Even when the weather is gloomy and the sun does not shine on the centuries-old olive trees planted during Venetian rule, Eleutherna's landscape has a particular glow. Located in the heart of Crete, near the island's geographical center, the archaeological site is nestled in a slope of Mount Ida overlooking the sea. While time has erased most traces of the ancient city-state – with a human presence dating back to 3000 BC – from the surface, the ground itself has yielded much of interest to archaeologists, while the new year brings some excellent news regarding the area.
Following Vergina, Delphi and Olympia, Greece is set to acquire another emblematic museum directly linked to an archaeological site. The Eleutherna museum is expected to open in June this year. Given that the area where excavations are conducted is enclosed within the Eleutherna archaeological park's boundaries, one can imagine a holistic approach: history and protected natural beauty leading to the discovery of the past.
Kathimerini recently caught up with Eleutherna excavator and Cycladic Art Museum director Nicholas Stampolidis. In the new museum's storage area, among thousands of neatly organized objects which have traveled from Rethymno and Iraklio, Stampolidis was putting the final touches to a story which began in 1985. That was when a dig by the University of Crete's History and Archaeology Department uncovered a cemetery dating to Homeric days in a location bearing Geometric, Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic, Early Christian and Byzantine traces. The excavation threw plenty of light on a “dark” period of history covering the 11th to the 6th century BC through the discovery of landmark offerings. Stampolidis spent three decades digging here before carrying out his vision thanks to sheer dedication. The residents of two nearby villages have become greatly attached to the archaeological area and have undertaken its protection, hundreds of Greek and foreign students have conducted field work on Eleutherna soil, while European funding and private sponsorship have been put to very good use.
It is no coincidence that Stampolidis chose two symbols for Eleutherna and the new museum. The first is a golden bee, “because we all worked really hard for this dream to come true, but also because the worship of this particular insect was spotted here for the first time,” he noted. He also chose a “shield” with a lion's head, “to protect the ideas and values of this effort,” he added.
The latter possibly dates to the 8th or 9th century BC and may have been used as a lid for a large cooking vessel. The artifact, which had been displayed at the Cycladic Art Museum for a long time as part of its permanent collection, is now heading home. It will welcome visitors to the new museum alongside a clay copy moulded by specialist Dimitris Alexandrou for the vision-impaired.
Among the most beautiful artifacts going on display at the new venue are important inscriptions dating to about 500 BC, which were discovered last summer. The exhibits reflect the different periods during which the ancient city flourished or was in decline, highlighting public and private life, religious practices as well as offerings to the dead. Among them are items imported from other Mediterranean areas, a testament to the important role of commerce in the ancient world.
Spread across 2,000 square meters, the museum's space is divided into display, storage and laboratory areas.