Archaeological sites of Archanes & Yuktas

The area of the fertile valley of Archanes and Mount Yuktas is located near the city of Heraklion and the Minoan palace complex of Knossos. As it is believed, it played a very significant role in the Minoan era, as well as later on. Considering the quantity and the quality of the finds unearthed at various locations, it most likely was an important economical, administrative and religious centre.

The place name Archanes is believed to be of great antiquity, probably pre-Hellenic. A remarkable Minoan town with a palace, similar to that of Knossos, flourished on the site of the present-day town of Archanes. North-west of the town, at the location of Phourni, a cemetery was discovered, which yielded finds that are considered indicative of the power and wealth of ancient Archanes. West of the town, at the location of Anemospilia, a large temple with possible traces of a human sacrifice was unearthed; these are the only ones that have been found on the island from the Minoan years. 

Perhaps the most important peak sanctuary of Minoan Crete as well as of the historical years, operated on top of Mount Yuktas, near Archanes. Minoan worshippers from Knossos, Archanes, and the rest of Crete, went there to honour their gods, to petition them to grant them their wishes, and to place their votive offerings for them. According to mythology, Zeus, the father of all gods, was buried on the anthropomorphic summit of Yuktas.

A little to the south, at the location of Livadi, the luxurious Minoan villa of Vathypetro was discovered.

Minoan Town & Palace at Archanes

A significant palatial town prospered on the site of modern-day Archanes throughout the Minoan period (2500-1400 BC). Habitation of the area carried on during the historical and subsequent years. Even though the great palace complex of Knossos was in close proximity, it seems that another important palatial centre was needed in the area; the rulers of Archanes actually not only controlled the fertile inland area, but also supervised the religious activity at the neighbouring peak sanctuary of Yuktas. The ruins of the Minoan town lie hidden today underneath the buildings of the current town.

Occupation of Archanes began in the Late Neolithic period, during which several small settlements were scattered in the area. With time, these settlements grew to form a unified urban spread, a changewhich came along the use of bronze, the development of trade and the gradual rise of the Minoan civilization. Remnants of this unified complex (3300-2000 BC) were found during excavations in several spots inside the town. Its prosperity is suggested by a multitude of finds from this period, uncovered in the cemetery at Phourni; these finds also bear witness to the trade relations that were formed with the Cyclades and Egypt

The first palace of Archanes was probably built at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, a time of change in Minoan society, when power was gathered in the palace complexes. Traces of this palace have been unearthed in various places inside the town, underneath buildings of the Neopalatial period. During the Prepalatial period, all individual residential areas were permanently merged together, forming large, unified Minoan towns. In these years, the importance of Archanes grewduetothe foundingofthe peak sanctuary of Yuktas and the temple at Anemospilia.

Circa 1700 BC, Crete was shaken by a massive earthquake, which caused the collapse of the palace and the Minoan town of Archanes; the intensity of the earthquake can be clearly seen in the excavated ruins and the finds from the temple at Anemospilia. However, thepalaceandthetownwererebuiltimmediatelyafter their destruction, andthen Archanesenjoyed a period of flourishing, as did the whole of Crete. This was the time of the so-called Minoan Thalassocracy (naval supremacy in the Aegean), and of the trading and cultural exchange with the East and Egypt. 

The new palace, the ruins of which can be seen today mainly in the area of Tourkogitonia, was a multi-storied, luxurious building with a central court, a throne room, royal apartments, light wells, workshops, storerooms, a theatre, walls decorated with frescoes, and it was similar in size to the other palace complexes of Crete. The prosperity of the Minoan town and the palace of Archanes was linked with the neighbouring peak sanctuary of Yuktas, a great attraction of its time, and an important centre of religious authority. Circa 1450 BC, an earthquake destroyed the new palace of Archanes, again; however, life in the town carried on even after the Mycenaeans arrived in Crete, a little later; the wealthy finds from the neighbouring cemetery indicate a town which continued to prosper. 

