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Rethymnon - Ierapetra

 

13. RETHYMNON - IERAPETRA (Following the south coast) (see Map 1 - Map 2 - Map 3 )

13.1 Rethymnon to Agia Galini 13.2 Agia Galini 13.3 Palace of Faistos 13.4 Agia Triada
13.5 Gortina or Gortyna 13.6 Asterroussia route 13.7 Levin  

The Palace of Faistos (Phaistos or Festos)

(Guarded archaeological site, open daily from 8:30 a.m. till 3:00 p.m.)
There was a time when our distant ancestors - or perhaps not so distant, just ten or twelve thousand years in the past - survived on what the good God provided them. They hunted (delicious) wild boars and deer, gathered juicy fruits from the trees, and slept in cool and quiet caves.

Map, Rethymnon to Agia Galini

The only things they produced with their hands were a few stone tools and weapons which made their lives a bit easier. Then one day between the years 10,000 and 8,000 BC, an idea suddenly sprang in their primitive minds: “Instead of exhausting ourselves hunting wild beasts, why don’t we catch a few, build a wall around them, tame them, and eat them whenever we are hungry? Why put so much effort and do such dangerous things?” So they stopped wandering around in search of food and sleeping in caves, and they built the first pens for the animals and the first huts for themselves at places that made them feel secure. Then they thought: “Why tire ourselves gathering fruits and vegetables from wherever God made them grow? Why not grow them ourselves near our homes to cover our needs?” And so it was that humankind took a big step forward - though perhaps in a less simple manner than we seem to suggest - and from the Palaeolithic wandering hunters and fruit gatherers evolved the farmers and shepherds of the Neolithic age.

The places where people chose to build their settlements were usually hilltops surrounded by fertile valleys. The hills were not very low (so as to function as good look-out posts), but they were not very tall either (so as to afford easy access to the fields).

It was on such a hill (100 metres tall) at the west side of the Messara valley that a group of people chose to build a settlement somewhere around 3000 BC. (Today the hill is known as Kastri). At their feet was a fertile valley with a big river (today known as Geropotamos) and at a short distance in the west was the sea.

Faistos , Phaistos,  Festos

The people had a magnificent view of the valley from their courtyards, which must have given them a feeling of security and euphoria. (If you happen to be here at sunset you will understand why). The excavations that took place here revealed vestiges of their huts, the hearths where they gathered to warm themselves or cook over the fire, and many beautiful clay vessels with a unique for the time decoration. This was characterised by the use of a red colouring substance on a polished black surface.

The human presence on the hill was uninterrupted until the early Byzantine period. The first Neolithic settlement was succeeded by a very powerful and wealthy Minoan town built on the same site, which flourished especially in the period between 1900 BC, when the first Minoan palace was built, and 1400 BC, when the second Minoan palace was destroyed. The name of this town, Faistos, survived thanks to the ancient writers and the Linear B tablets found in Knossos. If we had to rely only on the archaeological findings we have from the place, we would not know its name today, just like we don’t know the names of so many other Minoan settlements, large or small. The craftsmen of the time spent years and years building magnificent palaces and towns, but they never thought of putting in a few hours in order to carve a name somewhere...

The exact site of Faistos was determined for the first time in the middle of the 19th century by the British admiral T.B.A. Spratt. Yet the excavation of the area did not start until 1900, when the Italian School of Archaeology sent a team led by Professor Federico Halbherr. In 1909 it was interrupted, in 1928 it was resumed for another four years (1928 - 1932), and in 1952 it was once again resumed, always by the Italians, who continue the excavation to this day. The findings brought to light are quite important but, as they date from the entire period that there was a settlement on the hill, the non-expert gets easily confused in a maze of ruins spanning several centuries. In an 18,000 square metre area you will see, built one on top of the other, the ruins of: the first Minoan palace that was built in 1900 BC and destroyed by an earthquake in 1700 BC;

Disk of Faistos ( Phaistos )

the second Minoan palace that was built right after the destruction of the first and was also destroyed, sometime around 1400 BC, either by an earthquake or by invaders who came suddenly and razed everything to the ground; the settlement that was built on top of the palace ruins and flourished during the Mycenaean and Geometric period (1400 - 700 BC); and the buildings of the Hellenistic and the Roman times. To explore the area, take out your map and enter bravely. We shall see how well you do with labyrinths!

As you walk on the paved passage that leads to the archaeological site, you will pass the EOT (GNTO) kiosk and the window where you pay the inevitable thousand drachmas, and then enter the site from the norhtwest. You will go down the steps (1) that belonged to the first palace, passing on your right-hand side the ruins of a house (2) of the hellenistic times (ca 200 BC), which was built on the ruins of a Neolithic house of approximately 3000 BC, and you will find yourself at the West Court (3), which belonged to the first as well as the second palace! Now go to the seats (4) at the north end of the West Court and sit down to figure our where everything is. Take a few deep breaths, relax, and let your eyes wander over this well built court. Imagine that you are watching the tavrokathàpsia (bull-leaping shows) that took place here in which the Minoan athletes grasped the bull by the horns and vaulted or somersaulted over him. Imagine the lords of the place speaking to an audience and the priests proceeding out of the Sanctuary (5) in order to conduct a religious ceremony. Imagine dainty Minoan girls from the cream of the aristocracy taking

Faistos , Phaistos,  Festos

their walk in the twilight and people passing by the merchants’ stalls. In front of you and to the left, picture the west front of the first palace, rising two or three storeys high, and seven or eight metres behind it that of the second palace, with a length of about a hundred metres and impressive alcoves and projections. Exactly to your left is the Main Stairway (6) with twelve steps, 13.5 metres wide, that end before the majestic-looking entrance (The Propylaea, 7). What makes the stairway seem so impressive? If you observe the steps for a minute, you will see that they are thicker at the centre than at the ends! Now that you have observed them, go up the steps in a slow ritualistic manner, pass (from the right or left) the big column that supported the front part of the Propylaea - with your eyes you can see only the base of it but with your imagination you can see it whole - and enter the main room from the right or left gate respectively.

