Touring Heraklion Prefecture - From Heraklion to Viannos
Years of research by archaeologists have established that Knossos was the centre of Minoan civilization, and that it remained one of the most important cities of Crete throughout antiquity.
It was discovered more than a century ago, bringing to light the forgotten culture of the Minoans.
In the 19th century, the site of the city of Knossos was a low hill known as Tselebis or Kefalas hill, from the name of the Turk who owned the land.
The river Kairatos flows through the site;
it has its source near the village of Archanes and debouches at Katsambas, the port of Knossos.
In order to picture what Knossos looked like in antiquity, it is necessary to imagine the landscape free of the human interventions that have taken place, especially during the 20th century.
The Kairatos flew all year long, arable field were fewer, and the tops of the hills were covered with oak trees and cypresses.
The name of the man who first investigated Knossos in 1878 was Minos Kalokairinos.
His discoveries attracted the attention of the international scientific community and in 1900, Arthur Evans began excavations that were completed in 1931.
It is to Evans' dedication and imagination that we owe the extensive restoration of the ancient site that was considered a pioneering work in its time, almost a century ago.
Research is still going on, and a conservation project is also under way.
Today the settlement of Knossos has approximately 400 inhabitants, living mainly from tourism and agriculture.
Archanes – The village of Archanes lies in an enclosed plain on the southern edge of the Heraklion district and to the east of Mount Juktas and the hill of Phourni.
It lies 15 km from Knossos, and the southern road connects them both to the plain of Messara.
The name Archanes is derived from the Indo-European root 'ach', which denotes water (cf. e.g. the river Acheloos, or the lake Acherousia).
Here is the source of the River Kairatos (today called Katsambas), which runs through the valley of Heraklion.
Archanes was first inhabited in the late Neolithic period.
The first agglomeration of houses soon evolved into a rich, though scattered settlement, with a burial ground at Phourni.
Upper Archanes has been inhabited without interruption for thousands of years.
The palace, on a site in the old Turkish district and in Ierolonchiton Street, has only been partly excavated. Other sections of the palace, the archive and the theatre, have been discovered to the east, in Kapetanakis Street and next to the Church of Agios Nikolaos (excavations in the Turkish district are still under way).
The Palace was destroyed by earthquake and fire in 1450 BC. The building was three storeys high, and remarkably luxurious.
Part of a court is visible to the east.
In its centre, the archaeologists discovered an exedra (platform) surrounded by an enclosure wall, with a stepped altar, while a stone sewage pipe covered with flagstones runs the length of the courtyard starting from the exedra, and on, to the west.
A monumental entrance flanked by two pillars was discovered on the north side, with doors and four altars on its right side, which led to corridors, a staircase and a room with a light well, where religious rituals were held.
Although the function of the rest of the rooms is not clear, ritual objects (sacred horns, figurines, vases etc.) were found everywhere.
The signs of the catastrophe that destroyed the building are obvious.
In the court one can see stone plinths hurled down by the earthquake, and signs of fire have been found everywhere.
The hill of Phourni to the west of the road linking Upper to Lower Archanes, is where the most important burial ground of prehistoric Crete was discovered.
The burials found until now have been dated from the Pre-Palatial to the Minoan periods.
All known types of burial have been identified: grave enclosures, chamber tombs with vaulted roofs (tholoi) of the Pre-Palatial and the Mycenaean periods, ancillary buildings (ossuaries, places of worship) and paved roads.
The entrances to most of the graves face east, at the end of the paved Minoan road that began in Upper Archanes.
Alternatively it is possible to drive there from the exit of lower Archanes.
We recommend that the tour begin from the Minoan burials to the north, as excavations are still under way.
In the northern foothills of Mt. Juktas, at Anemospilia, archaeologists discovered the only free-standing Minoan temple, facing the valley of Heraklion and the Aegean, Mount Dikti and Mount Ida to the east and west.
It was built in the 17th century BC and destroyed less than a century later, in approximately 1600 BC.
It consists of six long and narrow rooms connected to another room at right angles to them – where the entrance is – on the south side.
The east room (to the left of the entrance) served to receive non-blood offerings. The central room held remains of the statue of the deity, made of various materials (clay legs, wooden torso and possibly, covered in tasseled cloth).
The west room served to receive blood sacrifices.
This is where archaeologists found evidence of the famous human sacrifice: a young man of 18, who had just been sacrificed when the temple collapsed.
Next to him lay the bodies of a priest and a priestess, while another body was found in the antechamber.
