Sunday, 15 September 2013

Gortyn & Phaistos

Today we drove to Gortyn located at the Messara Valley, near the village of Agioi Deka. Gortyn is crossed by the river Lithaios, today called Mitropolianos, that dominates the valley of Messara.

On our way we stopped at a lookout to look back at Hersonissos where we are staying

Views from the road on our way up through the mountains
The significance of the great ancient city of Gortyn is recognized and recorded in its rich mythological and religious tradition. Great gods, like Zeus, Europe and Demeter, but also semi gods, heroes and kings like Minos, Gortys, Rhadamanthys, as well as Iasion and the Minotaur play a leading role in its myths. Gortyn is also associated with the major figures of Christianity; the Apostles Paul and Titus, and the Holy Ten Martyrs.

Gortyn was one of the oldest and strongest cities in Crete during the prehistoric and historic period. The population of ancient Gortyn is believed to be 300.000 people. The Gortynians occupied Phaistos during the 3rd century B.C. During the Roman period reached the peak of its glory and it was the capital of Crete. Gortyn was the first city of Crete to accept Christianity, and maintained its glory until 828 A.D. when it was occupied and destroyed by the Saracens. Since then it was never inhabited again.

Saint Titus church at Gortyn bears the name of the Apostle Titus, attendant of Apostle Paul, who was appointed as the first Christian bishop of Crete. It is one of the most important Byzantine monuments in Crete. The name was given to the ruined church by the excavators in the beginning of the 20th c., as they considered it to be the site of the saint’s martyrdom. After the discovery of the new Great Early Byzantine Basilica, just outside the village Mitropolis, its excavators have proposed that as the original bishopric basilica, as it is a century earlier than this, which in the local tradition is named and celebrated after Virgin Mary, “Kera”. The church has the plan of a three aisled inscribed cross with a low vault. It has been built of ashlar limestone. It has a narthex to the west and five entrances three of which form the trivelum with two columns. There were pillars instead of columns. Its architectural features date its foundation in the 2nd half of the 6th c. AD.

Saint Titus Church

Ancient Olive Tree
Ancient olive trees. One tale says that the olive tree was created by Zeus because of a request by an aging couple to die together so neither would mourn; he granted their wish and made their bodies into an olive tree to commemorate their love.

The most important monuments of the ancient Gortyn are the ruins of the acropolis and the Odeum. The odeum of the ancient city was the place where parts of the great Law Code of Gortyn was discovered. The Gortyn Law was inscribed on stones. Four series of inscribed stones are preserved today, which constitute relics of great importance for the study of the epigraphy and Law of the time. The inscription is in a Dorian dialect and it was written at the end of the 6th century B.C.

Roman Odeum The Roman Odeum at Gortyn is considered one of the best and the most important of its type on Crete. Is has been founded at the North part of the Ancient Agora of the City. This semicircular building consists of three main parts: a. The Cavea, connected with a domed corridor through three wide staircases; b. the Orchestra, which has an internal diameter 8,5 m. and was paved with white and blue marble slabs; c. The Scene, which had two entrances and the paraskenion, with mosaic pavement in geometric pattern. Statues of Muses stood in the niches. Initially the building was a circular Ekklesiasterion founded in the 5th c. BC. In the portico of this public building the Great Inscription with the Law Code of Gortyn dated to the early 5th c., stood. It was destroyed twice: in the 1st century BC, and again in 46 AD. After this last destruction it was reconstructed as an Odeum. The great Inscription is considered to be the largest Greek inscription, the Queen of all Inscriptions. Its first fragments were found by the French travelers and were bought by the Louvre Museum. The most part of the Inscription was found accidentally by local farmers in 1884 and was further explored F. Halbherr. It is a Law Code inscribed in the boustrophedon system of writing. It dates in the 1st half of the 5th c. BC and is the oldest Greek and European Law Code. It consists of twelve Deltoi and was built in the Ekklesiasterion of the 5th c BC. In this Code older laws, regarding the personal and family rights of the citizens of Gortyn, were codified.


What is the Gortyna Code? The longest inscription in the ancient world is the fascinating Gortyna Code found at the ancient city of Gortyn on the island of Crete. What Else is Special About the Gortyna Code? The inscription is written in a continuous script called boustrophedon. This type of writing goes left to right in the first line, then right to left during the second line, requiring the reader to be adept at reading backwards half the time. It is said to follow the style of plowing a field, where the oxen and the plow turn at the end of each row. What does the Gortyna Code Contain? While it dates from about the Hellenic period or about the 6th century B.C.E., this long document detailing the legal rights of the citizenry is believed to retain some of the spirit of the law code of Rhadamanthys, once a king of Crete associated with nearby Phaistos, and, in later accounts, a judge of the dead and ruler of the Elysian fields. Why is the Gortyna Code Important? This gives a fascinating look into what was important to citizens living in a major town 2500 years ago. One of the "highlights" are visible changes in the inscription gradually diminishing some of the legal rights of inheritance for women, who once enjoyed complete equality - some say superiority - during the Minoan period a thousand years previously. Many of the surviving laws deal with the inheritance of property and the shift to brothers being favored over sisters in the transmission of wealth. But vestiges of the possible Minoan matriarchy survive - if a man fathered children on a slave, those children were also considered slaves. But if a free woman took a slave into her house and had children with him, her status was transmitted to her offspring and those children by her were considered freeborn. This is a remarkable difference. When was the Gortyna Code Discovered?