At the north wall of the Propylaea was a gate leading to a wide, well built stairway (8), at the top of which were the Royal Apartments of the second and third floor. These have not survived, unfortunately, but you can still stand on the same steps that the all-powerful Minoan King walked on when he retired to his quarters.

Much further and to the right is a small stairway (9) leading to the Main Court (10), which was common for both palaces. It was here that everything took place. Judging from the representation on the famous Aghia Triada ritò (a type of ritual vessel), which shows athletic games taking place in front of colonnades, athletic games must have indeed taken place here. This was also where the carts with the palace provisions passed as evidenced by the wheel marks on the south side of the court (11). Finally, it was the place where the storerooms of the first palace were built. In these storerooms, the archaeologists found a huge collection of clay sealings (over 6500 clay balls with impressions from approximately 300 different seals), as well as many clay tablets with inscriptions in Linear A, a syllabary that has yet to be deciphered.

The facades of the buildings surrounding the Main Court must have been very impressive and elaborately decorated, although we have no traces of frescos. At the north part of the court is a gate (12) leading to a paved passageway decorated with half columns and niches. This takes you to an inner court (13) from where you can visit two of the most beautiful places of the second palace frequented by the King and those around him. One is a room (14) that had two open sides, the east one leading to an open yard and the north affording a wonderful view of the slopes of Idi. The other is a peristyle court (15) which was open from the north side (also affording a view of the mountain) and which was at the centre of the royal apartments from where it could be reached.
At the north side of the archaeological site were several apartments of the first palace. In one of these (16) the Italians discovered the famous Faistos Disc, a clay disc with a text on both sides of it. This includes 241 symbols in a sort of spiral arrangement and it is still a puzzle to the experts.

After the second palace was destroyed the place continued to be inhabited, although there was never a third palace. Faistos lost its old glamour, but it managed to remain a self-governed city that lived on for at least another thousand years and had a fairly large population. At about the middle of the 3rd century BC it came under the power of Gortina, and at about 160 BC the Gortinians, God knows why, destroyed it entirely. This was the final blow for one of the most splendid centres of the Minoan civilisation...

The few inscriptions we have from Faistos are all in Linear A, the undeciphered code, and there are none in Linear B to reveal the town’s history and the names of its great lords. As a result, the only names that have come down to us are that of Radamanthys, a mythological king of Faistos and brother of King Minos, and Epimenides, a philosopher that was born here in the 6th century BC and was one of the seven wise men of ancient Greece. The latter was supposed to have slept for 40 years straight and to have lived 150 years! But as long as he may have lived, he, too, succumbed to the fate of humanity. Like the rest of his fellow citizens and the town itself, he died, and Time enveloped him in utter darkness. Maybe this darkness will be partly dissolved when the archaeologists find the lost graveyards or the royal burial site of Faistos.


THE ROUTES THE ROUTES

Routes starting from Hania

Hania
1. Hania - Akrotiri
2. Hania - Paleochora
3. Hania - Sameria
4. Hania - Hora Sfakion (Sfakia)
5. Hania - Kissamos (Kasteli)

Routes starting from Kissamos
Kissamos (Kasteli)
6. Kissamos - Gramvoussa
7. Kissamos - Elafonissos
8. Kissamos - Paleochora (through the Topolian Gorge)
9. Kissamos - Paleochora (through Episkopi)
10. Kissamos - Sirikari

Routes starting from Hora Sfakion (Sfakia)
11. Hora Sfakion - Rethimno (Rethymnon) (travelling inland)
12. Hora Sfakion - Rethimno (Rethymnon) (following the coast)

Routes starting from Rethimno (Rethymnon)
Rethimno (Rethymnon)
13. Rethimno - Ierapetra (following the south coast)
14. Rethimno - Ierapetra (travelling inland)

Routes starting from Ierapetra
Ierapetra
15. Ierapetra - Zakros (coastal road)
16. Ierapetra - Zakros (inland route)

Routes starting from Iraklio (Heraklion)
Iraklio (Heraklion)
17. Heraklion - Rethymnon (coastal road)
18. Heraklion - Rethymnon (travelling inland)
19.Heraklioon - Agios Nikolaos (coastal road)
20. Heraklioon - Agios Nikolaos (travelling inland)

Routes starting from Agios Nikolaos
Agios Nikolaos
21. Agios Nikolaos - Zakros


Source of the information on this page : “Unexplored Crete”, Road Editions. For more guidebooks and maps of Greece, click here.

 

Tip of the day

In the small but organized city museum you will see findings from excavations in ancient Kissamos and its surrounding areas. The museum’s collection includes floor mosaics of 2nd and 3rd century houses found in Kissamos city, as well as findings from the archeological sites of Polirrinia and Falasarna (mainly statues, reliefs and ceramics dating back to the Hellenistic and Roman times).
The present town is famous for its amazing wine which is produced here and is celebrated with “the Feast of Wine" at the beginning of August. During the feast local wine is offered in great quantities under the sound of lyre and lute and in a very enthusiastic atmosphere.
The beaches surrounding Kastelli that you can visit for swimming in the homonym gulf are Molos beach covered by thick pebbles, Ghipedo beach surrounded by trees and Telonio beach with view of the Venetian walls. It is better though to take the road to the famous Gramvousa peninsula.

 

 

 

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