The purpose of the human sacrifice was probably to avert the earthquake that destroyed the temple, which was never used again.
Apart from boasting an important archaeological site, Archanes is also a beautiful village, whose inhabitants have shown great respect for its traditional architecture, without foregoing modern comforts.
The village also house an Archaeological Museum worth seeing.
In Vathypetro, near Archanes, excavations have brought to light a Minoan villa, a well-preserved olive-press, a wine press, and a storeroom containing jars. (In fact vineyards are still cultivated in the area).
The distinguishing feature of this archaeological site is a tripartite sanctuary that was found within the villa’s precinct.
Peza – is one of the vine-growing centres of the Heraklion region, and its agricultural cooperative of the same name produces excellent wine.
There are several picturesque villages in the area,
such as Kounavi, Melesses and others that are not usually mentioned in tourist guides, but which nevertheless offer the traveler a chance for a pleasant short rest.
Near Houdetsi, visitors can see the Epanosifi Monastery, one of the great monasteries of Crete.
In the village of Myrtia (also known as Varvari), the Nikos Kazantzakis Museum is also worth a visit.
Angarathou Monastery was a major monastery from the 16th century onwards (one of its abbots was own brother to Patriarch Cyrillus Lucaris).
Its importance is attested to by the monastery’s size as well as the wealth of objects it owned.
The traditional method of crafting large-sized ceramic pots (or pitharia), a basic storage facility in Crete from the Minoan era to this very day, has been maintained.
If visitors are heading towards the picturesque village of Sambas, on the way to Kastelli, it is worth visiting the Church of Sklaverohori, whose frescoes are regarded as important in the island’s history of Byzantine iconography.
Kastelli Pediados (of the plain), a picturesque place, is the region’s main town.
The remains of ancient Lyttos, one of Crete’s most powerful Doric cities, are located at a hill close to Kastelli.
A northerly direction from here connects with a road that leads to the Lasithi Plateau.
A pit-stop along this scenic route, at Avdos, a village that has maintained its traditional architecture, is highly recommended.
A Byzantine church at the centre of the village features worthy 14th century frescoes.
The Keras Monastery, or Kardiotissas Monastery as it is officially known, is an old and impressive monastery renowned for its miracle-working icon of the Virgin Mary.
It was stolen in 1498 and transferred to Rome where Catholics worship the icon.
The Cretan monastery now has a copy of the original icon, dating from 1725, which is also believed to perform miracles.
Alternatively, the traveler may head from Peza to Arkalohori, and from there to the Heraklion prefectures’ south-eastern side.
Arkalohori, an important village in the region, is the home of Napoleon Soukatzidis, a freedom fighter who opted to be executed by the Germans rather than avoid death at the expense of a fellow-prisoner in the concentration camp where he was being held.
Remains of ancient Arcadia, also known as Arkades, lie close to the village of Panagia.
Peak sanctuaries were an important part of the Minoan religion. A sanctuary existed on the summit of Mt. Kofinas, a dry and rocky mountain on the eastern side of Asterousa.Nowadays the peak is occupied by the Church of Timios Stavros, dedicated to the Holy Cross. Older religious practices are still adhered to, such as the worship of sacred trees, while until the 1970s, bread would be blessed on a Minoan table of offerings!
The village Kapetaniana provides access to Koudouma Monastery, which was constructed by two monks in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is the region’s only surviving monastery though there were many here in the past.
The nearby Treis Ekklisies beach is impressive. Tsoutsouros is a rapidly developing tourist resort in the area.
Inatos, the ancient port of Priansos, was located here. During the Minoan era, the cave in the area was used as a place of worship.
The Viannos district and Pano Viannos, the region’s main village, are worth visiting.
To the the area’s mountainous aspect, visits to Kato Symi and abandoned Ano Symi, both gorgeous villages up on the mountains, are a must.
An important sanctuary dedicated to Hermes and Aphrodite has been discovered close to Symi.
It was used continuously between 1600 BC and 300 AD.
Other features of the Viannos district include fantastic beaches. Keratokambos, Arvi – there are plenty of banana plantations here – as well as the gorge of Arvi are all well worth seeing.
Further to the east lies the scenic village of Psari Forada, renowned for its wide open beach and cultural events during summer.
The road heading in the same easterly direction, leads to the border between the Heraklion and the Lasithi prefectures.
There lies the village of Tertsa and its charming beach.
excerpt from Explorer Guide Crete