The archaeological site of Gournia is located on a low ridge overlooking the Mirabello Bay near the Isthmus of Ierapetra. It was first excavated by Harriet Boyd in 1901–1904, then by the Greek Archaeological Service under Costis Davaras with Jeffrey Soles in 1971, 1972, and 1976, and later for the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) by L. Vance Watrous (2010–2014); Richard Seager also dug at the cemetery at Sphoungaras in 1910.
The excavated remains of the settlement date primarily to the Late Minoan (LM) I period and consist of some 50 well-preserved houses, a system of cobbled streets, a central court, and a Minoan palace at the top of the hill; in fact, the current plan may be as early as Middle Minoan (MM) III with parts (marked in red) dating to Middle Minoan (MM) II. In addition to the primarily domestic architecture of the town, there is also evidence for the production of stone vases, ceramics (two potter’s workshops and numerous kilns), textiles, bronze tools and weapons, and olive oil or wine.
The Late Minoan town also extended to the sea where remains of a monumental ship shed with storage facilities and fortification walls with towers were identified. Gournia may have served as the palatial administrative center for the Mirabello region, and it was a center of regional trade with the Aegean and Near East; imported objects of obsidian, copper, tin, lead, silver, gold, and pottery have been recovered from the site. Associated with this phase (Neopalatial) of the settlement is a cemetery of pithos burials found at Sphoungaras on the hill slope to the east of the site; this cemetery was also in use from Early Minoan (EM) I/IIA–III (rock shelter burials), with a few pithos and jar burials interred in MM I. The Gournia settlement was destroyed at the end of LM IB.
The site was reoccupied on a smaller scale in LM IIIA:2–IIIB, primarily around the periphery of the earlier settlement. A small shrine found with an altar, small goddesses with upraised arms, and snake tubes dates to this period. The settlement was then abandoned by the end of LM IIIB and the next period of occupation is represented by remains of a 2nd century A.D. Roman town at the southern edge of the Minoan site.
Although the preserved remains date primarily to the Late Minoan period, there is evidence of earlier activity at the site. The earliest pottery found on the Gournia hill is Final Neolithic in date, but a substantial settlement existed by EM II. New construction (especially structures of industrial function), expansion, and reorganization occurred in MM IB; in fact, the site may have been at its largest during MM IB–II. Elite house tombs associated with this phase of settlement were found at the northern end of the hill (the “North Cemetery”).
Gournia is easily accessible from the main highway between the modern towns of Istron and Pacheia Ammos (click image and drag to the right in order to go left for the site which is near the church of Agia Pelagia). The site is fenced and guarded; it is open daily 8:00 am–3:00 pm, except Tuesdays. There are also informative signs on the site.
Boyd, H.A. 1904. “Gournia – Report of the American Exploration Society’s Excavations at Gournia, Crete, 1901–1903,” in Transactions of the Department of Archaeology. Free Museum of Science and Art, University of Pennsylvania I.1, Philadelphia, pp. 7–44.
———.1905. “Gournia. Report of the American Exploration Society’s Excavations at Gournia, Crete in 1904,” in Transactions of the Department of Archaeology. Free Museum of Science and Art, University of Pennsylvania I.3, Philadelphia, pp. 177–190.
Boyd Hawes, H., B.E. Williams, R.B. Seager, and E.H. Hall. 1908. Gournia, Vasiliki and Other Prehistoric Sites on the Isthmus of Hierapetra, Crete – Excavations of the Wells-Houston-Cramp Expeditions 1901, 1903, 1904, Philadelphia.
Cadogan, G. 1992. “Gournia,” in The Aerial Atlas of Ancient Crete, J.W. Myers, E.E. Myers, and G. Cadogan, eds., Berkley, Los Angeles, pp. 104–111.
Davaras, C. 1989. Gournia, Athens.
Fotou, V. 1993. New Light on Gournia. Unknown Documents of the Excavation at Gournia and Other Sites on the Isthmus of Ierapetra by Harriet Ann Boyd (Aegaeum 9), Liège, Austin.
Hall, E.H. 1905. “Early Painted Pottery from Gournia, Crete,” in Transactions of the Department of Archaeology. Free Museum of Science and Art, University of Pennsylvania I.3, Philadelphia, pp. 191–206.
———. 1912. Excavations in Eastern Crete. Sphoungaras (University of Pennsylvania Museum, Anthropological Publications III.2), Philadelphia.
Soles, J.S. 1979. “The Early Gournia Town,” AJA 83, pp. 149–167. DOI: 10.2307/504898.
———. 1991. “The Gournia Palace,” AJA 95, pp. 17–78. DOI: 10.2307/505157.
———. 1992. The Prepalatial Cemeteries at Mochlos and Gournia and the House Tombs of Bronze Age Crete (Hesperia Suppl. 24), Princeton.
Watrous, L.V. 2012. “The Harbor Complex of the Minoan Town at Gournia,” AJA 116, pp. 521–541. DOI: 10.3764/aja.116.3.0521.
Watrous, L.V., D.M. Buell, J.C. McEnroe, J.G. Younger, L.A. Turner, B.S. Kunkel, K. Glowacki, S. Gallimore, A. Smith, P.A. Pantou, A. Chapin, and E. Margaritis. 2015. “Excavations at Gournia, 2010–2012,” Hesperia 84, pp. 397–465. DOI: 10.2972/hesperia.84.3.0397.