Traveling Classroom Foundation
Monday March 27th 2023

Accidental Discovery

We never know what our travels will reveal, and maybe that’s a good thing. Sometimes one discovers more by accident than through exertion – as we learned today. This morning we started out to find Nirou Hani, a large Minoan villa near the beach town of Kokkini Hani, about halfway to Iraklio. A very simple expedition.

Unfortunately, navigating Cretan roads is complicated by occasionally faulty maps and often nonexistent road signs. We drive the old coast road through Kato Gouves, Gournes, and finally Kokkini Hani. Then we turn south into the hills, looking for a road sign or any clue to the inland archaeological site indicated on our map. After several failed detours, we return to Kokkini Hani and stop at a beachside taverna. Taking a table on a terrace above the sand, we order iced coffee frappes.

It is too windy for lying on the beach

It is windy today. The sea is frothy and there are sizable waves (for the Aegean) rolling onto the shore. Consequently, the chaise lounges along the beach, usually occupied by sunbathers, are deserted. That’s okay with us. After driving about in the hills, it feels good to sit at an empty beach in a cool breeze.

About halfway through our frappes, we notice a small fenced area next to the taverna. It extends from the road above to the beach, and contains what appears to be part of an ancient foundation or seawall. After finishing our drinks, we walk over to investigate. It doesn’t make much sense, until we climb the stairs and find Nirou Hani, just across the road from where our car is parked.

Nirou Hani is sandwiched between streets of apartments

After collecting our camera bag, we cross the road to the fenced archaeological site. It is hemmed in by the modern town on the east and west, and farm land to the south.  From our first look at the covered ruins, it is clear that this was a magnificent villa – maybe big enough to be called a palace. According to our notes, it had about a 1000 square meters of floor space in two stories.  And it shows all the typical features of Minoan architecture: two paved courtyards, connecting corridors, storage rooms with pithoi, a staircase to the upper level, a light well (bringing sunlight to the ground floor), religious shrines, and so on.

View to the sea from Nirou Hani villa

Some archaeologists believe it was a high priest’s mansion or perhaps a religious center, because it contained many ceremonial vessels, as well as four bronze double axes, forty tripod altars, and other ritual objects.  The remains of a large pair of horns of consecration were also found on an altar, together with pieces of fresco showing sacral knots. These surely indicate religious activities.

Living area with seating, or perhaps a meeting chamber

The villa was probably built in the 16th century BCE, and then reconstructed after the tsunami caused by the eruption of Thera destroyed everything along the north coast.  In fact, votive cups containing pieces of volcanic pumice from Thera were found beneath the shrine. Perhaps they were placed there as an offering to ward off any future volcanic disasters.

It lasted another century, until it was destroyed by fire (the interior walls and upper floor were supported by wooden timbers). The villa was not rebuilt again.

We were lucky to have found Nirou Hani on the side of the road, where it was almost invisible to passing cars. The next time we search for something, we will try not to “plan” as carefully, and perhaps let events unfold by chance.

Related Tags:
Previous Topic:
Next Topic:

Leave a Comment

More from category

Way Station
Way Station

The ancient Cretans, known as “Minoans” today, created a far-flung shipping and trade network with Europe, Africa [Read More]

Last Day of Digging
Last Day of Digging

We revisit the Minoan town of Gournia to learn what new things have been discovered at those excavations. Sadly, we [Read More]

Designing a City – Malia Revisited
Designing a City – Malia Revisited

A road trip is needed to learn more about an ongoing excavation at Kefali Hill near the village of Sisi. It is not far [Read More]

One Town – Three Cultures
One Town – Three Cultures

We decide to revisit the city of Rethymno, which is about 100 kilometers from where we live. Several years ago we [Read More]

The Great Castle
The Great Castle

We have not visited Iraklio for a long while, so we decide to go today. Because it is hot and city parking is awful, we [Read More]

A Palace Beneath the Vineyards
A Palace Beneath the Vineyards

Setting off on another random expedition, we drive westward on the national highway. When the traffic becomes [Read More]