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Greek goddesses unearthed in Crete
September 30, 2005
The life-sized marble statues of two ancient Greek goddesses have emerged during excavations of a 5,000-year-old town on the island of Crete, archeologists said Friday.
The works, representing the goddesses Athena and Hera, date to between the 2nd and 4th centuries AD – a period of Roman rule in Greece – and originally decorated the Roman theatre in the town of Gortyn, archeologist Anna Micheli from the Italian School of Archaeology told the Associated Press.
“They are in very good condition,” she said, adding that the statue of Athena, goddess of wisdom, was complete, while Hera – long-suffering wife of Zeus, the philandering king of gods – is missing her head.
“But we hope to find the head in the surrounding area,” Ms. Micheli said.
A team of Italian and Greek archeologists discovered the statues Tuesday while excavating the ruined theatre of Gortyn, about 45 kilometres south of Iraklion in central Crete.
The goddesses, each standing two metres tall with their bases, were toppled from their plinths by a powerful earthquake around AD 367 that destroyed the theatre and much of the town, Ms. Micheli said.
“The statues fell off the stage, and were found just in front of their original position, seven metres from ground level,” she said. “This is one of the rare cases when such works are discovered in the building where they initially stood.”
Hopes were running high that other parts of the theatre's sculptural decoration would emerge during future excavations.
Gortyn, the Roman capital of Crete, was first inhabited around 3000 BC and was a flourishing Minoan town between 1600-1100 BC. It prospered during classical and Roman times, and was destroyed by an Arab invasion in AD 824.
Greek mythology has it that the town witnessed one of Zeus's many affairs – with the princess Europa, whom the god, disguised as a bull, abducted from Lebanon. Europe was named after Europa, who conceived her first son with Zeus under a plane tree in Gortyn.
The Italian School of Archaeology has been digging at the site since the early 20th century, in co-operation with Greek state archeologists. So far, excavations have revealed fortifications, temples, baths, a stadium and an early church of St. Titus, who preached Christianity in Gortyn.
Hera repair to smooth over tension
January 3, 2006
Italian archaeologists to patch up ancient Cretan statue
Rome, January 2 - An Italian archaeological team is patch together an ancient statue from Crete, restoring it to its original condition and helping smooth over political tension sparked by the breakage.
The statue of the goddess Hera, unearthed on the Greek island of Crete by the Italian Archaeological School, was broken last September while under Italian care, attracting extensive media coverage and resulting in parliamentary questions in both countries.
The problem of the statue from the Roman Theatre in the town of Gortyn has now been resolved, said Anna Maria Reggiani, the head of the Italian Culture Ministry's archaeology department.
The plan has already been approved by the Greeks, much to the satisfaction of both governments. The incident occurred in September, while the newly unearthed statue was being transported. Although technically under Italian supervision, the archaeology team had hired local Greek workers for the move.
However, the breakage itself was the result of a freak gust of wind, which knocked the artefact to the ground, cracking it in two.
Some initial reports suggested the statue had been reduced to smithereens but it soon emerged that there was only a single break.
According to the co-director of the dig, Francesca Ghedini, the damage is 95% repairable.
Ghedini, whose brother Niccolo Ghedini is Premier Silvio Berlusconi's lawyer, also suggested the incident had been used by the opposition for political purposes.
In an interview with daily Il Mattino di Padova, she denied that the breakage had caused any diplomatic problems, implying that the media coverage had been a storm in a teacup.
Relations with Greece are excellent, just as they've always been, she said. We still have a great many projects under way. Reggiani echoed these sentiments, stressing that ties with our Greek colleagues are excellent and explaining that both side were working on plans to open a Greek archaeological school in Rome.
Vassily Avarantinos, the classical antiquities superintendent of Viotia, a site near Athens, said the Greek authorities were satisfied.
The Italian Archaeological School is a highly prestigious body, he explained. I'm a superintendent, I've seen the excavation in Gortyn and I know that what happened to the statue of Hera can happen to anyone working on digs.
The only real mistake is when people sit back and do nothing about such accidents. What's important is that a solution has been reached. The reconstruction work will be carried out by the Culture Ministry's archaeological team, headed by Giovanna Bandini. Work will start this month.