On the eastern side of the expansive Karteros bay lies the small hill of Paleochora, which was once home to the Minoan settlement of Amnissos. The name Amnissos can be traced back to the Linear B tablets, the Minoan script, as a-mi-mi-so. Discoveries at Amnissos include a Minoan harbor, numerous buildings, and an outdoor archaic sanctuary where the god Zeus was worshiped. The settlement of Amnissos dates back to the 19th century BC.
Mythology tells us that when Zeus was just a newborn baby, he had to be taken to the Dikti cave to hide from his father, Cronus. While en route and above Amnissos, his navel fell here, which led to the area being called Omfalio Pedio (Navel Valley) in ancient times.
At the eastern side of the hill, near the parking lot of the bustling Amnissos beach, the Minoan mansion of Lilies can be found. Dating back to the 16th century BC, the mansion features murals with floral motifs and blooming lilies. It is believed to have housed an important person, possibly the king of Knossos, Minos, during his vacation. The villa consisted of a hall, bathroom, sanctum, kitchen, and stone-paved areas.
The murals with lilies likely depict a sacred garden and are the primary evidence of Minoan artificial gardens. This is suggested by the lilies drawn in jagged frames, which may represent artificial ponds. Similar ponds can be seen in numerous Egyptian depictions of luxurious gardens.
The mansion was destroyed by fire in the 15th century BC but was ultimately abandoned during the 12th century BC. The building was excavated in 1932 by professor Spiros Marinatos, but sadly, it was severely damaged by German troops during World War II.
To the west of Paleochora hill, you will find the ruins of one of the largest temples of ancient Crete, the Temple of Zeus Thenatas. The temple was built in the 7th century BC and operated until the second century AD. Surrounding the temple, you will see a strong wall with boulders, a part of which is on the sandy beach. Inside the temple, a circular altar can still be discerned.
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