Over 40 km behind Sitia, south of Palekastro, there is the fourth-largest Minoan palace in Crete. This latest found, built on the east coast of the island is located in the village of Káto Zákros. Rocky mountains surround the ruins of the palace complex with the remains of a once thriving city, built on a fairly hard-to-reach and inhabited area. Paradoxically, Zakros, being several centuries ago, a city with extensive contacts with other countries, was (and is actually still) the most isolated Minoan center on the island.
The location of this palace off the beaten path of Crete means that today it is the Minoan palace, the least visited by tourists, even though it is most beautifully located. Picturesque mountain roads and a large distance from popular tourist resorts located along the northern coast are an insurmountable barrier for tour operators. Visiting Zakros is not included in the offer of optional tours of popular travel agencies, so people who bought a trip to Crete from the office and want to visit Zakros are renting a car and taking an independent trip.
The first archaeological excavations in Zakros began at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries British archaeologist David George Hogarth. Thanks to his work near the former port, the ruins of 12 buildings were discovered, after which the excavations were abandoned.
The resumption of archaeological research took place in 1961. The Greek archaeologist Nikolaos Platon has led the expedition this time. His work brought significant discoveries. Upper Zakros was discovered, in which there are remains of the palace, excavations of various craft tools, clay plates with linear writing were also unearthed. A several-year break in running the works also had its advantages. More modern and scientific methods were used to dig up the remains than in the case of the other larger palaces.
A ritual riton found during excavations conducted in 1963.
Decorated with characteristic decorations depicting mountain landscapes.
It is worth noting that since the World War II, the discovery of the palace in Zakros is one of the most important discoveries of the remains of Minoan culture, and the fact that archaeological works are carried out to the present allows you to hope that other interesting finds will also see the light of day.
The palace was built around 1900 BC. As with the other Minoan centers in Crete, the old palaces were destroyed by earthquakes, and new ones were replaced in their place. Thus, the palace is rebuilt in Zakros around 1600 BC. Its area was then about 8000 square meters, while in the palace there were 150 rooms (various sources give different numbers) and a central courtyard measuring 30 x 12 meters. The flourishing city, which formerly surrounded the palace, has not been fully excavated to the surface. Residential houses that have been discovered so far have often been large, some of them even up to 30 rooms and also small storage rooms. In the end, around 1450 BC, the palace in Zakros shared the fate of the other Minoan centers and was suddenly destroyed for unexplained reasons.
Ryton made of mountain crystal
decorated with a gilded ivory ring.
This vessel is considered by many archaeologists to be one
of the most beautiful finds in Crete.
Although the palace in Zakros was about five times smaller than Knossos , its specific location made it an administrative, commercial and religious center for the entire area. Good geographical conditions meant that the port in Zakros was much better sheltered from the wind than the one in Palekastro located a little further north, making it better adapted to the adoption of a large fleet of commercial and military ships.
Thanks to this, the city is a hundredabout the main communication and trade center that maintains contacts with the Middle East, Egypt and Cyprus.
The rich commercial activity of the palace can be proved by the wealth of imported materials found here. These findings include ivory, various metals and semi-precious stones. In addition, as it turned out, the palace warehouses were not used to store agricultural products as much as in other palaces, which indicates a different source of income. In Zakros, mainly metal products, fabrics and ceramics were stored.
Ivory found at the site of the Zakros excavation - most likely imported from Egypt,
in the back of the picture, on the right, copper bars (each weighing about 30 kg) are visible.
Another argument supporting the thesis that the palace functioned more as a trade center was the location of the main entrance to Zakros. The city and the port were located north of the palace, so the main entrance was from the north-east.
An interesting find is nine shallow tanks, which were probably used during dyeing of fabrics and a cistern for collecting water. As it turned out, one of them had religious significance and sacrifices for the gods. Archaeologists were lucky and discovered this cistern a bowl with quite well preserved olives probably once deposited in a gift. The humid environment of the cisterns preserved the pulp and skin of the fruit. These oldest olives were displayed at the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion until the renovation began. Let's hope that once the work is finished, the olives will be made available again. Found fruits and an olive press excavated in the city also prove that the fruits of the olive tree and olive oil were an important part of the diet of the Minoans. Among the discovered buildings of the city, among others, press used for the production of wine were found. It is highly probable that Zakros specialized in the production of wine exported later to the Cyclades.
Olives found in one of the tanks discovered in Kato Zakros
(photo of the game board from the excavation site)
In the immediate vicinity of the palace there is also the entrance to the gorge with the intriguing name of Gorge of the Dead, which was named after Minoan graves found in nearby caves. However, visiting it is best to plan for those months that have a more lively air temperature.
In order to get to Zakros, it is best to rent a car because communication is poor and optional excursions do not come here. You can of course use bus connections, however, KTEL does not have direct connections with, for example, Heraklion . The bus arriving to Zakros leaves the city of Sitia at 6.00 and 14.30. Buses from Zakros leave at 7.00 and 15.30. This means that if you decide to reach KTEL, you need much more time, because first you must go to Sitia.
Going to Zakros by car, drive to the New National Road and head first to Sitia, then further east to Palokastro, where you have to turn right and look for signs for Zakros. Rather, do not plan to travel directly from Sitia through Piskokefalo - we strongly advised this local Greeks to such an option.
In 2011, entrance tickets to the excavation site cost 3 € per person. When planning a tour, it is best to reserve a greater amount of time to reach the place late in the morning or early afternoon, because in addition to watching the excavations worth visiting the excellent seaside taverns that specialize in excellent fish and take a bath in the sea. It is worth to leave here before dark, because Zakros is located nand a remote place, and access roads are quite demanding. You can also plan a return to the south coast - it is worth joining the plans for visiting Xerokambos . However, returning along the southern coast takes a lot of time, because it is connected with winding mountain roads, on which it is impossible to develop higher speeds.
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