13. RETHYMNON - IERAPETRA (by the
south coast) (see Map Rethymnon - Map Heraklion - Map Agios Nikolaos)
The Minoan Mansion of Agia Triada (Holy Trinity)
(Guarded archaeological site, open daily from 8:30 a.m. till
Giving a Christian name to a Minoan mansion can only sound like
a stupid joke. And yet it’s true. The Italian archaeologists
that excavated the place (1902 - 1905, 1910 - 1914, 1935) did
not find any clue about the name of the mansion, so they named
it after the deserted village nearby.
Map of Crete, Agia Triada
They could at least have borrowed the earlier name of the
village, Pirgiotissa (loosely translated as “The Tower
Lady”). The Minoan mansion of Pirgiotissa. Doesn’t
it sound better? But a place can only be named once.
The mansion of Agia Triada is not as old as the first Faistos
palace, nor is it as big. It was built at about the same time
as the second palace of Faistos (ca 1700 BC) and was in fact
very much in its shadow. It might have been the summer residence
of the Prince of Faistos, or, more likely, the base of some
independent landowner of the region. Yet the treasures found
here are every bit as magnificent as the findings in Knossos
and the other important Minoan settlements, and they have greatly
contributed to our image of the superb civilisation that flourished
in Minoan Crete. Today you can see them at the Archaeological
Museum of Iraklio.
Since 1902, the Italian archaeologists have brought to light
everything you can imagine! At the Reception Room they found
some of the most impressive naturalistic frescos of Minoan art.
Their graceful elegance is evident in the picture of the priestess
standing in front of an altar in an idyllic landscape full of
wild flowers. Somewhere around, a hungry cat stalks a pheasant
with utmost concentration. Right next to this room is the Lord’s
Agia Triada, Crete
Here the archaeologists found many clay seals, apparently used
on the lord’s... business mail and on the parcels he received.
the Treasury they found nineteen big tàlanda, large bronze
pieces weighing twenty-nine kilos each and used in business
transactions. Inside the Bedroom they found a bench made of
plaster, which served as a kind of bed frame, and the oil lamps
that once gave the room their soft light. At the west side of
the Altar Court and close to the Royal Apartments (which were
on the second floor, right above the Reception Room), the archaeologists
found two rità (ritual vessels) made of steatite (a soft
rock mineral). These bore some relief representations of everyday
scenes that have now become famous. On the first, a group of
men return home after the harvest to the sound of music, and
on the second a group of athletes practise wrestling, boxing
and bull leaping. At the Servants’ Quarters, a wonderful
steatite cup was brought to light, depicting a lively children’s
game: the King and his soldiers. The Main Storerooms were full
of large jars with carved or engraved decorative themes. (These
were used to store away the wine, the oil, and all the tasty
things that went into the meals that the occupants of the mansion
enjoyed in their symposia). Finally, the Sanctuary gave us three
ritual vessels with snake-shaped handles and traces of a wonderful
floor mosaic with octopuses and dolphins which the archaeologists
have managed to preserve.
But the most amazing finding, which told us the most about
the Minoan religion, is the box-shaped Sarcophagus (stone coffin)
found in a rectangular grave at the cemetery near the house
(about 150 metres to the northwest of it). This is covered on
all four sides with painted representations, not yet fully interpreted,
concerning the rituals and beliefs of the Minoans when it comes
to death. On one of its long sides you can see two priestesses
sacrificing a bull to the sound of music. The bull is tied on
the altar and his blood is carefully collected in a vessel.
On the other side you can see a priestess making a libation
to the gods.
She is accompanied by a musician and a second priestess carrying
sacred vessels, and she is surrounded by several sacred symbols
related to the beliefs of the Minoans about the afterlife and
to their funeral customs (these include the double axe, a vessel
with fruit, an altar and a tree). At
the other end the deceased receives the presents of three youths:
a ship (on which to travel to the “Islands of the Happy
Ones”) and two calves (to eat during his voyage). Finally,
on the two smaller sides there are some strange chariots. They
are driven by women and pulled by griffins, the mythological animals
that had the body of a lion and the wings of an eagle. Obviously,
inside the sarcophagus must have been a very important person.
Yet the artist who decorated it never thought of carving the name
of its occupant...
Agia Triada, Crete. Scene on a ritual vessel
The Agia Triada mansion was destroyed at the same time as the
palaces of Knossos and Faistos, and obviously by the same cause.
It was replaced with a considerably smaller Mègaro (mansion)
of the Mycenaean type, which must have been some sort of cult
centre since it was full of votive statues.
The settlement north of the Agia Triada mansion, however, continued
to exist even after the mansion was destroyed (see the area
marked by the dotted line on our sketch). At its east side you
can still see a row of eight shops (9) that served the needs
of the people. Then the place was abandoned for many centuries,
and it was once again inhabited during the Hellenistic years,
at which time a temple was built here in honour of Zeus Velchaios.
During the Roman years some art lover built his villa at this
place and it seems there was also a settlement. During the Venetian
and the Turkish rule there was a village of 150 people, mostly
Christians, but in 1897 the Turks attacked the village and slaughtered
its entire population. In our modern era, especially in the
last ten years, the place is “attacked” by the one
thousand people that come here daily. Welcome to Agia Triada!
of the information on this page : “Unexplored
Crete”, Road Editions. For more
guidebooks and maps of Greece, click here.