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The unique Minoan monumental architectural ensemble revealed in Kastelli.

SCIENCE & TECH: Circular Labyrinthine Structure from the Minoan Era Discovered on Crete

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The latest excavation at Papoura Hill, near the town of Kastelli in Crete, has revealed an extraordinary find that is reshaping our understanding of Minoan architecture. Situated 494 meters (1,621 feet) above sea level, this monumental architectural ensemble is unique in Minoan archaeology, with its circular structure spanning approximately 48 meters (157 feet) in diameter and covering an area of around 1800 square meters (19,375 square feet). 

This significant discovery, located at the highest point of Papoura Hill, is part of the ongoing excavations necessitated by the construction of a new airport. The find includes a complex of eight superimposed stone rings with an average thickness of 1.40 meters (4.6 feet) and a maximum surviving height of 1.7 meters (5.6 feet). These rings form a central circular building, referred to as Zone A, with a diameter of 15 meters (49 feet), subdivided into four quadrants, reports a Greek Ministry of Culture press release. 

Architectural and Historical Significance 

The monumental structure comprises two main zones. Zone A is encircled by Zone B, which has a maximum width of 6.9 meters (22.6 feet) and contains radial walls intersecting the rings to create smaller spaces. This layout gives the structure a labyrinthine appearance, with rooms connected by narrow openings. The site has two possible main entrances located on the southwest and northwest sides. 

 

The primary period of use for this monument appears to have been between 2000 and 1700 BC, suggesting its establishment around the beginning of the Palaeopalatial period (Middle Minoan I-II). The presence of Neopalatial pottery in the destruction layer indicates that the site continued to be used into the Neopalatial period, around 1700 to 1450 BC. 

The Minoan Civilization 

The Minoan civilization was a Bronze Age civilization that was based on the island of Crete, in the Aegean Sea. This civilization flourished from around 3000 BC to around 1100 BC. 

The Minoan civilization is considered to be the first high culture in the Aegean, and various achievements were reached by its people. This is reflected in the archaeological remains left in existence. 

The Minoans are particularly known for their engagement in long distance trade. Apart from that, the Minoan civilization produced various works of art, which have been used by modern scholars to make inferences about Minoan culture, society, and religion. 

The architecture and language of the Minoans have also attracted scholarly attention. The collapse of the Minoan civilization has been traditionally attributed to a massive volcanic eruption. Not everyone, however, accepts this theory, leading to debates, and other theories being suggested. 

This classic Minoan civilization story includes Theseus fighting the minotaur.  

This classic Minoan civilization story includes Theseus fighting the minotaur. (matiasdelcarmine / Adobe Stock) 

Balancing Preservation and Development 

Recognizing the monument’s uniqueness, a meeting was convened at the airport construction site with officials from the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport. Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni emphasized the importance of continuing the excavation to fully understand and protect the site, even as the airport construction proceeds. This has led to the decision to relocate the planned radar installation to a different location to preserve the archaeological site. 

“This is a unique find of great interest. There are solutions so that the archaeological research of the monument is completed and it is completely protected.” 

The priority is to protect the monument while allowing the new airport project to continue. 

The Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni during the excavation in Kasteli 

Insights into Minoan Culture and Architecture 

Although the excavation is ongoing, initial findings suggest the structure served a community or ceremonial function rather than being a residential building. The central zone’s construction hints at either a truncated cone or vaulted shape, and the complex appears to have been used periodically for rituals, possibly involving food and wine consumption and offerings. 

The meticulous construction of this monumental building points to a well-organized central administration with considerable resources and expertise. The circular structure, while unique in Crete, shows parallels to early Bronze Age architectural forms in the Middle East and other proto-Hellenic and Cyclopean buildings in Greece. 

Future Research and Preservation 

The completion of the excavation is crucial to understanding the monument’s full significance and its relationship with contemporary residential and religious centers in the region. The monument’s distinctive architecture and the fact that it is the first of its kind excavated in Crete underscore its importance. 

The excavation project, conducted by the Ephorate of Antiquities of Heraklion under a Memorandum of Cooperation between the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure, has already unearthed over 35 archaeological sites, demonstrating a careful balance between preserving Crete’s rich cultural heritage and advancing modern infrastructure. 





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