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Archaeology

Academic Research > Archaeology > Minoan Sanctuary

11694: Academic Research > Archaeology

submitted by Vema Newspaper on 23.10.2006

Minoan Sanctuary

On top of a 350 m high hill, next to Avlemonas, Kythera, an intact Minoan summit-sanctuary was located and a number of artifacts was found. It was the sanctuary of a Minoan Colony, which was founded on the coast next to Avlemonas 4,000 years ago. The ruins of the Minoan settlement, now known as Paleopolis or Kastri, were found in the 50s. Nobody though had ever thought, that uphill, next to the small chapel of Saint George (Aghios Georgios), an intact Minoan summit-sanctuary was hidden. This is actually the unique summit-sanctuary ever found intact.

So, this sanctuary can reveal many details about the history of the Aegean Sea and the people, who since pre-historic times used to sail it with their wooden ships.

It is well known, that already by 2000 B.C. had the Minoans developed relations with the island of Kythera. Despite its self-sufficiency, Minoan Crete had developed strong economical ties with even more distant places. Many exotic products were imported to Crete from Egypt and the Orient, like ivory, hippopotamus teeth, ostrich eggs and gems, like amethyst, agate, sardonyx, hematite, onyx and halkydonite. There were found many artifacts on Crete, which were made of these materials, many already made artifacts were imported, too, like engraved stones from the Orient, stone pots, beetles from Egypt etc.

So, it was natural for Crete to develop commercial relations with closer places as well, like continental Greece, Minor Asia and the Aegean islands of the Dodekanese and the Cyclades. A number of archaeological discoveries in these various islands can confirm, that the Minoans had installed a network of supply and trade stations or colonies in strategic positions. Milos, Kea, Santorini, as excavations have showed, are the most characteristic examples. Not long ago, the presence of Minoans on Samothrace has been confirmed, while the excavations, which are presently being carried out in Militos, Minor Asia, reveal many Minoan elements, even remains of frescoes and pots carrying inscriptions in Linear A'. These discoveries remind of the myth about Militos, the grandson of King Minos and founder of Militos. Many other relatives of King Minos are said to have colonized other islands, too. "Minoa" is, according to tradition, the name given to many places in the Aegean Sea by Minos himself.

Kythera, an island located on the path to the Peloponnese, to continental Greece and the West, could not possibly be left out of this Aegean network of strategic positions, occupied by the Minoans. The first Minoan traces on the island were found in the 30s. In the 1960s, with the important excavation of the English School of Archaeology in Kastri, next to Avlemonas, the Minoan colonization was finally confirmed. The houses which were found, were typical Minoan, while their inhabitants were using in the same manner the same tools with the people on Crete. Their graves and burial customs were the same as well. The only thing missing from this colony was a summit-sanctuary. A 350 m high hill, just 4 km from the settlement in Kastri was carefully hiding its secrets until 1991.

In the few years that the excavation has lasted, the numerous discoveries confirmed day by day the Minoan worship on the island. Naturally, the artifacts, which were made of clay, were found smashed, their study though showed, that they belonged to different types varying from small bottles and cups, which were used to carry the humble liquid and solid offerings of the people to their Gods, to the big vats, where the priests used to store all the offerings. Many utensils of clay were clearly used during the worship ceremonies, like the "ryta", pots with a hole in order to pour the libation, or the "pyravna", the censers and finally the "kerni", pots with multiple cavities, in order to carry grains, which were later used during the Elefsinian Mysteries, too. There were also found many idols of clay representing men and animals, mostly bulls and a bird, which is not clear, whether it is a dove, the sacred bird of Aphrodite, who was mentioned by Homer with the surname "Kytheria". There was also found a vat, with the inscription of the potter's sign, which may be a ship. On the slope just a little lower, as if they had rolled there, the pieces of many big Minoan vats were found, bearing remarkable plastic decoration, like one piece with clams and sea-shells, reminding a marine landscape and other pieces of vats' brims with plastic depictions.

While until now 170 copper Minoan statuettes have been found, 83 more were found in Aghios Georgios. Among them a statuette of a woman with distinctive coiffure and dress folds, touching her forehead with her right hand in a venerating pose.

