Phaistos 2

Phaistos (Greek: Φαιστός), also transliterated as Phaestos, Festos and Phaestus is an ancient city on the island of Crete. Phaistos was located in the south-central portion of the island, about 5.6 kilometres from the Mediterranean Sea. It was inhabited from about 4000 BC.[1] A palace, dating from the Middle Bronze Age, was destroyed by an earthquake during the Late Bronze Age. Knossos along with other Minoan sites was destroyed at that time. The palace was rebuilt toward the end of the Late Bronze Age.

Mythology references

The reference of Phaistos to the ancient Greek literature is quite frequent. Phaistos is first referenced by Homer as "well populated" , and the Homeric epics indicate its participation in the Trojan war. The historian Diodorus Siculus indicates that Phaistos, together with Knossos and Kydonia, are the three towns that were founded by the king Minos on Crete. Instead, Pausanias and Stephanus of Byzantium supported in their texts that the founder of the city was Phaestos, son of Hercules or Ropalus. Especially the city of Phaistos is associated with the mythical king of Crete Rhadamanthys.


Phaistos had its own currency and had created an alliance with other autonomous Cretan cities, and with the king of Pergamon Eumenes II. Around the end of the 3rd century BC, Phaestos was destroyed by the Gortynians and since then ceased to exist in the history of Crete. Scotia Aphrodite and goddess Leto (was called and Phytia also) worshiped there. People of Phaistos distinguished for their funny adages. Phaistian in his descent was Epimenides who was the wise man who had been invited by the Athenians to clean the city from the Cylonian affair (Cyloneio agos) at the 6th cent. BC.


Phaistos was first excavated by Italian archaeologists Federico Halbherr and Luigi Pernier. Further excavations in 1950-1971 were conducted by Doro Levi who discovered a large fraction of the palace.
The Old Palace was built in the Protopalatial Period,[6] then rebuilt twice due to extensive earthquake damage. When the palace was destroyed by earthquakes, the re-builders constructed a New Palace atop the old.
Several artifacts with Linear A inscriptions were excavated at this site. The name of the site also appears in partially deciphered Linear A texts, and is probably similar to Mycenaean 'PA-I-TO' as written in Linear B. Several kouloura structures (subsurface pits) have been found at Phaistos. Pottery has been recovered at Phaistos from in the Middle and Late Minoan periods, including polychrome items and embossing in imitation of metal work. Bronze Age works from Phaistos include bridge spouted bowls, eggshell cups, tall jars and large pithoi.[7]
The detection and the identification of Phaistos came through with main basis the texts of Strabo[8] , who determined the position of Phaistos between the neighboring town of Gortyn, 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 (Mount Ida) opposite Phaistos, strengthened even more the interest to the archeological site.
The first palace was built about 2000 BC. 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. Around 1400 BC, the invading Achaeans destroyed Phaistos, as well Knossos. The palace appears to have been unused thereafter, as evidence of the Mycenaean era have not been found.
From 1900 onwards, excavations have been made by the Italian School of Archaeology at Athens, which brought in light the famous ruins of Phaistos. In one of the three hills of the area, remains of the middle neolithic age have been found, and a part of the palace which built during the Early Minoan period. Another two palaces seems to have been built at the Middle and Late Minoan Age. The older looks like the minoan palace of Knossos, although this is smaller. On its ruins (probably destroyed by an earthquake around 1600 BC) a palace of the later minoan period was built, bigger and magnificent. This mansion consists from several rooms separated by columns.
The levels of the theater area, 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.
In 1908, Pernier found the Phaistos disc at the basements of the northern group of the palace. This artifact is a clay disk, dated to between 1950 BC and 1400 BC and impressed with a unique sophisticated hieroglyphic script. The tombs of the rulers of Phaistos were found in the cemetery that was discovered 20 minutes away from the palace remains.
The new inhabitance began during the Geometric Age and continued to historical times (8th century BC onwards), up to the 3rd century, when the city was finally destroyed by neighboring Gortyn. The ancient coins of Phaistos are showing Europe sitting on a bull. Other coins are showing Talos with wings, or Heracles without beard and being crowned, or Zeus in a form of a naked youth sitting on a tree. In all of these coins there is the inscription (Greek: ΦΑΙΣ)or (Greek: ΦΑΙΣΤΙ), written to the right or the left side of the symbolic representation

Temple of Rhea in Phaistos

Temple of Rhea in PhaistosSouth of the Central Court and at a lower level, on an manmade terrace on the hillside, is the Temple of Rhea.
This is a building from a later age, the Hellenistic period, and forms a development of the cult of the Minoan Mother Goddess.

Neolithic dwelling in PhaistosIn the same area you can see the foundations of a domed structure, dated even earlier than the first palace.
This may be a Neolithic kiln, or a Neolithic dwelling according to other archaeologists.

Lower down than the Temple of Rhea are the ruins of buildings dated to the Geometric Period (10th-7th century BC).

Phaistos West Court

At the edge of the Northwest Court is the monumental stairway leading to the West Court of the Phaistos Palace. The paved West Court you see today dates from the time of the first palace (2000 BC). Following the destruction of the first palace, the West Court was rebuilt as a court six metres higher than the last and covered with earth.
Many archaeologists believe that this was where the famous bull-leaping took place.
Bull-leaping was a splendid ceremony forming part of ritual ceremonies with an athletic character, a particularly dangerous sport with acrobatic leaps over the bull while it ran around. We should note that bull-leaping had nothing to do with the modern gory bullfights of Spain. Bull-leaping never ended with the death of the bull, a fact which underlines the Minoans’ respect for nature and its sanctity.

The Tripartite Shrine in the West Court

The Tripartite Shrine in the West Court of PhaistosIn the West Court is a small tripartite shrine, only the foundations of which remain. Do not forget that at Phaistos the palace has not been restored in the way that Evans restored Knossos.
This is a different approach, one which protects the monument from interventions based on incomplete data and arbitrary conjectures.
At the Tripartite Shrine you can easily distinguish a building with three interconnecting rooms, of which the central one is the largest and highest. There were benches along the walls for worshippers to place cult artefacts on, while there was also an altar.

The Theatre

The Theatral Area in the West Court of PhaistosThe West Court is bounded to the north by a high wall, still visible today, which also functioned as a support for the Northwest Court. At the foot of the wall were eight deep steps, an impressive 22 metres long. These formed the seats of a theatre.
It may be far-fetched to imagine a theatre as we think of it today, but this was certainly a gathering-place. The amphitheatrical layout meant that the whole audience had an exceptional view of the court where the various events took place.
In the West Court the Processional Causeway stands out once more above the pavement, leading us to believe that ceremonies were held here. We should not forget that the west wing of the Minoan palaces was considered a sacred space.

The “Kouloures”

On the west side of the court stand circular structures like a row of wells. These are the “kouloures” (rings) as they are called in the Cretan dialect, due to their circular shape. This is where the remains of the sacrifices and various ceremonies were deposited, as they could not be allowed to end up in a common dump. The kouloures are also known as “sacred depositories”.

The Propylon or Propylaion

the Propylaion leads to the central court of the palace
To go from the West to the Central Court or the other areas of the Palace, people had to pass through the Propylon or portico. This is a covered corridor with columns, a polythyron (pier-and-door partition) and a lightwell, accessed by a splendid 14-metre monumental staircase.
A detail of the staircase construction which still impresses visitors today is that the steps are slightly slanted to allow the rainwater to run off.