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Excavations at Choiromandres (Sitia, Zakros; East Crete)
Project directors: Dr. Stella Chryssoulaki and Dr. Leonidas Vokotopoulos; Ministry of Culture, Eduation and Religion Affairs of Greece, Athens
Tomas Alusik participated in 2007 excavation season.
“Minoan Roads Research Programme” is a systematic program of the Greek Ministry of Culture, Eduation and Religion Affairs, focused on the searching for and research on the Minoan roads (the term “Minoan” refers to the Bronze Age of Crete). In the frame of this project a lot of remains of roads and also other architectural types were discovered and described, especially in the East Crete in the region of Sitia. In many sites the remains of a specific structures were found, labelled as the so-called guard houses. This group includes bigger constructions with the character of forts and small watchtowers and guarding posts in the form of simple rectangular or circular walls. It is assumed that these structures also had guarding and monitoring purposes (among others) and sentries could warn inhabitants against the upcoming danger and control movement on the roads. Their specific function could differ though according to the region and topography. From the architectural viewpoint these are mostly rectangular buildings up to 12 x 12 m in size, with a small central court and individual rooms around. There is at least one small look-out post in their close vicinity. These structures were built from massive, roughly worked blocks of stone up to 1 m in length. Several dozens of such sites were documented all over Crete, but most of them in Sitia-Zakros region.
In the frame of this project several guard houses were excavated, especially the sites of Choiromandres and Karoumes. The project still continues, the extent of fieldwork in the last years is, however, rather small. Several preliminary reports were published. On the basis of them Tomas Alusik published in his book “Defensive architecture of prehistoric Crete” the state of research of Choiromandres to the year 2006. The short resume follows.
The valley of Choiromandres is situated in the East Crete, several kilometres from the village of Epano Zakros and the seacoast. Since 1984 an archaeological research has been conducted there – both the surface survey and documentation and also several excavation seasons. This research revealed and documented the remains of a rectangular structure (referred to as the “main building”), whose function(s?) is still not entirely clear, and the foundations of more than thirty massive walls (labelled by the Greek term “periboloi”) stretching all over the eastern part of the valley. The main building dates from the Middle and Late Bronze Ages (ca. 2nd millennium BC). The periboloi should be of the same date, but some of them could have also been built or reconstructed in the much later period (incl. the modern one) as well.
Remains of a large guard house of Choiromandres are spread on the peak of a hill in the north-eastern protrusion of the Choiromandres valley. The main part (nucleus) of the edifice had an almost square ground plan of about 12 x 12 m, and it was probably open or maybe covered by a simple wooden roof, supported by the central partition of the building and by projections of the eastern and southern façade, or by a wooden support located in the centre of the courtyard. Around this courtyard six rectangular rooms were arranged from the south to the east, originally with a slate roof. The main entrance to the building was located in the southern façade and facilitated access to the inner courtyard; a well-hewn doorstep has been preserved from the entrance. To the northwest a terrace adjoined the building, and its supporting wall was directly connected with the northern façade of a building, but the only possible access to it led through a small staircase hewn into the rock from the outside eastern yard. The construction was built on rough rock, though only under its western and central part. Therefore it was necessary to create a system of numerous supporting walls forming an extension of a building platform. These support the eastern part of the construction in order to enlarge the available space in the building and to keep to the common rectangular ground plan of guard houses. At the level of the foundations of this guard house pottery from the Middle Bronze (Minoan) Age has been found. The main residential layer contained pottery from the late Middle and early Late Bronze (Minoan) Ages. Several later potsherds indicated reoccupation in this period.
Besides this guard house, several other constructions with a fortification character – periboloi and guarding/watching towers – have been found in the valley. Therefore the construction of a guard house has to be understood as an inseparable part of a wider project of watching towers/posts and massive walls/periboloi in the eastern part of the valley. These walls show that the architectural layout of the central guard house extended to the surroundings too. Both the foot and the top of the hill, where the central guard house is located, are surrounded by several periboloi. They are missing only in places where they would be useless thanks to the rocky cliffs. Periboloi were massive structures built from large, roughly hewn lime blocks about 0.5 m wide. These blocks were arranged in two parallel rows; the space between them being filled with smaller stones. The average width of periboloi is about 1.7 m and today they stand about 1.5 m high (only in two or three spots). The entire eastern part of the valley was lined by several periboloi built in the way described above, with roads between them. Periboloi connected with several – a total of nine – guarding posts spread on the eastern part of the valley. The biggest and best-fortified guarding post – B6 – was built in the most important strategic place in the valley, at the foot of the hill, right under the terrace with the guard house. Several other posts were located on the summit plateau of the hill. In the very southern part the foundations of a small tower – B1 – have been well preserved. Also three other towers – B2, B3 and B4 – were connected by periboloi with the guard house area. The tower B5 was situated only a few meters to the south of the guard house building. The tower B9 was located under the hill in the valley and was also connected with the system of periboloi.
For more on the site of Choiromandres see:
Tzedakis, Y. – Chryssoulaki, S. – Voutsaki, S. – Venieri, Y. 1989: Les Routes Minoennes: Rapport Préliminaire – Défense de la Circulation ou Circulation de la Défense? BCH, 113, pp. 61, 65-73, 75.
Tzedakis, Y., Chryssoulaki, S., Venieri, Y. and Avgouli, M. 1990: Les Routes Minoennes: Le poste de Choiromandres et le controle des communications. BCH, 114, pp. 43-65.
Brown, A. (ed.) 2001: Arthur Evans’s Travels in Crete, 1894 – 1899. BAR IS 1000, Oxford, pp. 321-323.
Alušík, T. 2007: Defensive architecture of prehistoric Crete. BAR Int. Ser. 1637, Oxford, pp. 27-29.