16km south of Heraklion is the attractive village of Archanes.
It is a large village with a population of nearly 4,000 people
and is of great archaeological interest. Situated on a hillside,
the surrounding area is lush and fertile with many streams and
rivers. The region is famous for its fine wine that is produced
here. The village streets are well planned and the gardens and
balconies of the houses overflow with a profusion of colourful
flowers. In the centre of the village the streets are narrow and
twisting and there are several neoclassical houses that have
been renovated. The beautifully restored town of Archanes is
well worth visiting as it has won European awards for
restoration and long term development prospects. Its beautifully
restored houses, paved streets and planting make it an
enchanting place to wander through. It was an important centre
during the Minoan times and there are four archaeological sites
within the vicinity. In the village itself there are the remains
of a Minoan place, whereas at Phourni, just outside the village,
a Minoan cemetery. 5 kilometres south-west of Archanes, at
Anemospilia, there are the remains of a tripartite shrine.
The village and its environs have some fascinating archaeological sights to see. The famous archaeologist, Evans, excavated around the area and identified Minoan buildings which included a small palace thought to have been the summer residence of the King of Knossos. On the hillside of nearby Fourni, which lies 1km to the north-west of Archanes, the excavations of Sakerlaraki have revealed a fabulous extended graveyard that dates back to prehistoric times of 2500-12500 BC. Findings include domed tombs which are carved in the rock, burial chambers and groups of graves. Amongst the artefacts excavated are seals of incredibly detailed artwork, urns, copper and stone pots ivory plates, statuettes and gold jewellery.
On the foothills of Giouhta a Minoan sanctum was discovered which remains a puzzle to archaeologists. Only a small building, it has a long antechamber, with three rooms leading off it at its southern end. The sanctum was protected by a wall which encircled it. Inside the antechamber were discovered many broken pots and a human skeleton. From the three other rooms, in one was discovered a sacrificial altar with evidence of offerings and some pots connected to worship. In the central room two clay legs which seem to have broken off from a statue were found The last room, the room to the west of the antechamber, was the most strange. Inside were found three skeletons: a prone female, a bejewelled male (thought to be a priest) and a skeleton of a young man curled up into the foetal position and lying on a stone construction that appeared to be an altar. This latter skeleton had a copper sword that had been thrust into the boy"s body. Archaeological explanations are that this was a human sacrifice that took place before the sanctum was destroyed by an earthquake and fire in around 1700 BC. It would appear that the sacrifice was an offering to the deity in the hope that the population would recover from the destructive forces of the earthquake. Close to the above sanctum is the cave of Hosto Nero.
The remains of another Minoan mansion can be seen in Vathypetro which dates back to 1600-1500 BC. It was excavated in 1949 and consists of a spacious mansion with four columns, a storehouse and some other rooms. The cellar rooms are of special interest because inside was an oil press, a wine press and some tools for working textiles. Other findings include 16 earthenware jars and a big amphora.
As well as archaeological sites, the area around Archanes has some fine churches to visit. There are two Byzantine churches with frescoes: the Holy Trinity and Agia Paraskevi both built in the 14th century. Nearby, in the isolated settlement of Asomatos, is the small church of the same name. The frescoes here date back to 1315 and include the impressive Crucifixion which is one of the best examples of paintings from the Cretan School. In the village of Agia Vasilius is the small church of St. John the Herald. Frescoes here date from the 13th century and copies are exhibited in the permanent exhibition of frescoes in the Basilica of St. Marcus in Heraklion.
4.5km away is Kato Archanes (Lower Archanes). During the Turkish occupation the villages of Archanes were a constant target and, in 1897, the Pan-Cretan Assembly took place here. Close by at Khrysolakkos, a two-storey palace, residential districts, a cemetery and a harbour have been discovered. A small, but extremely interesting archaeological museum gives information about the importance of Archanes during the Minoan period and is located in the centre of the village.