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                                                        The Phaistos palace
Phaistos theater area

Ancient city of Crete, on the south side of the island. Located 20 stades (about 3600 m) far away from the sea and it's port was Matalon or Matala. Named from the hero Phaestos,  who was the founder, after he emigrated from Sicyon to establish the city. Other writers argue that Phaestos founded by Minos, together with Knossos and Cydonia. Homer mentions the city as a prosperous, sending soldiers at the mission against Troy.   

The literary sources gave attention to many researchers about the location of Phaistos. Finally, the identification made by the English captain Spratt (who travelled to Crete in the years 1851-53) in the easternmost of a series of hills that dominate in the Mesara Plain, south of the Geropotamos River (ancient name: Lithaios river).

The detection and the identification of Phaistos came through with main basis the texts of Strabo, who determined the position of Phaistos between the neighboring town of Gortyn (or Gortyna), Matala (port of phaistos) and the sea. In 1884, the Italian archaeologist Albert visited the area, the accidental discovery of protopalatial funeral gifts near the church of Saint Onuphrius, at the north of the area, and the discovery of the famous cave in Kamares on the slopes of the Psiloritis mountain (or mt Ida) opposite Phaistos, strengthened even more the interest to the archeological site.

The announcement of the Cretan State in 1898, created the conditions for excavation research in Phaistos. This period assigned to the Italian mission the right for excavations. After a preliminary survey, a series of boulders was noticed in the eastern hill. In June of 1900 systematic excavations started, and the discovery of the famous palace of Phaistos soon took place. The excavation and the discovery of the newer palace had virtually completed in 1909, although some additional work continued until 1914, and during 1930.

In 1950 the excavations continued in the area of Phaistos by the Italian Archaeological School of Athens. Big parts of the first palace discovered, wonderful colorful pottery of the kamares-style and an interesting series of signets. Around the palace, on the slopes and at the foot of the hill, should be extended the settlement, as shown the Minoan houses that revealed in the position Halara (eastern of the palace) and northern from the small church of Agia Fotini. The city probably extended to the north up to the village of Agios Ioannis.

In the south-west of Phaistos, in the position of Kamilari found a large tholos tomb with  richly findings. In the north-east of the city, at the position of Kalyvia, excavated by Stephanos Xanthoudidis tombs richly of funeral gifts, of the early Mycenaean period. In general, the remains of Phaistos occupy a large area, and covering with almost continuous residence, a lengthy period, which dates from the Neolithic Age to the late Hellenistic period.        

Houses relics of the Neolithic era were discovered in some positions below the floors of the west sector and the central courtyard of the palace. In the southern part of the courtyard also found a circular building of the same season. Other discoveries include pottery fragments, stone axes, obsidian blades and clay Votive figurines. Ceramic finds and relics of the pre-palatial period (2600-1900 BC) were discovered in the western sector, and at the peristyle of the northern sector. Pre-palatial findings were also found outside the facade of the old palaces, in the southwest area, and above the circular building that was previously reported.

The first palace was built about 2000 BC and is known today from the researches of Luigi Pernier and particularly from an important Italian archaeologist  Doro Levi, who discovered a large fraction of them. This section is on a lower level than the west courtyard and has a nice facade with a plastic outer shape, a cobbled courtyard, and a tower ledge with a ramp, which leads up to a higher level. The old palace was destroyed three times in a time period of about three centuries. After the first and second disaster, reconstruction and repairs were made, so there are distinguished three construction phases.    

After the last disaster, which occurred around 1700 BC, the old palace became inactive, and a radical reconstruction of the palace center was made. The form of the facades changed and terraces were built, located on a higher level than the previous. During this period the west facade of the old palace moved eastwards and the grand palaces of the neo-palatial period were shaped. The levels of the theater space, in conjunction with two splendid staircases, gave a grand access to the main hall of the Propylaea with the high doors. A twin gate led directly to the central courtyard through a street with a large width. The splendour of the rooms interior owed to the investment of the floors and walls with plates of sand and white gypsum stone. To the upper floors of the west sector existed spacious ceremonies rooms, although their exact restoration was not possible.

A brilliant entrance from the central courtyard was leading to the royal apartments in the north part of the palace, which they had view to the tops of Psiloritis, while for their construction had been used alabaster among other materials. For the princes particular rooms were used, smaller and less luxurious than the rooms of the royal departments. At the basements of the of the northern group was found the famous disk of Phaistos.

The workshops were gathered together around a courtyard in the eastern part of the palace, near the lustral basins (rooms used for ritual cleansing). The western part of the palace included stores and temples. In the center of the main courtyard a semicircled-shaped building was found, and maybe was a kind of furnace for melting copper. The life of the new palaces finally ended in the period between 1500 and 1450 BC, and at that specific period the same happened with all the major Minoan centers as well.   

This chronology becomes clear from the ceramics found, since there are missing the samples of the palatial style that developed in Knossos upon the next phase of the Minoan civilization. Also, there are no samples of the Linear script B.

During the late Mycenaean period (1200-1100 B.C), should have been inhabited many parts of
the palace. The life of the city continued during the historical times also, as with the excavations of the recent years came to light relics of the protogeometric and geometric phase (9th-7th century BC) in south-west of palace. The most important of the buildings of the archaic period is the temple of Rhea or Leto, located in the southeastern corner of the palace.

Characteristic findings of the archaic period are some impressive pithoi with relief decoration. Other geometric settlements have been discovered at the positions of Afentis Christ and Agia Fotini. At the position of Halara, east of the palace, were found houses of the hellenistic period with main characteristics the sculptured facade from limestone, and an existence of a scale, which show two continuous phases of occupation. Around 150 BC Phaistos defeated by the neighboring (and stronger then) town of Gortyna and completely destroyed.





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