A New Museum in Ancient Eleutherna, Crete Opens

Museum of Ancient Eleutherna

If you were to imagine Crete as a human being, Eleutherna would be its heart,” says Nicholas Stampolidis, a professor of history, about this ancient settlement 25km southeast of Rethymno, on the northern coast of west-central Crete. It lies on a spur of Mt. Ida, Crete's highest point. Now a museum has been opened here, the 4th such museum in Greece on the site of a significant ancient city. The city's location made it a natural crossroads, as it lay between Kydonia on the northwest coast, and Knossos, and between the shore, where its ports, Stavromenos and Panormos, lay, and the great sanctuary cave near the peak of Ida, Idaion Andron.

The museum has 3 sections which cover the 4,500-years during which Eleutherna flourished (3,000 BC-1300 AD), and displays artifacts from everyday life plus works of art covering the whole spectrum of its history, which includes the geometric, archaic, classical, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and early Byzantine periods.

Section A is the largest, and includes artifacts in connection to the social, political, religious, and private lives of the citizens of Eleutherna, plus items imported from other Cretan cities and regions such as Attica, the Peloponnese, the Cyclades, the eastern part of the Aegean Islands sea, Asia Minor, Cyprus, Phoenicia, Syria-Palestinian coast and Egypt.

Section B has items for the religious life of the city dating from the early Iron Age up to the Byzantine period. It also has on display what is considered the first cenotaph- or war memorial- in human history.

Other sections include items from the city’s necropolis, including a mockup of a funeral pyre as described by Homer (circa 900 BC). There are also displays of the garments and ornaments priestesses of Eleutherna wore, and a number of glass, ceramic, clay and bronze vessels and statues, among other items.

The museum has a research center in its southern wing where ongoing study with Greek and foreign scientists and professionals from all over the world takes place, in addition to the preparation of additional museum displays.

There is also a ground-level storage and restoration area, as well as a small theatre in the museum courtyard which will host performances, concerts and other cultural events.