Three of Crete's 100 ancient cities revived

A new exhibition focusing on a trio of ancient cities has opened at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens. Entitled Crete: Emerging cities – Aptera, Eleutherna, Knossos – Three ancient cities revived, it focuses on three of Crete's hekatompolis, the 100 cities on the island cited by Homer, looking at what they have in common: their establishment, acme, decline, destruction, abandonment and demise. Despite centuries-long histories, they were all but forgotten.

This is a multi-faceted show, with rich audio-visual aids, including maps, screens and other innovative technologies, as well as around 500 artefacts, dating from the Neolithic (7th–6th millennium BC) to the Byzantine period (8th century AD), some newly discovered, others unearthed in old excavations, most of them never presented to the public before.

Statues, figurines, inscriptions, weapons, jewellery, coins, vases, reliefs – including an early 2nd-century AD funerary relief from Aptera showing two men (above), and other artefacts, made of limestone, marble, clay, metal (including bronze, iron, silver, gold), faience, glass, ivory and semi-precious stones, are on show.

A few lines of poetry by Professor Nikos Chr. Stampolidis, Director of the Museum of Cycladic Art, sum up the scene:
Random and fragmentary, the centuries-old ruins and finds
from these apiaries of human life and creation, the cities;
ancient cities like those emerging from the pages of time
and the layers of dust on their ravaged remains.

Antiquities from each of the three lost cities in the northwest of the island speak of their territory, public and private life, religious beliefs, sanctuaries and cemeteries, with fragments of their historical continuum. Artefacts relate to founding myths and to personal stories: Soterios from Eleutherna, who lived and died at Aptera, the young man of Eleutherna who died before knowing love, and the child buried with its toys at Knossos. On show, too, are Renaissance books and maps, including Vincenzo Maria Coronelli's 1707 map of Crete, with its famous fruit garland inscribed with the names of Homer's 100 cities.

Videos featuring aerial views of the site, images of excavations, drawings, restoration and conservation work complete the story. Orthi Petra (Necropolis), original music composed by Yiorgos Kaloudis, written for the four-stringed Cretan lyre and cello, is heard in the gallery displaying the artefacts from the cemetery of Eleutherna.

The exhibition concludes with two bull's heads hovering above the sea surrounding Crete, one is Minoan, the other is by Picasso – which pressages the museum's next show, Picasso and Antiquity. Line and Clay, and is scheduled to open in June of this year.

• Crete: Emerging cities – Aptera, Eleutherna, Knossos – Three ancient cities revived is at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens ( until 30 April 2019. The catalogue is published in Greek and English.

Lindsay Fulcher