There were also many offerings found made of copper or clay, which are the most moving, an arm, a leg with a hole, so that it can be hanged, small heads, as well as other statuettes. All of them are so similar with our own ones and were offered to an unknown Minoan God.

The most luxurious utensils are made of stone; it is remarkable, that some of them are made of stone from the neighboring Lakonia, like porphyry and Spartan basalt, rocks that were exported to Crete. A small lamp, which was made of porphyry, was found; a fact leads us to assume, that some ceremonies took place at night. As some religion researchers have said, big fires were lit during open air ceremonies and probably the various votive offering were thrown in the fire, since some of them were found in ashes.

The most important discovery must be a small pot made of black steatite, with an inscription in Linear A', the first Minoan inscription ever found on Kythera. The three characters read da-ma-te, which refers of course to Goddess Demeter (Ceres).

It must be noted, that from the height of the 350 m of Aghios Georgios, it is possible to survey not only the southwest coast of the Peloponnese, from Cape Maleas to the Taygetos Mountain but a large part of the Aegean, too. When the sky is clear Antikythera and the mountains of Crete in the south can be seen, too; a very useful fact for the navigation of that time, while to the east are located Milos and Santorini. This specific point controls all the naval routes from North to South and from East to West. The important position of Aghios Georgios is mentioned in several documents, that date back to the times of the Venetian occupation; according to them, there was always a guard on top of Aghios Georgios hill (Capo San Giorgio for the Venetians) during the period between March and October, when all naval activity took place in the Aegean, in order to inform the Venetians on Crete with fire signals about the position of the Turkish fleet. So, why could not the Minoans light fires, apart from ceremonial ones, too? Kythera was for both Minoans and Venetians the sentry of Crete; whoever wanted to rule the Aegean, should hold Kythera, just like the last marine empire, England, did in the 19th century.

According to the discoveries, Cretans reached Kythera around 2000 B.C. and their colony prospered until around 1400, when the Minoan Empire collapsed. The discoveries on the hill are continuous and date up to our times, a fact which shows, that Aghios Georgios hill was never deserted. The Minoans lived up there until 1400, then came the Myceneans, the Greeks and then the Christians. Buildings were built and during those times, in the 6th or 7th century, the famous mosaic on the Aghios Georgios chapel's floor was made. During the same period the hill-top started to prosper once more. Many Byzantine coins were found, among which a "hyperpyron", a gold coated silver coin, depicting Emperor Vassilios II holding a scepter with his right hand and a globe with his left, on the one side, and Jesus sitting in a throne on the other side.

Today there are two Byzantine chapels on top of the hill. The first one is dedicated to Aghios Georgios (Saint George), after whom the hill was named and beside that there is the chapel of Panaghia Myrtidiotissa (Virgin Mary of Myrtia), where Aghios Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas) is celebrated, too. A few meters away, there is an arch-shaped cell, where the christian priests and maybe their predecessors, too used to live.

The discovery of the sanctuary begun a hot summer of August in 1991, when the editor of the "ESTIA" newspaper, Adonis Kyrou, climped the hill slope, which lays opposite to Avlemonas beach. Despite the fact, that he is an editor, he is well known for his passion for archaeology. As soon as he reached the top and realised, that there was a road on the other side of the hill, which he could have painlessly driven, he noticed on the ground next to his feet something, that looked like a cooper statuette. He soon found another one, while the whole area was filled with pottery fragments. It did not take him any longer to realise where he stood.

He called immediately the Professor of Pre-hestoric Archaeology John Sakellarakis and a few days later, he and his wife Efi Sakellaraki, also an archaeologist, came to Kythera. A short visit to Aghios Georgios was enough to convince the three of them, that they were standing on the summit-sanctuary of the Kastri Minoans. At once the Archaeological Service was told and the next year a short sample excavation was carried out. Everything showed that the hill-top was never deserted and that the sanctuary was intact

The material for this page was taken from the newspaper "TO VIMA" of October 10th, 1993 and "GAIORAMA-EXPERIMENT" magazine of May-June 1999 and translated by the web-site team, at

http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Delphi/3728/koryfe.html

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