Cemetery at Phourni

One of the most remarkable prehistoric cemeteries in the whole of Aegean, and one of the most important archaeological sites of Crete was discovered on the hill of Phourni. The site is located between the current settlements of Epano Archànes and Kato Archanes, below Mount Yuktas, in a landscape thick with vineyards and olive groves.

The necropolis at Phourni was used from the third millennium BC until circa 1200 BC, and was the burial ground of the Minoans who lived in the town of Archanes. During the excavations conducted there several buildings were unearthed, most of which were funerary, while others probably had an auxiliary or a ritual use. It is believed that most of the tombs were used repeatedly. There were paved roads between the buildings, and a rainwater drainage system.

Numerous artefacts that are regarded as unique in their kind were found, evidence of the power and the wealth of the Minoan town of Archanes. Among others, clay larnakes (= decorated clay coffins), gold jewellery, necklaces, gold signet rings, ivory objects, etc were unearthed. Fortunately,whole, undisturbed royal tombs were also found. The finds recovered from the cemetery at Phourni are not only indicative of the wealth possessed by the local Minoans and a great source of information about their burial customs, they also witness the cultural exchange shared with the inhabitants of the Cyclades, of Egypt, and of the Syrian and the Phoenician shores. 

Minoan Temple at Anemospilia

A Minoan construction of remarkable character and architecture was revealed in 1979 at the location of Anemospilia, on the northern side of Mount Yuktas. It is a rectangular building with three rooms and a long corridor running along their northern side, which has little in common with the complex, labyrinthine architecture of other Minoan buildings.

According of archaeologists, this was a temple of the Protopalatial Minoan period, in the central room of which a wooden statue of the deity worshipped probably existed. It seems that the temple was destroyed in a violent manner during an earthquake, circa 1700 BC, before it had existed for a century.

The discovery of four human skeletons from the temple is considered of the utmost importance; not only does it highlight the site, but also its tragic, violent end. The first skeleton was found inside the temple, very near the exit; it lay on the ground, in a position of flight, crushed by wall masonry and materials fallen from the roof of the building on the moment of its collapse, due to the destructive earthquake. The other three skeletons were found in the room located far west; two of them, those of a male and a female, were also killed by the collapse of the roof and the fire that followed.

The fourth skeleton, however, that of a male individual, was found lying in a peculiar position (with one heel pulled back), maybe partly shackled, on an indoor altar-like construction, with a bronze knife on it. This is the unique trace of a possible human sacrifice that has ever been found in Minoan Crete. According to an opinion which was based on the archaeological context, this was most likely an occasion out of the ordinary, and it probably took place due to the extreme circumstances at hand, that is the tremendous earthquake which finally reduced the temple to ruins. 

In order to protect their community from utter destruction, the Minoans possibly thought necessary to sacrifice a human life, thus placing the ultimate offering conceivable, which would hopefully aid them to appease nature. 

Peak Sanctuary at Yuktas

For the Minoans, Yuktas was a sacred mountain, and the most significant peak sanctuary of the Minoan era was situated on its summit. In subsequent years, it was still considered an important centre for worship. In fact, it was also linked to Zeus; people believed that the father of the gods himself was buried there, probably because the mountain line, seen from the west, resembles a head of a lying man.

Systematic excavations conducted on the summit have revealed the premises of the peak sanctuary, and numerous finds that indicate its importance. This open-air sanctuary covered three levels. A built, rectangular altar was unearthed, as well as various buildings, which were possibly used as priests’ quarters. Near the sanctuary there is a cave-like chasm which most likely had a ritual use, since bronze double axes and other ritual objects were found in it. The whole area was surrounded by a Cyclopean wall.

During the excavation, a great number of votive offerings, statuettes, animal figurines, sealings, etc, were found near the altar. Among them were several artefacts from the Mycenaean and the Archaic period, finds that prove that the peak sanctuary of Yuktas continued to be a place of worship in the years that followed the Minoan era. 

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Additional Info

  • location Archanes & Yuktas, Archanes, Heraklio
  • type Minoan Palace, Ancient City/Town, Necropolis
  • time period Minoan Era
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