Rethymno Eleftherna Archaeological Museum

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Location: Eleftherna
Don't miss: Museums guide (free admission dates and other useful info)

Situated near the archaeological site of ancient Eleutherna, around 30 kilometers southeast of Rethymno Town, the Eleutherna Archaeological Museum unveils the city’s secrets from 3000 BC to 1500 AD. Thanks to the unique funerary monuments excavated in the nearby necropolis of Orthi Petra, it is the only museum that centers around the dawn of the Greek civilization as described by Homer.

Eleutherna is an ideal destination for a day or half-day trip, as it lies nearly halfway between Chania Town and Heraklion Town, in a place of unspoiled natural beauty and great archaeological interest, away from the bustle of the cities.

The museum is housed in a modern 1,800-square-meter building that looks like an ark springing up from the ground. In full harmony with the surrounding landscape, it also has a lush garden and a natural open-air theater where cultural events can be hosted. It is a great place for you to sit back and gaze at the sublime views of the peaks of Mount Ida, which was, according to the myth, the birthplace of Zeus.

Upon entering, visitors find themselves before one of the museum’s most emblematic findings: an Archaic bronze shield found inside the so-called warriors’ tomb. Next to the shield, there are modern casts created for educational purposes, enabling visitors with visual impairment to explore it through touch.

The biggest hall is the first one, whose exhibits illustrate aspects of the public and private life of Eleutherna’s citizens. The collection includes tools, weapons, vases, figurines, inscriptions and coins, while, in the very center of the hall, there is an impressive showcase with select gold jewelry from the Homeric times.

The second hall revolves around religious worship practices in ancient Eleutherna from the early Iron Age till the Byzantine times. Notable exhibits include an elaborate bronze bowl whose motif is reminiscent of the one depicted on Achilles’ shield in the Iliad, as well as sculptures and architectural members from a large funerary monument excavated in the Orthi Petra necropolis. Having probably functioned as a heroon or a cenotaph, this is one of the earliest monuments in world history dedicated to the unknown warrior. A sculpture bearing a striking similarity to the famous Lady of Auxerre, which is now exhibited in the Louvre, also stands out.

Finally, the third hall contains discoveries exclusively from the necropolis of Orthi Petra. With findings of cremation burials and internments, this cemetery is a reference point, as it illustrates the Homeric depiction of Patroclus’ funerary pyre in the Iliad and confirms its veracity, which has been disputed since ancient times. These findings placed Eleutherna among the top 10 archaeological sites for 2009-2010 according to the Archaeology magazine, while the film accompanying them in the museum has been awarded the first prize in the Rovereto Archaeological Film Festival.

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