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 Agii 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 Linear 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 Kofinas, Vrysinas, Petsofas, Traostalos, Karfi, etc. The Diktaean, Idaean and Kamares Caves also played a prominent role in the worship of gods.
Vathipetro is a very small settlement located 4km and 20km south of Archanes and Heraklion, respectively, in a location with spectacular views to Jiouchtas Mount and the vineyards south of it. Next to the village and the road connecting Arhanes to Ligortynos, a Minoan mansion has been excavated.
The mansion was firstly excavated in 1918, when four major sacred bronze axes were found. This fact, combined with the large number of religious objects in manufacturing stage, indicates that the mansion operated as a workshop for a Minoan priest who created religious objects. 700m west of the mansion, archaeologists have detected traces of a small Minoan settlement and a harbor.
At the east side of the long Karteros bay there is the small hill of Paleochora that hosted the Minoan settlement of Amnissos. The name is mentioned as a-mi-mi-so in the Linear B tablets. Amnisos findings include a Minoan harbor, several buildings and an outdoor archaic sanctuary, where Zeus was worshiped. The habitation Amnisos started in the 19th century BC.
At the east end of the long beach of Vathianos Kambos (Agii Theodori site) there is a rocky peninsula where we still can distinguish the carved rock that hosted a large shipbuilding yard during the Minoan Era. According to researchers this large carving with length of 48 meters and width of 11 meters, could produce 50m long ships, while on the south there is a smaller carving that probably was used for storing lumber. It is worth noting that the area around has sunk over the centuries the sea and there are bases of Minoan buildings inside and out of the sea. The carving probably flooded with water when the ship was ready to get lowered in water.
Kofinas is the highest peak in the wild Asterousia Range with an altitude of 1231m and gets its name from its shape resembles inverted basket (kofini in Greek). The top, with stunning views to the Libyan Sea, today hosts a temple of the Holy Cross (Timios Stavros), celebrating on September 14.
At the position that is currently the chapel of Agio Pnevma (Holy Spirit) at the summit of Mount Vrysinas (altitude 858m) the archaeologists have identified probably the most important Minoan Peak Sanctuary of West Crete. From this point one can overlook the northern coast and the province of Agios Vasilios.
Jiouchtas in the ancient times was considered a sacred mountain, mainly because it resembles a human face that looks to the sky from the northwest. Even today the human like mountain causes awe. According to the legend, this is the face of Zeus and the mountain is his tomb. Indeed the name Jiouchtas is a corruption of the Latin word for Zeus, Jupiter.
At position Anemospilia, on the north slopes of Mount Jiouchtas, the archeologists G. and E. Sakellarakis located in 1979 a small sanctuary of Minoan Crete that surprised the global archaeological community. This small sanctuary offered the first indication of human sacrifices in Minoan Crete.