Malia and Gournia

There is a land called Crete in the midst of the wine-dark sea, a fair land and a rich, begirt with water, and therein are many men innumerable, and ninety cities.

— Homer, The Odyssey

We landed in Athens around mid-morning and quickly made our way to Piraeus to catch our ferry to Crete. Our journey took us through the night to Heraklion. Immediately after departing the boat, we found a bakery where I ordered two cheese pies which would become a staple for me throughout my trip.

A view of the Piraeus
The Piraeus
Sunrise in Heraklion
Good morning Heraklion!
Bakery on Crete
Starting the day off with some baked goods

Palaces at both sites were composed of courtyards, theatrical spaces, and magazines; however, some components such as lustrial basins, polyhedron, and sacrificial stones were unique to one site or the other. While courtyards and theatrical spaces might be relatively straightforward to visualize, magazines, sacrificial stones, lustrial basins and polyhedrons might not be. Below I describe the magazines and sacrificial stones in more detail. Lustrial basins are possibly best described as a room that someone can walk down into as if they were walking into a small basement and hooking around a corner to a wall made of dressed stones. These spaces illicit an vision of a place for ritualistic purification. The polyhedron (meaning “many doors”) is mostly comprised of pillars with a central plaza. The doors making up the walls could be opened or closed presumably altering airflow.

The lustral basin at Malia
A view of the lustral basin at Malia. This gives you an impression of what a lustral basin is, but they do range in size and depth.

At the site of Malia, my group investigated the pillar crypt and magazine areas. The pillar crypt is a room which contains two large squared pillars roughly four and a half to five feet tall which have symbols carved into them. These symbols are in the form of axes with a trident. Due to the room containing an alter, this room is believed to be where cult, or religious, activities were practiced. Magazines were used for the storage of goods and there appears to be some level of specialization in their use in that some areas appeared to be for dry goods (e.g. wheat, olives) while others were for wet goods (e.g. olive oil, wine). Wet good magazines had a sloped floor with a hole at the end of the slope. If a container cracked, all of the contents would presumably flow towards the hole allowing the contents to be recovered. Additionally, two major orientations seemed to be prevalent for the magazine rooms. The north-south oriented rooms seemingly stored dry goods whereas wet goods appeared to be oriented east-west.

In my opinion, the most interesting area at Malia was the theatrical space. Here people might have stood and watched something or talked. Although it seems impossible to know what the people were watching they could have been viewing theatrical productions, speeches, and/or religious rites. Secondarily, the shrine space at both Malia and Gournia appeared to be very interesting since it was segregated from the rest of the Palace. The shrine at Malia was particularly interesting since it contained benches which had clay feet on them. These clay feet are thought to be the remnants of idols left by worshipers.

Highlighting the differences between Malia and Gournia could easily be done by mentioning the lack of polythyros and lustrial basin at Gournia while a sacrifical stone was included. The sacrificial stone at Gournia is believed to allowed for the sacrificing of bulls. The bull would be tied down to the stone and its throat cut . The blood flowing from the dying bull would drain off the stone through a hole.

Building materials at both sites were different. At Malia, there were a wide variety of variously cobbled rocks held together with clay and dressed stones along with dried brick. Conversly, Gournia contained only piled stones with clay or motar to hold the rocks together. Furthermore, their cunstruction locations were different in that Malia was built close to the sea on a nearly level area whereas Gournia was built on a hill relatively far from sea. Conversley, Gournia had more defined pathways for entering the palatial area than Malia.

Gournia Palatial Site
A view of the Gournia Palatial Site

Author: johnwallx

NC State University PhD Student in Earth Science with a masters in Geographic Information Systems.

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