Crete is the birthplace of the first European civilization, the Minoan, which flourished between 3000 BC and 1200 BC mainly in Central and Eastern Crete. Even today, the majestic palaces of Knossos, Phaestus, Malia, Zakros, Tylissos, Arhanes, Monastiraki, Galatas, Kydonia and the luxurious mansions at Agia Triada, Zominthos, Amnisos, Makrigialos, Vathipetro and Nerokouros reflect the splendor of the Minoan civilization through architectural, pottery, jewelry and painting masterpieces.
The Minoan fleet, the strongest of its era, as evidenced by several findings in the Mediterranean, brought wealth to Crete from the trade of the famous Cretan cypress and agricultural products. Built in large yards, such as the shipyard of Saint Theodori at Vathianos Kambos, ships were loaded with timber, honey, wine, pottery and olive oil from the ports of Dia, Katsambas, Komos, Zakros, Psira, Mochlos, Niros, Petras, sailing towards all directions of the Mediterranean as far as Scandinavia.
Women were equal to men and took part in all religious ceremonies, in sports, hunting, theater, dance, etc. Masterpieces of building architecture, painting, sculpture and goldsmithing continue to inspire even modern civilization. Linear A and Liner B Scripts remind of the Egyptian hieroglyphics, but they were original Greek scripts. Even today, the Disc of Phaestus is one of the most famous mysteries of archeology and deciphering of its symbols remains a riddle.
The worship of deities such as the Mother Goddess of fertility, the Mistress of the Animals, protector of cities, the household, the harvest, and the underworld dominated the religious tradition of the Minoans, who used many caves and mountain peaks as places of worship. Pilgrims from all over the island ascended to the peak sanctuaries of Youchtas and the cave of Hosto Nero to offer their votives, such as Minoan inscriptions or clay idols. Peak sanctuaries were also hosted atop summits Vrysinas, Petsofas, Traostalos, Zhou, Karfi, etc. The Diktaean, Idaean and Kamares Caves also played a prominent role in the worship of gods.
Knossos was the most important city on Crete before the Roman Era and the center of the first brilliant European civilization, the Minoan. The palace of King Minos is the most visited archaeological site in Crete with more than 1.000.000 visitors per year.
Phaestus (Phestos or Festos) was a Minoan city on Crete, the ruins of which are located 55km south of Heraklion. The city was already inhabited since 6000BC and prospered concurrently with the city of Knossos, till the 1st century BC.
At position Gaidourofas, at an altitude of 900 meters, near Anatoli village the archaelogists have revealed the traces of an imposing postminoan villa (1600 BC -1450 BC). The building had two floors and the walls are preserved to a height of 2m. There were found big jars and a crypt with pillars (Minoan sanctuary). Among the most important finds was a bronze ax.
The archaeological site of Malia is located 3km east of Malia, next to the wetland of the area and very close to the beach. It was an important Minoan city and housed the third largest Minoan palace, after Knossos and Phaestus. According to mythology, Sarpedon reigned here, who was brother of Minos and son of Zeus and Europa. Sarpedon was expelled by his brother Minos and then took refuge in Lycia in Asia Minor.
Zakros is located in a remote area of eastern Crete, 45km southeast of Sitia. Communication with the Mid East was faster from here during the Minoan Age, thus the Minoans built here the administrative center of Eastern Crete, with an important port. The findings are very rich (sheets of gold, ivory, jewelry, pottery, etc.) and prove the close relationship of the city with the ports of Cyprus, Egypt and the Middle East.
The palace of Archanes is located in the suburb Tourkogitonia of Archanes town. It came to light only in 1964 by Giannis Sakellarakis because, by then, only a few traces of the palace had been found. Some parts of the palace are still below the houses of modern Arhanes.
The Palace of Galatas is located 30km south of Heraklion, near Arkalochori, at an elevated position with views to south Crete and close to the Minoan sacred cave of Arkalochori.
The archaeological site of Ancient Tylisos is located 16km west of Heraklion, in a strategic location. Tylissos was a Minoan city that was flourished in 1650-1450 mainly because it was amid the road that led from Knossos to the west Minoan centers and Ida Mount. In 1450 it was destroyed, but was rebuilt and prospered until 1200.
Chrysokamino is located near the Cave Theriospilios in the area of Kavousi, Ierapetra province. At the site that locals called Golden Oven (chrysokamino), because they frequently found copper pieces, in 1900 the archaeologist H. Boyd spotted a metallurgy workshop that operated from 4500-3500 BC to the Minoan Era. The most important study and excavations since then took place after 1995.
The Minoan Kydonia was built at the current location of the old town of Chania. Kydonia was the third largest town of Minoan Crete. Here developed a thriving craft industry and the town became rich through sea trade, which was favored by its position. Indeed, the ancient writers mention Kydonia as the mother of the Cretan towns.
Ancient Zominthos is located 7km west of Anogia, on the road heading to the plateau of Nida. Discovered in 1982, Zominthos is one of the most important archaeological discoveries in Crete, compared my many to that of Knossos.
Northeast of the village Monastiraki, at position Kokkinos Harakas, the palatial Minoan buildings were brought to light from excavations that started in 1980. The palace covers an estimated area of about 300 acres and its core has been revealed up to now.
Remains of an extensive centre of the Old Palace period (1950-1700 B.C.) have been uncovered.at the site called Gournes, near the village of Apodoulou, at the west foot of Psiloritis. The site dominates the Amari valley and controls the main route to the Messara plain.
The archaeological site of Kommos is located 4km west of Phaestus, near Pitsidia and Matala. Kommos (or Komos) was a small Minoan town founded in 2000BC and served the port needs of Phaestus, with which it was linked by road. Kommos was probably destroyed by an earthquake in 1700BC, but survived up to the Hellenistic period.
The Minoan mansion of Sklavokambos was discovered in 1930, while constructing the main road to Anogia and part of it was destroyed by the works. It is a multiple-story building with a main room where a clay ox head was found, along with a Late Minoan IB period style jug and a stone rhyton. The building had at least 17 rooms.
The Minoan settlement located near the village of Nerokouros, by Chania, was excavated in 1977. At this point a Minoan mansion was built on palatial standards (tiled floors, polythyron, two floors). The villa was built in about 1600BC.
On the rocky hill Papouri, located northeast of the beach of Tripiti, high above the tavern, we meet the remains of a Minoan settlement. The first excavations were made in 1986-88 by archeologist Antonis Vasilakis. A vaulted tomb of 2800-2000BC was also been found 200m on the south.
Priniatikos Pirgos is a small peninsula that separates the two beaches of Agios Panteleimon Karavostasis upon which an important Minoan settlement has been identified. The settlement has been mapped by the American and Irish Archaeological School. It was inhabited from the Minoan till the Ottoman Era and was highly depended on its harbor. Important findings are kilns for ceramics production.
West of the village Tylisos in Malevizi province rises the mount Pirgos with its peak reaching an altitude of 684m. In this steep peak the archaeologist Stylianos Alexiou in 1963 identified one of the most important Minoan Peak Sanctuaries of Central Crete. Religious figurines and stone horns were found, and a rectangular building measuring 13m x 4.50m came to light. It can be reached by walking about 20 minutes from the nearest parking area that is reached by a rural road.
Rousolakos is located 91km southeast of Agios Nikolaos, right next to the beach of Hiona. Here, the archaeologists have discovered an important town of Minoan Crete covering an area of more than 50 acres, which flourished particularly at the end of the Minoan Age till 1450BC.