An unheralded Cretan quarry could be the site of the legendary labyrinth in which Theseus killed the Minotaur, says an Anglo-Greek team of experts. The group claims the stone quarry, located just outside the tiny town of Gortyn, is just as likey to be the scene for one of Greek mythology‘s most famous tales as the better-known Palace of Knossos 20 miles away.
600,000 people pass through the palace ruins each year; nearly all of whom are told it is the place where King Minos built his fabled maze to house the fearsome Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull creature who feasted on human flesh.
Yet following a recent explosive archaeological incident, a team of experts have earmarked the Gortyn quarry as just as viable a location for the legend as Knossos. Its cave complex, known locally as the Labyrinthos Caves, comprise almost three miles of interlocking tunnels and chambers. Travellers had once flocked to their winding corridors in search of the Labyrinth, but they have been largely deserted since Knossos’ excavation in 1900 by British antiquarian Arthur Evans. They were even used by the Nazis as an ammunition dump during World War Two.
Yet a recent attempt by treasure hunters to dynamite one of the caves’ chambers in search of gold was too much for Oxford University’s Nicholas Howarth and his team. Howarth bemoans the unilateral view of the legend most visitors get nowadays, and fears it could be lost in time. “People come not just to see the controversial ruins excavated and reconstructed by Evans, but also to seek a connection to the mythical past of the Age of Heroes,” he says. “It is a shame that almost all visitors to Knossos have never heard of these other possible ‘sites’ for the mythical Labyrinth”
Gortyn has its own rich heritage, having been the political centre for the Roman occupation of Crete, around the 1st century AD. It is also the home of the Gortyn Code, the oldest example of Greek law. Its bigger cousin Knossos is the largest archaeological site on the island, and is thought to have been inhabited since around 7,000 BC. Yet it is most famous for the palace built there between 1,700 – 1,400 BC, which legend says was the seat of King Minos – after whom the Minoan civilisation, prelude to Classical Greece, is named. Greek merchant Minos Kalokairinos first discovered the city in 1878, but it wasn’t until Evan’s systematic excavation 22 years later than its full extent became known. Experts ‘finding’ the true locations of Greek myths is hardly a novel excercise – just take a look at the dozens of places claimed to have been the site of Plato‘s legendary city of Atlantis.