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You are in:  Top  →  Europe  →  GREECE  →  Crete  →  LASITHI  →  Ierapetra  →  Gournia

Gournia

The American archaeologist Harriet Boyd-Hawes excavated the town of Gournia. It is the best-preserved Minoan settlement from the period of the new Minoan palaces.
View of Gournia

Although the house-walls were very low, the visitor can get a feeling for the appearance of a Minoan town. It was divided into blocks with irregular streets between them and one gets the impression that the town grew haphazardly; there was no pre-arranged plan. A notable feature is the small palace which is placed in the center and which dominates the settlement, being also on a higher level.

Among the best-preserved houses are those of a carpenter (where some saws were found), of the potter, and of the smith Household items, tools and pottery were recovered from every section of the town.

On the top of the hill lies the palace, as it is called. It is better to regard it as the administrative centre, however. Although quite small (it is about 1/10 of the palace of Knossos) it has some characteristic palatial features. It has a West Court, a Central Court and magazines. We may have detected further resemblances had it not been so badly destroyed. The resemblance with the palaces is clearest along the west facade, where even the style of masonry is reminiscent of that of the palaces. The excavator has designated the Central Court as "Public Court", and she is right in so far as communal gatherings would have taken place there. If the theory that bull contests took place in the palaces of Crete is correct, then the "Public Court" at Gournia would have been the place to conduct them.

The town was destroyed at the same time as the Minoan palaces, c. 1450 BC. It was reoccupied later, however. From the reoccupation period comes a shrine, which was not far from the previous palace and to which a street led. The shrine contained a ledge and on it was found clay tubes with snakes modeled in relief, an offering table and a clay female figure with raised arms. The latter is a cult idol but whether she represents a Minoan goddess or a priestess is a problem.

The shrine at Gournia was a public one since it was a separate building and not part of a palace or villa. The room was 4 m long and 3 m wide, so that public participation would have been limited and only a few people at a time would have been able to visit.

The nature of the cult itself is elusive, but it had something to do with snakes. The clay cult idol of a woman, mentioned above, had a snake twisted around her body. It will be also remembered that there were clay tubes with snakes entwined around them.

What was the meaning of the snakes? Unfortunately we do not know if snakes represent chthonic powers of fertility or death or if they are simply manifestations of control over natural forces through human aid.

Dervishes, in the heart of Asia, handle poisonous snakes to demonstrate that they are under divine protection. It is possible that something similar was happening in Minoan Crete, although the other theory, relating snakes to chthonic powers has also much to recommend it. This is supported also by the fact that birds in clay were also found there. Thus we have the animals of the earth and sky par excellence represented in the Gournia shrine.

The Iraklion Archaeological Museum contains the majority of the items found on this site



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