At approximately 380m above sea level, on the slopes of Mount Ida (Psiloritis), Eleutherna stands on a prominence that resembles a vast stone ship moored in ineffable green with its prow pointing northwest. Eleutherna’s location at the heart of Crete, approximately mid-way between ancient Kydonia (modern Chania) to the west, Knossos to the east, and Phaistos and Gortyn to the south favoured the city’s development. This and its ties to the sea were the basis for a society that was open to the world and subject to its periodic ups and downs, as the University of Crete’s excavations and investigations, undertaken systematically since 1985, have shown.
Ancient Eleutherna has been revealing its secrets, which date from approximately 3000 BC to the fourteenth century AD. Excavations at the Orthi Petra necropolis show that the Early Iron Age, particularly the period from 900 BC to the end of the 6th or beginning of the 5th century BC, was the city’s most important period, one directly associated with the dawn of Greek civilization and Homer (the Iliad and the Odyssey).
This is why we created the Eleuthernian Grove, an archaeological park that comprises the ancient city with footpaths, rest areas, and information panels. Visitors can enjoy, both nature –the fauna and flora– and antiquities in an enchanting landscape.
Eleutherna’s history is illustrated by the material remains of its culture presented in three consecutive rooms.
The objects displayed in Room A (vases, sculptures, weapons, tools, figurines from clay, stone, metal, faience, etc., inscriptions, etc.) provide an introduction to the public, political, religious, social, and private life of Eleutherna through the ages. The room is dominated by a large display case with artifacts imported from other Cretan cities and from further afield: Attica, the Peloponnese, the Cyclades, the Eastern Aegean islands, Asia Minor, Cyprus, Phoenicia and the Syro-Palestinian coast, and Egypt… These illustrate the “Odyssean” adventure and recall Homer, who told of Odysseus’s travels and of the “cities he saw and ideas he learned” (Odyssey, Book 1, 3).
Room B presents religious life and cults at Eleutherna from the Early Iron Age to the Byzantine era. It also houses Monument 4A, a heroon-sanctuary, which, if interpreted correctly as a cenotaph, is one of the earliest monuments to the unknown soldier in world history. It also houses one of the most important finds from the Orthi Petra necropolis, the Eleutherna Kore, which is closely associated with the famous Lady of Auxerre, the exquisite Daidalic sculpture now in the Louvre in Paris.
Room C is dedicated to Eleutherna’s cemeteries. The display focuses on finds from the Orthi Petra necropolis, since these illustrate the Homeric narrative, e.g. the ritual of funerary pyres, as described in the Iliad, particularly in the passage describing Patroclus’s pyre (Book XXIII), and aspects of the Homeric daita (diet). It also portrays a society of heroic warriors and imperious princesses, like those buried in Building M, which contained the remains of four women aged 13.5 to 72 years who held prominent positions in the Early Archaic society of Eleutherna. Another rock-cut tomb, the “Tomb of the Warriors”, housed the cremated remains of Eleutherna’s illustrious warriors with their opulent grave gifts of weapons, jewellery, and tools. This tomb contained the bronze shield now on display as an emblem in the museum’s entrance.
The display ends with a reconstruction of the well-preserved funerary pyre of a young male warrior, aged approximately 30 years, who was cremated together with his companion. This pyre, which dates to approximately 720-700 BC, also included a unique feature: the body of a stout man, aged 30-40 years, probably a prisoner-of-war executed in front of the warrior’s pyre. This unique discovery recalls Homer’s dramatic description of both the slaughter of Trojan prisoners-of-war by Achilles in front of the Patroclus’s pyre (Iliad, Book XXIII, 22-23, 175-176,180-183) and the pyre’s entire ritual (110-179 ff.).
For these reasons the current display focuses on Homer. This is the backbone, the thread that connects everything. Crete can now stand firmly on two feet: the Minoan civilization and Homer. These are its strong points in its ancient history.
In addition to the rich explanatory material and texts, special films and audiovisual presentations enhance the museum’s evocative exhibits.
Contacts and exchange between East and West in antiquity which are attested by imported objects from the Aegean and the Near East, demonstrates the city’s extroverted character. These journeys, provenances, and exchanges are illustrated on a huge projected map inside the large display case containing these objects. Another film explores the story of Phronime told by Herodotus (Histories, 4.154-161).
In Room B, a feature film presents the adventure of the famous statue known as the Lady of Auxerre from the time of its discovery, its journey to France and acquisition by the Louvre, to the identification of its origin by Professor Nikolaos Stampolidis and, finally, to its reunion with the Kore of Eleutherna, for the first time since it left Crete in the late 19th century, in the Museum of Cycladic Art in 2004/5. In the same room, an audiovisual presentation explains the monument to which the Kore belonged.
In Room C, a film completed in 1996 presents the funerary ritual illustrated by the finds of Funerary Pyre ΛΛ and the Homeric description (Iliad, Book XXIII). Finally, the film projected in the special area off Room A encapsulates the meaning of the museum’s sub-title Homer in Crete.