Excavations of the acropolis of Falasarna (also Phalasarna) in the far west of Crete continue to yield rich archaeological riches. More recently, hundreds of artifacts, including female clay figurines dedicated to the Greek goddess Demeter, have been discovered in the main area of the ancient temple of the acropolis.
An announcement from the Greek Ministry of Sports and Culture said the excavations were carried out under its aegis by a team led by Dr Elpidas Hatzidakis. Recent finds date mainly from the Archaic period (c. 800 BC to 480 BC) and consist of a host of female clay figurines, enthroned deities, heads with headdresses resembling the goddess Demeter, miniature water jars and water-carrying women, all typical of shrines. of Demeter.
The rocky site of the acropolis overlooking Falasarna before excavations began. ( Greek Ministry of Culture )
Fascinating Falasarna becomes a forgotten city
Known today for its stunning Blue Flag beaches, Falasarna in Crete was a thriving eastern Mediterranean port in ancient times, important enough to merit its own laws and currencies. The city-state’s harbor was amazing for its time, a large man-made inland harbor protected by the sheer rocks of the coastline.
According agrophilia, the Roman forces sent to eradicate the pirates who had resisted after the defeat of the Macedonian king Perseus completely decimated the city of Falasarna with a rich past, killing most of its inhabitants. A gigantic earthquake in 365 AD near the west coast of Crete completed the destruction.
The powerful earthquake triggered a mega tsunami that lifted the entire western end of Crete up to 9 meters (29 feet). Today, this ancient port sits several meters inland from what would have been its original position.
These catastrophic events combined to transform Falasarna from a bustling port into an abandoned and forgotten city. Until British explorers Robert Pashley and Captain TAB Spratt rediscovered its remains in the 19th century.
Aerial view of the temple dedicated to Demeter, located in the hills surrounding Falasarna. ( Greek Ministry of Culture )
Ancient temple of goddess Demeter in Falasarna
The recent discoveries come from excavations carried out at the temple located in a natural cave with a source of running water. Falasarna Cave was located on a rocky hill between two high mountain peaks and it collapsed at some point.
After the collapse, the entire hill became an open-air sanctuary dedicated to the worship of the ancient chthonic deity associated with the earth, the life-giving power of water and fertility. Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture, sister of Hades and mother of Persephone through Zeus was considered a chthonic or subterranean goddess due to the association between cultures and the land.
Around the end of the fourth century BC to the beginning of the third century BC, rock from the collapsed cave was reused to build the temple whose ruins survive today. It is surrounded by a largely intact enclosure except for a part which seems to have been destroyed by a landslide.
Clay figurine of a female figure holding a poppy and a pomegranate discovered during the excavations of the temple of Falasarna. ( Greek Ministry of Culture )
Artifacts Discovered at Falasarna Temple
The temple was built on natural rock in the Doric style, with two unfluted columns, parts of which survive. The roof incorporated Corinthian elements with clay crossbeams and coverings. An impressive staircase led to two one-room buildings that had a common wall between them as well as a common retaining wall on the north side.
The building to the east was the main temple, while the other room served an additional function. An inner door in the eastern part of the main temple opened to an outer space where sacrifices took place. The floor of the inner sanctum was paved as in the rest of the temple and there were five places to lay the offerings.
It was here that Hadjidakis and his colleagues excavated several elegant vases and other vessels, some ceremonial in nature. One of them notably bore the name of the goddess Demeter inscribed on it in the Doric alphabet. The sculptural remains found in the excavations favor a Daedalic style with naked female figures with high headdresses.
Glass objects found at the site also show the links Falasarna had with ancient Egypt and Phenicia. Some other artifacts belonging to the 6th century BC include terracotta bird and animal pendants, arrowheads and spearheads, miniature vases, enthroned female figures, and a female figurine holding a poppy and a grenade. Small water jugs, a ritual spouted jug painted with a red flying cupid, iron spikes and alabaster vessels from the 3rd and 4th centuries BC. AD have also been found.
Excavations of the temple of Falasarna revealed several artifacts including this inscribed hydria engraved with the name of the goddess Demeter. ( Greek Ministry of Culture )
Future excavations should help identify unknown structures
Geophysical surveys carried out by a team led by Professors G. Tsokas and G. Vallianatos have revealed remains of an underground structure which appears to be semi-circular. However, the upper part is not clearly semicircular and only later excavations will identify whether it was a public building such as a theater or a bouleuterion.
Dr Hatzidakis has been involved in excavations at Falasarna since 1986 and has, together with her colleagues, been responsible for the discovery of towers, quays, defensive walls, water reservoirs, baths, an altar, a wine factory and a public road. The latest discoveries were made with the support of the director of the Chania Ephoria, Dr. Eleni Papadopoulou, archaeologist Dr. Michalis Milidakis and master craftsman K. Mountakis.
From fascinating to forgotten to fascinating again, the wheel has come full circle for Falasarna. Each new excavation at the Cretan archaeological site reveals striking new facets of this remarkable ancient city and the story seems far from over.
Top image: The archaeological site of Falasarna in Crete, with a representation of the facade of the temple dedicated to the goddess Demeter. Source: Greek Ministry of Culture
By Sahir Pandey