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Culture

Excavations at a Once Prosperous and Remote Ancient Site on Crete Reveal Large Public Building

CHANIA – A large section of a public building has been discovered at the remote ancient site of Lissos, south of Chania in Crete, during the first season of an archaeological excavation held after 62 years, the Ministry of Culture & Sports said on Tuesday.

Facing east, the building appears to be either an odeum (where musical activities took place), or a bouleuterion (where members of the boule met). According to preliminary information, the building appears to have been constructed in the early Roman years, during the 1st century AD.

The building is part of a theater complex and the excavation took place in order to preserve the findings already exposed to the elements from the late ’50s, when it was first excavated by Nikolaos Platon. Further north, there was a temple dedicated to the healer god, Asclepius.

Current excavations revealed part of the stage, a corridor on each side of the theater with a vaulted roof, and 14 rows of seats. The seating part of the theater rests on a built base, and most of the surviving seats are found south and soutwest. The northern section is heavily damaged from large boulders carried by the overflowing of a stream nearby, and broke through the building diagonally, towards the east. It is speculated that the flooding occurred after a powerful earthquake in the Late Roman era (4th c AD), which destroyed most of western Crete’s ancient sites.

Future work on the site will determine whether the theater is supported by an outside wall, which will also influence restoration work.

The building lies in a central part of the town and near the Asclepius temple (Asclepieum of Lissus), excavated in 1959. Lissos was an independent city, a religious center, and the seat of the Koinon (self-government) of Oreioi during the 3rd century BC. It developed in the fertile valley of Ai Kyrkos, protected by steep mountains and facing the southwest Cretan Sea. Besides the temple, the general area includes ruins of public buildings, an impressive Hellenistic-Roman necropolis, and two single-room Byzantine churches.

Because of its accessibility only by sea or through the demanding European long distance path E4, the area has not changed by modern interventions, which also makes excavation difficult.

The work was undertaken by the Antiquities Ephorate of Chania, and its estimated cost of 300,000 euros is funded by the Region of Crete Program of Public Investments.

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