Jiouchtas is located west of Archanes, about 10km south of Heraklion. It's a small lonely mountain with a maximum height of 811m, but it occupies a special position in the heart of the Cretans. Located in a unique landscape with vineyards and olive groves, it is bounded by fertile valleys on the north, the green Sylamiano Gorge on the east and the valley of the river Giofiros on the west.
In the ancient times it 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 grave. Indeed the name Jiouchtas is a corruption of the latin word for Zeus, Jupiter.
The mountain was very important for the Minoans since it was the first mountain they saw while their ships approached the shores of Crete. Here they built two Minoan sanctuaries, the one at the highest point of the mountain (Psili Korfi) and the second at the position Anemospilia. It is interesting, that a human skeleton was found in the latter shrine, lying on the altar with a knife thrust into its. This is considered the first evidence of human sacrifice by the Minoans, that survived in time probably because the building collapsed, possibly due to an earthquake, right at the time of sacrifice. There are also several caves on Jiouchtas, where significant cult objects were found, such as Hosto Nero and Stravomytis caves.
The Minoan civilization was later destroyed, but the worship of Jiouktas remains till today. Indeed, one of the highest peaks hosts the four-aisled temple of Lord Christ, from where the views are stunning to the entire Heraklion prefecture. The church is built on the edge of a steep towering cliff. The church celebrates on August 6 and for a week the mountain is lighted and visible from Heraklion city. To reach the church you could either walk the ascending trail starting from Archanes or, more easily, drive in the passable dirt road that stops in the church.
The mountain vegetation is low, but there are small clumps of cypress and pine trees in many areas. The inaccessible vertical cliffs of Jiouchtas are a unique haven for eagles and vultures. Indeed, the Venetian traveler Buondelmonti in his book describing the island of Crete (1418), makes a reference to an amazing story that took place in Jiouktas, which deserves mentioning here. When the traveler visited Arhanes, famous for its winery, he decided to climb the sacred mountain and see its top. There he saw two children chasing young eagles. One child was holding a rope and moved his friend down the vertical cliff to reach the nest of an eagle. Suddenly the mother of the chick came over and grabbed the boy, taking that in the sky. They all witnessed a dramatic miracle when the eagle flew up and safely transferred the scared child to a nearby spot, where she left it tenderly. This amazing story seems too far-fetched, it may was inspired by local stories, but we cannot be sure that it’s not true.
Fourni is a small lush green hill next to the picturesque Arhanes village, about 12km south of Heraklion. It takes its name after the local homonym preminoan cemetery, next to Knossano Gorge. Fourni can be accessed through Kato Arhanes, where you’ll meet signs leading there.
Climbing on Giouchtas is very easy because there is a very nicely marked and visible trail that crosses the mountain from one side to the other. Giouchtas has amazing and unobstructed views towards all directions, although it is quite low (its highest peak reaches 811m altitude). The trail that crosses the mountain starts right next to very famous archaeological site of Anemospilia and ascends to the south having panoramic views across the north side of the city of Heraklion, the Cretan Sea.
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.
The Knosano Gorge (or gorge of Saint Eirini) is the continuation of Mount Giouchta. It extends south of Archanes (Saint Mamas) it runs through Archanes in Kato Milos, where starts the subpart of Knossano gorge known as Sylamos Gorge, after the nearby village. This part is very beautiful with smooth cavernous rocks and huge plane trees, and is easily accessible by car as the road connecting Arhanes to Sylamos runs along the riverbed.
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.
The cavern of Hosto Nero is found in the region Selia of Youchtas mountain near the road that leads to the top of Afentis Christos. It is located at an altitude of about 720 meters in the southern top of the holy mountain and in order for anyone to see it he/she has to enter through a narrow hole. This cavern has 3 rooms and many corridors that connect them all with the first room of 7 meters length that has enough light because of its big opening.
The temple is one of the many in Crete dedicated to Saint Anthony, the "saint of the caves". It is a catacomb carved in the soft limestone of the area. Probably, it is the residue of an ancient temple or grave formed after widening a pre-existing cave. We should not overlook the existence of the several Minoan sacred caves on Mount Youchtas.
Many believed that somewhere in Jiouktas lived once the Apostle Paul. Indeed, within walking distance from the church of Christ there are the remains of a very interesting building that is connected to the hermitage of St. Paul.