The Gortyna Code was found by an archaeologist named Halbherr in 1884. It was being used as part of a watermill. He finally won the right to excavate it and found twelve inscribed columns; the original number is unknown. Some odd omissions in the law code may have originally been covered on missing blocks. For example, there is no mention of a penalty for murder.

The Plane Tree of Zues & Europa
According to the myth, Zeus, disguised as a bull, coupled with Europe, whom he had brought from Phoenicia, under a deep- shaded plane tree on the banks of the Lethaios River. The offspring of this union were three sons, Minos, Sarpidon and Radamanthis. Later, the oldest Agora of the city of Gortyn, the Ekklesisterion (Congress hall), and the Roman Odeum were founded on this site. The plane tree was blessed and has remained ever green since that time. As his place of birth, the city was founded by King Minos himself. According to the myth, it was on the fields of Gortyn that the bull given as a gift to Minos by Poseidon coupled with the Queen Pasiphae and out of this union Minotaur was born.

The Gortyna olive tree has been declared by the Association of Cretan Olive Municipalities as a natural monument because of the Roman column that has been embedded inside the trunk. Obviously, the column was once placed in a trunk cavity but then the tree grew and caged it. The variety of the olive tree is called hontroelia grafted on a rootstock of a wild olive tree.

Our next stop was the Palace of Phaistos (Faestos, Phaestos, Faistos) which commands the Messara plain from its location on a low hill, and it is the second largest palace of Crete after Knossos. The site was inhabited since the late neolithic era with several well organized settlements on the hill and the surrounding area, and the first palace was built around 2000 BC. Excavations have unearthed a rich historical strata, and some ruins date back to neolithic times.

The palace, just like the other palaces of Minoan Crete, was destroyed three times before it was rebuilt on the ruins of the old buildings in 1700 BC. Aesthetically, Phaistos is built on the most spectacular setting of all palaces in Crete, high on a dramatic hill, overlooking the entire Messara plain framed by the Asterousia mountain range which is sprinkled with small villages to the south, and the Lasithi mountains to the East. Looking to the West one encounters the Messara gulf just beyond the low hill of Agia Triada, and the dramatic 2456m tall solid body of Mt. Idi, otherwise known as Psiloritis towers above when one gazes north.

The architecture of Phaistos is more simplified compared with Knossos, and it is built in an orderly arrangement that refers to a single architect. The building outlines and the ground plan is easily deciphered by the visitor at first glance, however further examination reveals the complexity built into the site over hundreds of years of destruction and rebuilding cycles. The complex of architectural elements is a delightful amalgam of the old and new palace structures. During the rebuilding of the palace in 1700 BC several of the rooms from the old palace were retained in the new building, and archaeologists today have excavated several areas of the new palace to reveal the older structures below. The pavement of the west courtyard along with the few bottom steps of the converging staircases have been exposed during modern excavations, for they were buried one meter deep when the new palace was built.

The exposed levels of the old palace which have been retained by the Minoans or exposed by archaeologists paint a picture of architectural intricacy which rivals this of the new palaces. The old levels are best preserved at Phaistos, more than in other palaces around Crete, and have prompted scholars to conclude that the complexity of the structures was not dramatically increased during the rebuilding of the Neopalatial period. The raised processional walkway which traverses the western courtyard diagonally in the old palace connected this area to the main courtyard after an abrupt turn at the south end of the palace. Today this part of the walkway is covered under the buildings of the Neopalatial era.

The main courtyard is vast and it retains its original pavement of stones, and it offers unobstructed views of the Messara plain. The irrigation works under the central courtyard and the entire palace indicate an emphasis on sanitation which was a priority for all Minoan palaces. The palace of Phaistos used the small river Ieropotamos at the foot of the hill for its water supply, along with some deep wells on the palace itself.

The builders of Phaistos took great care to create a functional as well as an aesthetically pleasing environment, which accommodated the spectacular views from the hill. The buildings are arranged around expansive courtyards following the uneven surface of the hill, and with their walls enclose the panorama of the Messara plain and Mount Idi to the south and North respectively. The spectators sitting at the theatre would have had a great view of the south and the east. According to Vincent Scully, the buildings of the palace were constructed in such a way that the open areas were always enclosed on one side by a palace wall, and on the other side by a major mountain mass.

Phaistos was the home of Radamanthis, the brother of the legendary king of Minos. The palace continued to be used even after its destruction of 1400 BC, although it gradually lost its power until the emerging centre of nearby Gortyn destroyed it finally in 200 BC.

The Upper Court

Carving on the step

The processional causeway leading up to the stairs

Kouloures (Depositories for offerings from Palace Shrines)

The magazine of the Giant Pithoi

Engraving on the doorway

The North Wing

The shrines of the West Wing

The views from this palace site are breathtaking 

The stepped structure to the left are thought to be an altar for ceremonies

The East Wing Complex

The North East Complex

This may be the chamber where the Phaistos Disc was found

The King's Megaron

The Queen's Megaron

This staircase captivated me the stone itself was amazing the tops of the stairs were so smooth and the erosion on the side amazing - they lead from the Queens chamber to the Upper Court area

Looking back down onto the Queen's chamber with a staircase at the rear 

Stairs going down to the processional causeway

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