the jewellery - buried alongside a horse, which had been slaughtered for the privilege.
Iraklion and Archanes museums share the artefacts from this site.
The "Megaron" at Vathypetro, has been called a "little
palace", due to a defunct belief that this was an "out of town" residence,
for whoever resided in Archanes (seeing as the "summer palace" at Archanes was
believed to have been an out of town residence for whoever lived at Knossos, it all
becomes rather diluted!). The site lies a few KMs south-west of
Archanes Both a wine press - suggesting that the vineyards of this area are the
oldest source of wine in the world - and an oil press, have been found here, so it was a major development in its time. This was one of
Spiros Marinatos' excavations during the 1950s. Not one of his best efforts, though it was continued by John (Yannis) Sakellarakis in 1979. This is a major site;
it is close enough to other "more important" places, for you to be on your own,
if you fancy a visit, but as the 'Rough Guide to Crete' says, get there early, or you'll
be forced to look at the artefacts through a barred window!
Stelios Jackson 2004