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Crete Airport Flap Volume 52 Number 1, January/February 1999
by Nikos Axarlis

A private airport planned near Ierápetra, in southeastern Crete, is drawing fire from the Association of Greek Archaeologists and the Greek chapter of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, which claim the project threatens nearly a score of archaeological sites that span the Neolithic to the seventeenth century A.D. A consortium of local authorities, tourist businesses, and farmers has designed the airport, located at the center of a nine-mile strip of land extending from the ancient Minoan city of Gournia, on the north coast of Crete, to Ierápetra.

Excavations and surveys by American archaeologists in the first decade of this century revealed a number of sites in the two-mile-square airport area. Inspections by Greek archaeologists between 1994 and 1996 revealed 18 sites within the area and a further seven just outside. Scholars predict the discovery of more sites before groundbreaking.

Only Kefala, a hilltop site, has so far been studied with funds provided by the consortium. According to excavator Theodoros Eliopoulos, Kefala is a large post-Minoan settlement dating to ca. 1200-1000 B.C. that includes a temple with eight rooms. Finds include altars and a number of goddess statuettes, including one seated on a throne.

The site, says Eliopoulos, "is extremely important because it charts the development of religion from Minoan times to that of Archaic Greece." The Gournia-Ierápetra passage in antiquity, he says, provided an overland route linking the Aegean and Libyan seas. Eliopoulos proposed that the area be declared an archaeological park, but the idea was rejected by Greece's Central Archaeological Council (CAC), which this past October approved the airport provided that its runways be rerouted to preserve Kefala. Preservationists view the case as another retreat by the CAC in the face of pressure from developers and politicians (see "Development Juggernaut," November/December 1997).

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© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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