Minoan Peak Sanctuaries

Minoan Peak Sanctuaries

Atsipadhes Peak Sanctuary
Atsipadhes Korakias seen from southwest.The sanctuary is on the more distant part of the outcrop. The Ayios Vasilios Plain is visible in the background. Athinaios

Peak sanctuaries (iera korifis in Greek) are a type of shrine, a cult or ritual space associated with the Bronze Age Aegean, specifically Minoan society on Crete, between about 2000 and 1450 BC.

Peak sanctuaries are located on or close to the summit of a mountain: altitudes range between 200-1,200 meters (650-4000 feet) above sea level and as such provide a 360 degree view of the region. They typically are located on the highest local peak visible from and within three hours walking distance of an associated settlement.

They are also visible from other peak sanctuaries, the sight lines creating a network of shrines floating above the terrain.

The structures built at peak sanctuaries are minimal, consisting generally of a clay or stone altar or table in an open space. Artifacts recovered from peak sanctuaries include human and animal terracotta figurines, terracotta votive limbs (effigies of human body parts), and miniature pots. Also nearby are the debris of use for these shrines: broken pottery drinking vessels, miniature vases, fragments of models, and plain pebbles brought up from the lowlands.

Identifying Peak Sanctuaries

That Minoans explicitly placed shrines on tops of mountain peaks was first recognized by archaeologist John L. Myres, who published a report of his excavations at Petsophas peak in 1903. The category of "peak sanctuaries" was established by archaeologist Arthur Evans, and the first full description was published by Nikolaos Platon in 1951.

Bogdan Rutkowski described peak sanctuaries in a series of books in the mid-1980s. However, explicit criteria for identifying what a peak sanctuary was made up of was not published until 2009, by Alan Peatfield, based on the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analysis by Steven Soetens.

What Peatfield found was support for the idea that there was a visual network of shrines from peak to peak, as well as support for the theory that peak sanctuaries were in part used for observing solstice events.

The scatters of artifacts from using the sanctuaries aligns relative to the shrine's location from the solstices. Peak sanctuaries also likely functioned as shamanic places where altered states could be attained, according to recent work by Peatfield and Morris; and perhaps specifically as a response to environmental changes in the region, according to Moody.


There are at least 25 cultic sites on Crete which are considered peak sanctuaries by archaeologists; others are found on the mainland and on other islands in the Aegean.

A current project led by A. Sarris and J. Driessen is using Geographic Information System to map the locations of peak sanctuaries, their sightlines and viewsheds. Recent careful consideration of the artifact assemblages at Cretan sanctuaries of all types has led researcher Camilla Briault to wonder if peak sanctuaries were significantly different from other kinds of sanctuaries on Crete. What separates a peak sanctuary from any other kind of sanctuary is its location on the top of a mountain peak. Briault argues that cult activities associated with peak sanctuaries were also performed at other locations.


  • Examples on Crete: Juktas, Petsophas, Traostalos, Vrysinas, Kophinas, Atsipadhes Korakies and Plagia
  • Examples off Crete: Agios Georgios on Kythera, Apollon Maleatas on the Argolid mainland, Troullos on Kea; Idaean Cave on Zominthos


This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Briault C. 2007. Making mountains out of molehills in the Bronze Age Aegean: visibility, ritual kits, and the idea of a peak sanctuary. World Archaeology 39(1):122-141.

Haggis DC. 2007. Stylistic diversity and diacritical feasting at Protopalatial Petras: a preliminary analysis of the Lakkos deposit. American Journal of Archaeology 111(4):715-775.

Moody J. 2009. Enviornmental change and Minoan sacred landscapes. Hesperia Supplements: Essays on Ritual and Cult in Crete in Honor of Geraldine C Gesell 42:241-249.

Morris C, and Peatfield A. 2002. Feeling through the body: Gesture in Cretan Bronze Age religion.

In: Hamilakis Y, Pluciennik M, and Tarlow S, editors. Thinking through the Body: Archaeologies of Corporeality. London: Springer. p 105-120. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4615-0693-5_6

Peatfield AAD, and Morris C. 2012. Dynamic spirituality on Minoan peak sanctuaries. In: Rountree K, Morris C, and Peatfield AAD, editors. Archaeology of Spiritualities: Springer New York. p 227-245. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4614-3354-5_11

Peatfield A. 1994. The Atsipadhes Korakias Peak Sanctuary Project. Classics Ireland 1. Free online.

Peatfield A. 2009. The topography of Minoan peak sanctuaries revisited. Hesperia Supplements: Essays on Ritual and Cult in Crete in Honor of Geraldine C Gesell 42:251-259.

Siart C, and Eitel B. 2008. Geoarchaeological studies in central Crete based on remote sensing and GIS. In: Posluschny A, Lambers K, and Herzog I, editors. Layers of Perception: Proceedings of the 35th International Conference on Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA). Bonn. p 299-305.

Siart C, Eitel B, and Panagiotopoulos D. 2008. Investigation of past archaeological landscapes using remote sensing and GIS: a multi-method case study from Mount Ida, Crete. Journal of Archaeological Science 35(11):2918-2926. doi: 10.1016/j.jas.2008.06.006

Soetens S, Sarris A, and Topouzi S. 2001. Peak sanctuaries in the Minoan cultural landscape. 9th International Congress of Cretan Studies. Elounda, Crete. Free online

Soetens S. 2009. Juktas and Kophinas: Two ritual landscapes out of the ordinary. Hesperia Supplements: Essays on Ritual and Cult in Crete in Honor of Geraldine C Gesell 42:261-268.