Ancient site on N coast 7.5 km E. of Iraklion. Homer (Od. 19.188-89)
refers to its difficult harbor and to the Cave of Eileithyia; a later tradition
made it the port of Knossos under Minos (Strab. 10.4.8, probably a deduction from
Homer rather than a genuine surviving Minoan tradition, despite the considerable
Minoan remains now revealed). Ancient sources (see Guarducci) refer only to the
Amnisos river (now Karteros), the harbor, the plain, and the cave and sanctuary
of Eileithyia. There is no clear evidence that a city called Amnisos ever existed:
no coins or public inscriptions of Amnisos are known, and the main coastal settlement
(Palaiochora) may have been called Thenai.
A sandy beach runs E for 2.5 km from the mouth of the Karteros. Half way along it is a rocky hill (Palaiochora), on which there was a fortified village (Mesovouni) in the Venetian period, probably abandoned during the Turkish attacks of the mid 17th c.; Minoan remains have been found beneath the ruined houses of this period.
At the E and N foot of the hill and W of the hill are Minoan remains, and traces of occupation on the W in the early post-Minoan period also, though the evidence is confused. In the archaic Greek period an open-air sanctuary was built over and into the Minoan ruins, which were at least partly visible: in front of a long wall fronted by steps was an altar, over and around which were found large numbers of archaic votives, and faience objects imported from Egypt. A coastal recession deposited a deep layer of sand over the site, probably in the Classical period. The sanctuary was rebuilt with roofed buildings over the sand layer by the end of the 2d c. B.C. A dedication to Zeus Thenatas indicates the identity of the cult practiced here (or one of them), which lasted until the 2d c. A.D. at least.
Farther W, towards the river, lay the impoverished settlement of LM IIIB, with traces of post-Minoan occupation. The Minoan harbor must have lain in the river mouth, then much less silted, but still rather exposed to the NW wind.
The Cave of Eileithyia (Neraidospilios or Koutsouras) lies 1 km inland, in the ridge on the E side of the Karteros valley. First identified and briefly excavated in the 1880s, it was fully excavated, with the coastal site, in the 1930s. The cave (62 m long, 9-12 m wide and 3-4 m high) was entered from the E. Roughly in the center of the cave are a large and small stalagmite (clearly objects of cult) and a simple altar, surrounded by a low wall (probably Minoan or Geometric); water dripping at the back of the cave may have been connected with the (probably kourotrophic) cult, which seems to have flourished in LM III-Archaic and Hellenistic-Roman times. The remains are mostly of pottery, ranging in date from Neolithic to 5th c. A.D.
Regarded in antiquity as the birthplace of Eileithyia, the cave was her chief cult place. Her cult may also have been later practiced in the coastal settlement, whose origin may have been due to the cult rather than the harbor.
D. J. Blackman, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Nov 2002 from Perseus Project URL below, which contains bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.
A town in the N. of Crete, and the harbour of Cnossus in the time of Minos, was
situated at the mouth of a river of the same name (the modern Aposelemi). It possessed
a sanctuary of Eileithyia, and the nymphs of the river, called Amnisiabes and
Amnisides, were sacred to this goddess.
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