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Central courtyard unearthed at the Minoan palace of Zominthos


A courtyard of the Minoan palace at Zominthos, where the rituals of the priesthood were performed, came to light during this year's excavations, which took place on Psiloritis under the direction of Dr. Efi Sapouna-Sakellaraki.


Central courtyard unearthed at the Minoan palace of Zominthos
The palace of Zominthos (in the background the outer wall of the north side) and its courtyard
paved with large slabss [Credit: Zominthos Project]

The courtyard is located at the northern entrance of the main building of the Neo-Palatial period (1700-1600 BC) and its discovery completes and clarifies fully the overall picture of the palace, which was huge and luxurious, measuring 1,800 sq.m. with 71 rooms on the ground floor - including workshops and storerooms - and with two phases.




The courtyard was built directly on top of an earlier layer of the Old Palace period, which provided new finds of particular interest, expanding our knowledge of the architecture and function of the palace, as well as its history.


Central courtyard unearthed at the Minoan palace of Zominthos
Excavation at the area outside of the north facade of the Central Building revealed
more slabs of the courtyard [Credit: Zominthos Project]

Central courtyard unearthed at the Minoan palace of Zominthos
The slabs of the palace courtyard lying sideways, following the slope of the adjacent hills
[Credit: Zominthos Project]

It was formed during the New Palace period, when the inhabitants of Zominthos returned after the great earthquake that had destroyed the original building to rebuild on the same site on top of the ruins a completely new palace, clearly taller, stately and robust, albeit slightly smaller in size. The open-air courtyard was essential for the operation of the Minoan palaces, as it was there, as we know, that both sporting events and rituals took place.


The courtyard of the palace of Zominthos (but also of Knossos, Archanes and Phaistos) is reached by a corridor from the interior of the building. It is the corridor on which, as shown by miniature frescoes of Knossos, women are walking in the familiar Minoan dress with their hands raised in ritual gestures. Other female figures appear to be watching the events from the windows of the building, while male figures are seen in the courtyard.


Central courtyard unearthed at the Minoan palace of Zominthos
Opening - water drain outlet to the outer wall of the buildings
[Credit: Zominthos Project]

Central courtyard unearthed at the Minoan palace of Zominthos
Stone drain that ran through the palace [Credit: Zominthos Project]

An extremely important event during this year's excavation period was the uncovering, under this paved courtyard, of buildings dating to the Old Palace Period (from 1900 BC) and occupying a large area of at least 100 square metres, confirming that the oldest palace was considerably larger. In particular, three rooms were identified, while, it should be noted, three others had been found earlier outside the boundaries of the courtyard, all of the Old Palace Period.




Numerous movable finds of this period were found under the slabs, including a large number of the so-called "eggcups", either intact or fragmentary, and fewer conical cups of various types, probably of Knossian origin, inside one of which there were small pieces of flint.


Central courtyard unearthed at the Minoan palace of Zominthos
Portable ritual altar with engraved symbols [Credit: Zominthos Project]

Central courtyard unearthed at the Minoan palace of Zominthos
Linear A tablet from the Archive Room at Zominthos [Credit: Zominthos Project]

There were also plates, trays, cylindrical relief vessels of the so-called 'snaketubes' type, large or miniature fruit bowls, sections of rock crystals, a stone inlay in a vessel, and so on. Many of these vessels were placed on benches. The condition of most of them, however, is fragmentary, as new constructions overlapped the older ones.


With this season the excavation at Zominth is coming to an end, although some time will still be required for it to be completed. Indeed, it should be noted that the palace of Zominthos is a candidate for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List, along with Knossos, Phaistos, Malia, Zakros and ancient Kydonia.


Central courtyard unearthed at the Minoan palace of Zominthos
Bronze, ritual double axe one of the many that came to light at Zominthos
[Credit: Zominthos Project]

Central courtyard unearthed at the Minoan palace of Zominthos
Seal-stone depicting two aquatic birds, from Area 2 [Credit: Zominthos Project]

The conclusions that have been drawn to date confirm the initial assessment that this building, the first and only Minoan palace on a mountain (altitude 1200 m) was a thriving religious centre.




It was the existence of the Idaion Cave on Mount Psiloritis (Ida) and its continuous operation over the centuries that had forced the rulers of Knossos to create an intermediate palatial settlement, both to control the sanctuary and to exploit the wealth of the mountain, but also for reasons of easier access for pilgrims (for many months in winter the Idaion Cave was inaccessible).


Central courtyard unearthed at the Minoan palace of Zominthos
Gold sheet with engraved representation of a ships [Credit: Zominthos Project]

Central courtyard unearthed at the Minoan palace of Zominthos
Conical cup, found containing small flints [Credit: Zominthos Project]

The discovery a few years ago of a portable ritual altar with symbols, as well as a hieroglyphic/Linear A inscribed tablet, discovered recently, refer, according to the experts, to the religious and administrative functions of the building in the Minoan period.


The excavation at Zominthos began in the 1980s by Yannis Sakellarakis and after a break was resumed from 2004 by him until 2010, when he passed away. Since then, from the following year until the present day it has been carried out under the responsibility of Efi Sapouna-Sakellaraki.


Central courtyard unearthed at the Minoan palace of Zominthos
Archaeologist Efi Sapouna-Sakellaraki during the excavation in Zominthos
[Credit: Zominthos Project]

During this period, a huge number of movable finds have come to light, which are now in the Archaeological Museum of Rethymnon, objects which speak of the religious character of the settlement, of its importance for Knossos - and only the fact of the construction of a new building after the destruction of the first one by an earthquake shows its importance - but also of the high standard of living of its inhabitants. A small information centre for the archaeological excavation of Zominthos and for the Idaion Cave has also been operating for five years in the town of Anogeia.


It should be noted that Yannis Sakellarakis had also identified the settlement next to the palace, although it had been greatly damaged, mainly due to the agricultural and livestock use of the area in modern times, while the cemetery, which has also been identified, was looted.


Author: M. Thermou | Source: Mononews [trsl. TANN; December 20, 2021]



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