The Labyrinth of the Mesara, Crete.

The Labyrinth of Crete is situated around 3 km northeast from the archaeological site of Gortys in central Crete. It is an underground quarry in marly limestone, excavated probably during the Roman Period. It was first described and mapped in the 18th and 19th centuries. More detailed descriptions have been published recently.

The cave comprises 2.5 km of corridors, leading to or connecting small and larger rooms covering almost an area of one hectare. The Labyrinth of Gortys is connected to Greek Mythology and more especially to Theseus and the Minotaur, at least from the 9th century A.D. According to many travellers’ reports and 16th century maps, the Labyrinth of Gortys was one of the first and most significant Cretan attractions, at least from the beginning of the 15th century. Visits were organized, with Greek guides leading the visitors inside to the cave. These guided tours were carried on until at least the Second World War.

From the beginning of the 15th century, many travelers to Crete visited the Labyrinth, and stressed the existence of the numerous inscriptions they were carved on the cave’s walls. The first was that of Christophoro Buondelmonti who visited the Labyrinth on 1415. The inscriptions made by the visitors of the famous cave are found mostly on the walls of the rooms -especially the more distant ones- but also on the walls of the corridors and the rubble-stone interior walls.

In 1999 the Department of Crete of the Hellenic Speleological Society started a project for the inventory of the inscriptions found in the so-called Labyrinth of Gortys. More than 2,000 inscriptions have been inventoried so far.

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The Magical Mesara Plain.

In the whole of the island of Crete, one area that is still magical today as well as being vitally important to the history of Crete, is the Mesara Plain. The  Mesara is in southern central Crete in the south of the Nomos of Iraklion. It is the biggest plain in Crete and very important for the extensive agriculture that is produced there both now and around five thousand years ago.

The name ‘Mesara’ comes from the Greek for ‘between mountains.’ Mesos – between, oros – mountains, which becomes Mesaoria or the modern word, Mesara. In the north are the southern foothills of the Psiloritis or Ida mountain range and in the south are the Asterousian mountains between the Mesara and the Libyan Sea. The coastline of the Mesara faces west almost from Agia Galini in the north to Matala in the south. Between the two is one of the most perfect and extensive beaches in Crete, mostly with hardly a soul to be seen.

Two rivers flow through the Mesara and both have their source near to the village of Asimi. From there they flow in opposite directions. Geropotamos, known in ancient times as Lethaios, flows westwards to the sea and out into the Gulf of Mesara. Anapodaris, ancient name Katarhaktes, flows into the bay of Derma, east of the village of Tsoutsouros.

Here in the Mesara in ancient times, civilisation grew from Neolithic (5th Century BC) to the modern day. During the Minoan Prepalatial period growth was amazing (4th & 3rd centuries BC) where huge leaps forward were taken in architecture, pottery, the incredible circular tholos tombs, Agios Onoufrios and Kamares ware, countless figurines, seals and jewelry were produced.

In the first Palace period we see the palace at Festos being built (1900 – 1700 BC). The second Palace period was centered around the later palace at Festos, the palatial buildings at Agia Triada and at the port of Kommos just north of Matala near Pitsidia (1700 – 1300 BC).

Later the came Gortyn, the magnificent city that dominated the Mesara for sixteen centuries, from 800BC to 800AD. Gortyn is situated just west of Agioi Deka and covered a diameter of ten kilometres. It is said that in its greatest years over 80,000 people lived in Gortyn and in Roman times it became not only the capital of Crete but the Capital of Cyrene as well (North Africa).

There is still a plane tree in the ruins of Gortyn that keeps its leaves all year. Under that tree Zeus made love to Europa and the children that they produced were Minos, the king at Knossos and his brother Rhadamantys, King of Festos.