Minoan Toilets, Drains, and Water PipesIntroduction to
is a Minoan palace site about 35 kilometers east of Heraklion.
On the way there we pass through Amnisos or
on the outskirts of Heraklion, just beyond the airport,
where there is a small but significant Minoan site.
Malia is a large complex, apparently combining governmental and administrative, religious, and residential areas, within what early 20th century archaeologists called a "palace".
The Amnisos site as visible today is largely the ruins of a villa called the "House of the Lilies". Amnisos appears in ancient Greek literature and mythology, but its origins are further back, in prehistory. It was a Minoan settlement, see the start page for more on the Minoan civilization. Its Mycenaean name in the Linear B script was 𐀀𐀖𐀛𐀰 or A-mi-ni-so.
The E75 expressway runs east and west along the northern coast of Crete. We want to instead be on the old road, the Palea EO Irakliou Agiou Nikolaou, the Old Highway from Heraklion to Agios Nikolaos. Past the airport it goes downhill, then winds around and follows the coast near the waterline. Soon you can pull off to the left, find a parking space, and walk toward the beach.
Among with many other things, we don't know why the Minoan civilization collapsed. It was replaced by the Mycenaean Greeks, but why?Dating the
One set of theories relates to the catastrophic explosion of Thira or Θήρα, some 120 kilometers to the north, around 1600–1630 BCE. Could that have caused a devastating tsunami?
Possibly, and Amnisos and Malia were close to the northern shoreline. But Knossos is five kilometers inland and over 100 meters above sea level. Phaistos is over the high central range of mountains, near the south coast, completely out of danger from tsunamis approaching from Thira to the north of Crete.
Well, the Thira eruption deposited tephra all around the eastern Mediterranean. Maybe that layer of ash disrupted agriculture?
Possibly, in some areas, although it seems that no more than 5 mm of ash was deposited anywhere on Crete.
Also, the Minoan sites were still occupied for another 150 to 200 years. The Mycenaeans conquered the Minoans in 1450–1400 BCE.
The Minoans were a sea power, involved in trade by ships. The Thira eruption very likely disrupted them. It may have left them less stable or prosperous, more susceptible to conquest in the following centuries. The instability could have led to the collapse of their society.
Here is the villa, surrounded by chain-link fence. I found that there was a gate in the southern side, tied shut with a rope to keep pets and livestock out, but easily opened. Or so I chose to interpret the situation.
In this picture I'm looking straight south across the site, with the gate left of center on the opposite side.
In the next picture I'm on the north side, the side closest to the waterline, looking southeast over the corner of the villa site. The rock-lined rectangular area to the left, at the northeast corner of the site, is the villa's "lustral basin".Arthur Evans &
A so-called "lustral basin" is described in more detail on the first page. Lustral basins are very definite things, consistently designed architectural features found in Minoan sites. However, they are not what Arthur Evans speculated that they might be.
Lustral basins appear in all major Minoan sites in Crete. However, none of them have any form of drain, and all are lined with gypsum, which is like modern drywall panels or blackboard chalk, most unsuitable for water containers. They are not at all suited for Evans's ideas of ritualized bathing.
Here I'm at the northwest corner looking across the villa site to its southeast corner.
I'm along the western edge of the villa, looking across it to the east, parallel to the shoreline.
Now, at the southwest corner looking across to the northeast, over the lustral basin in the far corner. There's an airliner inbound to HER or Nikos Kazantzakis Airport.
Here is what remains of the lustral basin.
Minoan Palace of Malia
Back on the old coast road, and east to Malia. I have entered the site and am at the south end of the Central Court. Some of the East Wing and East Storerooms are under a shelter to protect the material. A small, low shelter at the center of the court protects the bothros or altar. Malia is unusual for having a small altar at the center of its central court.
Malia, like Knossos, is laid out about 20° clockwise from a true north-south east-west alignment. Phaistos is the exception, aligned to the cardinal directions.
Here's a view of the East Storerooms, under the shelter along the east side of the Central Court. The walls and floors were plastered. Notice the gutters cut into the floor to capture and channel liquid. Maybe this was where olive oil was mixed with herbs and spices to produce the valuable fragrances, medicines, ointments, and soaps for which the Minoans were known?
Minoan palaces devoted up to a third of their floor space to storage, even more than that at Malia.
Just off the southwest corner of the Central Court, next to the Monumental Staircase, is the "Malia Table". This is a form of κέρνος or kernos, a pottery ring or stone tray with several small vessels for holding offerings. In this stone example, there is only one vessel off to the side, the stone disc is otherwise lined with circular markings that might represent other vessels.
A lustral basin is just to the left of center in the below picture. We're just off the northeast corner of the West Court, looking south. The walls surrounding the lustral basin now stand only about knee-high around its exterior, with the basin itself below the surrounding floor level.
Here's another view toward that lustral basin, having moved to view it from the southeast.
What you've seen so far is referred to as the central palace complex. It was all that the public could see of Malia until recently.
Now you can continue to an area northwest of the central complex, known as the Agora, with the nearby Hypostyle Crypt or Pillar Crypt, and beyond that to Quartier Mu, further to the west. Those areas are protected by large shelters.
The Hypostyle Crypt contains storage spaces whose floors were stuccoed and provided with gutters and a sump to collect spilled liquids, like we saw in the East Storerooms.
Staircases lead down into the storage chambers, somewhat like the turning staircases leading into lustral basins.
Quartier Mu is a name assigned by French archaeologists. It's a residential area, part of the Minoan city surrounding the palace. Elevated wooden walkways let you walk around and over the Minoan residences.
The residences were connected to a municipal drain system. As at Knossos and Phaistos, the sewage and rain water drain systems were separated.
Finally, here's what the modern visitor to Malia can encounter. The standard warning to put all paper, everything except human waste, into the bin. Plus a picture showing how to flush the seatless toilet.
More Minoan Toilets, Drains, and Water Lines