2016 excavations at the ancient city of Gortyna in Crete completed

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The University of Padova has just completed this year’s excavation season in the ancient city of Gortys (Gortyna) in Crete, reporting outstanding results. Directed by Professor Jacopo Bonetto of the University of Padova, research has focused on the interior of the Temple of Pythian Apollo in the city of Gortys, a huge urban settlement sprawled over some 400 hectares.

2016 excavations at the ancient city of Gortyna in Crete completed
Coin depicting a running Minotaur found in Gortys [Credit: University of Padova]

The excavation in the sanctuary of Pythian Apollo, the location where the first written Greek laws were found on an inscription-bearing wall, was initiated to reconstruct the chronological history of the monument, which is placed at the beginning of the city’s foundation in the 7th century BC.

“The investigations were focused on this sanctuary because on the one hand it is one of the two main spots around which the city was born in the 7th century BC and, secondly, it was the most important sanctuary of the entire island, becoming the headquarters of the confederation of all the Cretan city-states, the Koinon ton Kreton (or City Cretensium),” clarifies Jacopo Bonetto.

2016 excavations at the ancient city of Gortyna in Crete completed
Topographical map of ancient Gortyna [Credit: University of Padova]

“The excavation conducted within the sanctuary has allowed us to redefine the entire architectural development of the complex, which boasts five successive building phases from 600 BC to 600 AD with the evolution of the sanctuary’s nucleus, made up of the temple and external facilities like the altar and heroon, a small monument where the city’s founding hero was buried (or revered symbolically),” Bonetto continues.

“A systematic excavation conducted between the slabs of the Roman pavement of the Temple of Apollo revealed a limestone floor which points to the 5th century – of which no historical record has survived,” says Bonetto. “This date was arrived at thanks to the discovery of a rare silver coin (stater) issued by Knossos and bearing on the one side the famous Minotaur and on the other side the Knossos Labyrinth, which evoked the Athenian myth of Ariadne and the Cretan monster defeated by Theseus.”

2016 excavations at the ancient city of Gortyna in Crete completed
General view of Gortyna [Credit: WikiCommons]

“The piece dates between 440 and 360 BC and suggests that a major renovation of the sanctuary took place at that time, as well as indicating a possible relationship between the two emerging city-states of Gortys and Knossos. Not only that, in several trenches dug under the 5th-4th century BC floor we recovered ceramic fragments attributed to the Minoan and Mycenaean eras, namely the period from c.1600 – 1000 BC!”

“The importance of this finding is remarkable,” says Bonetto. “Gortyna has yielded only modest traces from the Minoan-Mycenaean periods and from the time of the sanctuary’s foundation. Why the sanctuary was built in the fields away from the agora and the acropolis had remained a mystery. These findings suggest the presence of a settlement before the Greek cities, and in particular may indicate the existence of a cult centre located in the same area where the Temple of Apollo was erected. This suggests that the birth of the Greek sanctuary represents a recovery or continuation of the ancient Minoan-Mycenaean settlement.”

Source: Il Mattino di Padova [October 20, 2016]

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