Perched 1200 meters above sea level on an isolated plateau in the shadow of Mt. Psilotirits on Crete, the Palace of Zominthos is an extraordinary place. The complex of three-story buildings here served as a sacred temple for the Minoans some 4000 years ago. New finds there today, reveal more about the mysterious Minoan Civilization.
The latest excavations at the site of Zominthos bring to light groundbreaking information and finds including two new entrances and a staircase in the Minoan-era palace. A recent six-week dig carried out by Dr. Efi Sapouna-Sakellarakis, the wife of the late Yannis Sakellarakis, the former head of the excavation works and one of the world’s leading experts in Minoan prehistory, have revealed new information about the interior layout of the palace complex.
Numerous finds were also unearthed in the lavish chambers of the palace including a rare coin depicting Emperor of Rome Marcus Aurelius, bronze objects, stone pots, seals and pottery. Archaeologists discovered chambers with intricate frescoes and a luxurious interior of the palace that was previously obscured. With floors made of limestone and other stone materials, Zominthos is unique among Minoan finds on the island. Dr. Efi Sapounas-Sakellarakis told Kathimerini:
“It was a religious, political and economic center that was also in use in the post-Mycenaean era, as shown by the separate ritual vase found in one of the rooms on the west side. Fragments of a rhyton in the shape of a bull’s head, 30 centimeters high, were found by the late Yannis Sakellarakis east of this building, but we did not find such religious objects.”
The archaeologist went on to describe the brilliant architectural design and construction of the palace, and the fact the limestone of the floors had been brought to the site from a quarry some 20 kilometers distant. Evidence that the Minoans practiced a form of animism and carried out baetyl (sacred stone) ceremonies surface more and more with each new discovery here on Crete.
Vesa Peka Herva, professor of archaeology at the University of Oulu, argues for a form of animism in Minoan Crete in which elements of the Cretan landscape are perceived as other beings. Arguments for current ideas on what’s been termed “new animism” are beyond the scope of this report, but Zominthos’ architecture and religious aspects beg further study into Minoan religion.
Situated between Knossos and Ideon Cave, Zominthos is the only mountaintop Minoan settlement ever to have been excavated. Works there began in 1982 by Sakellarakis unveiling a large, well-preserved two-story Minoan building with over 100 rooms and a pottery workshop among others. Now excavators say there are closer to 150 rooms with appointments and architecture that further differentiate the site from other palaces.
I cannot leave off without mentioning Professor Yannis Sakellarakis, who passed away back in 2010 at age 74. What we know of the magnificent world of the Minoans we owe to men like Sakellrakis, who spent his life on a quest to understand.
The former director of the Archaeological Museum of Iraklion, was a man of world renown for his findings at places like Archanes, at Idaean Cave, Kithira, and at Zominthos. He, and his wife Efi, have given us a window onto a civilization that, for a time, seemed to have found the right path of balance and beauty.
Dr. Yannis Sakellarakis discovered Zominthos in 1982 following his instincts and on hearing the place-name of Zominthos from a local. He and his companion and wife, Dr. Efi Sapouna Sakellaraki Zominthos brought into the light an amazing discovery.
Reading about these discoveries, and the life of the Sakellarakis couple, it’s something out of a novel Kazantzakis might have written. And like I always say, nothing is by chance. I’ve no doubt further discoveries will reveal amazing things about Zominthos and the rich religion of those Minoans.