Crete #8 The Archaeological Museum, Heraklion

Knossos and Faistos may be the two major archaeological sites on Crete, but their most important findings are kept and exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, together with artefacts from all the periods of Cretan prehistory and history, covering 5.500 years from the Neolithic period to Roman times.

Because of the wealth of its collections, the museum is considered one of the largest and most important museums in Greece, and among the most important museums in Europe. It also contains the most extensive collection of unique examples of Minoan art in the world.

Housed in a Bauhaus building, built between 1937 & 1940, the museum underwent an – urgently needed – extensive restoration in 2014. The stuffy, badly lit rooms are now transformed into clean, streamlined, cool, perfectly air-conditioned and lit spaces, highlighting the beauty of the treasures they contain.

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Heraklion Archaeological Museum

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Left: Mountainous landscape with plants and a monkey. Right: The ”Blue Bird” fresco depicts a blue bird sitting among plants on a rock in a mountainous landscape.

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The ”Blue Bird” detail.

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Marble head of a female statue, probably of goddess Aphrodite. Gortyna, Roman period, 1st century AD.

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Kamares vessels for banqueting ceremonies from Phaistos palace, 1800-1700 BC.

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The enigmatic Phaistos Disc. It bears forty-five pictorial signs, arranged in different combinations into sixty-one groups, separated by incised lines, presumably representing words. Experts have yet to come with definite conclusions as to the contents of the inscription. The repetition of certain combinations of signs provides the most persuasive evidence that the inscription is a hymn or a text of magic character. Early 17th century BC.

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Ivory figure of a bull-leaper from Knossos palace, 1600-1450 BC.

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Large, headless female figurine wearing a nubbed skirt. Agia Triada, 1600-1300 BC.

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The ”Ladies in Blue” are part of a composition of richly dressed and lavishly bejeweled female figures depicted against a blue ground. Despite its fragmentary condition, the wall painting transmits the sense of opulence and prosperity of the royal court while reflecting the coquetry of the ladies, who gesture with their hands displaying the richness of their jewelry. Knossos palace, 1600-1450 BC.

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Clay models and stone owl-shaped vessel. Arkades, early Archaic period, 7th century BC.

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Fragments of painted plaster relief frescoes, part of the mural decoration of a building. Pseira, c. 1450 BC.

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Fragments of painted plaster relief frescoes, part of the mural decoration of a building. Pseira, c. 1450 BC.

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Fragments of painted plaster relief frescoes, part of the mural decoration of a building. Pseira, c. 1450 BC.

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Glass luxury perfume bottles with wavy coloured and gold bands. The examples with gold band and white lid with a hole for the perfume are particularly rare and were probably produced by an Alexandrian workshop. Hellenistic period, 3rd-2nd century BC.

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Eros clay figurines

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Wooden model of Knossos Palace

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Heads of female figurines with elaborate hairstyles, 1650-1500 BC.

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The most important cult objects from the Knossos Temple repositories are the figurines of the ”Snake Goddess”. The snakes symbolise the chthonic character of the cult of the goddess, while the feline creature on the head of the figure suggests her dominion over wildlife. The goddess wears luxurious garments exposing her breasts, symbol of the fertility of women, the goddess and nature itself. Knossos, 1650-1550 BC.

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Cycladic type figurines

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Stone bull’s head rhyton. A masterpiece of Minoan art, it would have been used for libations. Knossos little palace, 1600-1450 BC.

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The Ring of Minos is a masterpiece of Minoan jewellery making. Knossos, 1450-1400 BC.

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Stone coiffure and braid, originally attached to wooden figures, perhaps of imaginary creatures such as the sphinx. Knossos palace, 1600-1500 BC.

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Clay bull’s head rhyton. Knossos little palace, 1450-1370 BC.

Honouring and preserving the rich history of the region, the Archaeological Museum  alone would make a trip to Heraklion worthwhile. Check for address and opening times here.

Heraklion, 05 July 2015

Shared image credits (Konstantinos & Lia)

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5 thoughts on “Crete #8 The Archaeological Museum, Heraklion

  1. I have been there before the restoration and this past summer and it sure was a highlight of our holiday. They did a good job (although it took more than 10 years…) and I hope the National Archaeological Museum of Athens comes next! 🙂

    • Night and day wasn’t it? Few things surprise me pleasantly in this country anymore and that was one of them! I have yet to visit the museum in Athens – I’ll give it another 10 years then 😉

      • Considering that it took them 15 years to build the Parthenon and 12 (!!!) to renovate the Archeological museum of Heraklion, it’s not a long wait for Athens 😀

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