Phaestos and Ayia Triada

We visited Phaestos Palace and the outpost area of Ayia Triada today. The history of Phaestos Palace is long and varied even during the Bronze Age. The Palace commands the Zora plane and began its history in the Neolithic Age as a housing settlement. This area was further developed in the Bronze Age to become the important palatial site that is believed to be only second to Konosos. During the Bronze Age, Phaestos bloomed, but the proto-palatial structure collapsed after an earthquake and/or fire. After the destruction of the proto-palace, the structure was rebuilt during neo-palatial period (also during the Bronze Age). This neo-palatial structure was larger, grander, and wealthier looking than the proto-palace as one might expect. Eventually, this palace declined around 1,400 B.C.E. and was destroyed by 200 B.C.E. The Phaestos palace aided in the development of the proto-, neo-, and post-palatial dating periods which are still used by archaeologists to describe when a structure was built during the Aegean Bronze Age.


A view of the Zora plane from Phaestos Palace


We focused on noting the differences and similarities between Phaestos and  Malia, Gournia, and Kato Zakro. Central to all of this was a sense of ritual that Phaestos, unlike the other sites, attempted to garner. This sense of retual begins with entering the Palace from the west. The West Courtyard of Phaestos is unique in that it is broken into two levels or terraces which results in the names of “Upper West Court” and “Lower West Court.” The Upper West Court was plain and mainly contained the raised walkway that is possibly meant to be a processional pathway or to keep ones feet out of the water when it rains. Although the processional pathway seems more likely at first glance, there is also evidence of a drainage system in the Upper West Court lending support for keeping pedestrians out of the rain. The Lower West Court consisted of many features that we have talked about before such as a west wall with a grand entrance way, a theatrical area, and a shrine. Phaestos’ west wall used a system of recession that was used in other palace sites. This wall was built from large rectangular blocks with the second course recessed three or four inches back from where the first course was laid and the wall is recessed once again for the third course of about eight to nine inches. The grand entrance way makes a break in the west wall onto the Lower West Courtyard above the theatrical area. This grand entrance way is visually enhanced by large, wide staircases that lead to a single column in the entrance way. Behind the double staircase is a porch along with a row of three pillars which run parallel to the west wall. Beyond the porch and row of pillars is a light well. The theatrical area faces onto the courtyard and processional walk way. This theatrical area was used in both the proto- and neo-palatial periods, but about half of the steps were covered in the neo-palatial period by a substance called Ostraki. Ostraki is a cement-like substance that was used by the Minoans in a similar fashion to cement. An interesting feature noted about the theatrical area is the cult designs that were carved into at least two steps. One design was of a whirl and the other was of a star. Built into the theatrical space was a three room shrine.


View of the West Courtyard


The layout and combination of the of polythyra, porches, light wells, and lustral basins throughout the palace seemed formulaic. The repetition of polythyra opening into a porch that was backed with columns and then opened into a light well that was generally paved and had a drain to allow rainfall to be evacuated from the area. Another room design using the room elements of porches and light wells was discussed at Phaesos. In one room to the north there was a paved porch that had a door that oppened into a polythyron. This porch had a wall on three sides and columns on another. The porch opened onto a drained light well which opened onto a paved porch which had columns and a bench. This bench is interesting because it could have held idols or could have been used for seating. The second porch connected through a doorway to a lustral basins. We also found a peristyle in the north area of the palace. This area start with a polythyron that opens onto a porch which encompass a light well that has either a reservoir fountain or a large drain in the middle. To the East is another polythyron area that has a notable set-up. This polythydron opened onto two paved porches one of which was backed by a wall and had a door that opened into a light well and then opened into a lustral basin. The other porch was backed by columns and opened into a light well.

We also discussed Minoan frescoes. The Minoans, unlike the Egyptians, painted their frescoes while they were still wet. The figures in the Minoan frescoes appear to have been influenced by Egyptian figure forms, but had a unique Minoan character. This character consisted of curves which suggested movement unlike the rigidity of Egyptian figures. There appears to be a general theme in the frescoes of depicting women as white/pale whereas men tend to be painted red/tan. Figures also had thin waists, curly hair, and seemingly stood proud.

The second site we visited today was Ayia Triada. This site is considered important since it was an outpost for Phaestos and rose to power after the decline of Phaestos to become a considerable center of Mycenean culture in the area. The site is also notable for its Ashlar masonry. Ashlar masonry is a form of stone construction that allowed for greater strength and stability while providing for tall walls. This method of construction is comparable to a modern method of brick laying. One course of stones would be laid and then the next course  of stones would be laid on top such that where two stones joined on the first course , the stone for the second course would be laid.

Ayia Triada archaeological site
The Church of Aigos Georgios Galatas at Ayia Triada
Inside of the Church of Aigos Georgios Galatas

Author: johnwallx

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

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