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Festos (archaeological site) - Crete

Phaistos, Faistos

The ancient Minoan city of Phaestos stood in the south, in the central part of the Greek island of Crete. Today, Festos is one of the most important archaeological sites in Crete and is the origin of the famous and mysterious "disk of Phaistos".

History of the Minoan town of Phaistos

The ancient city with the palace of Festos (or also Phaistos or Faistos) used to be one of the most important centres of Minoan civilisation and in its time the richest and most powerful city of southern Crete. Its remains are located in the regional unit of Heraklion (about 60 km away from Heraklion), on the green and fertile Messarian plain, about 6 km from the Libyan Sea coast.

The earliest traces of settlement in the area date from 4 000 BC. The first palace was built around the 2nd millennium BC and, according to Greek mythology, its founder was Minos himself and the first king was his brother Radamanthys. The palace of Phaistos stood at the top of a hill, and below it was an ancient city, to which belonged the two harbour villages of Matala and Kommos. The palace was damaged several times by earthquakes and then repaired, and around 1700 BC, as a result of a devastating earthquake, a new palace was built on the site of the ruins of the original palace. Phaistos was an important and densely populated city and was involved in the so-called Trojan War.

Phaistos was finally destroyed with the other Minoan palaces around 1400 BC, when it succumbed to the neighbouring Gortinians. At this time, the entire Minoan culture disappeared. The town of Faistos itself continued to exist in Roman times.

Archaeological site of Festos

The remains of the palace and the city of Phaistos were first located by the British Admiral Spratt in the middle of the 19th century. The first excavations were started by the Italian archaeologists Frederico Halbherr and Luigi Pernier in 1900, and a new wave of excavations followed in 1950 under the direction of the archaeologist Doro Levi and under the auspices of the Italian School of Archaeology in Athens.

The most important discovery in this archaeological area is the so-called Faistus disc, a clay disc whose age is estimated to be between 1950 BC and 1400 BC (recent expert studies date its creation to the first half of the 14th century BC). The uniqueness of the disc lies in the fact that it is inscribed (stamped) in a very sophisticated hieroglyphic script that resembles the linear A and B scripts used by the Minoan (or Mycenaean) civilization of the time. Many have attempted to decipher this ancient writing and characters, but so far not conclusively, and so there are several theories as to what message the disc contains. According to linguist Steven Fisher, it is a plea from the Greeks (Achaeans) for help in their struggle on the island of Naxos against the native inhabitants of Caria. Several objects described with the linear letter A were also found at the site.

The Palace of Festos, the seat of the local ruler, is the second largest Minoan palace on Crete after the Palace of Knossos. There is a double gate in the central courtyard of the palace and the whole building is spread over several terraces and levels. Here you will see a grand staircase leading to the main hall of the propylon, several rooms separated by columns that served different purposes (servants' and craftsmen's rooms, storage of agricultural crops, cooking, etc.), a furnace for melting metals and truly magnificent interiors (thanks to the floors and walls made of sandstone and white plaster), the royal rooms were also decorated with alabaster. The upper floor was also once home to a magnificent ceremonial hall. The name of the town is attested by coins found in the area, and several valuable artefacts in the form of pottery have also been recovered.

Nearby surroundings - beautiful nature and other important sights

The famous disc of Phaistos is kept in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion. Compared to the archaeological site of Knossos, the site of Festos is a much quieter place, although busloads of tourists also come here and thousands of visitors pass through every year. Unlike Knossos, however, the Festos site is original, nothing has been added or altered, and the main aim of the Festos site is to protect the important remains here. As well as visiting a historical monument, you will also enjoy a spectacular view, as the entire plateau complex is in the palm of your hand, as are the Messara Plain and the distant Ida Mountains.

Nearby are the remains of another Minoan palace, Agia Triada, as well as the two smaller archaeological sites of Gortys and Matala. To the west of the Festos Palace, on the road leading to the Agia Triada Palace and Matala, is the Venetian church of St George of Phalandra.

More touristic destinations of Crete

Most favourite sights of Crete: Agia Triada (archaeological site), Archaeological Museum Heraklion, Phaistos (archaeological site), Gortyn (archaeological site), Arkadi Monastery, Knossos (archaeological site), Church of Four Martyrs, Fortezza Fortress (Rethymno), Frangokastello Fortress, Spinalonga Fortress, Windmills on Lasithi Plateau

Resorts, beaches, sights or trips - clearly listed on the map of Crete.

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