Small island off Iraklion, Crete, just beyond the harbor of ancient Knossos. When Theseus abandoned Ariadne after she saved him from the Labyrinth, some say that he left her on the island of Naxos. But others claim he was so anxious to be rid of her that he left her on Dia, within sight of her father's domain.
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.
- Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD)
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
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.
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
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
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.