Pronounced ah-yee -ah trih-ah -dha, Agia Triada, 3km west of Phaestos, was most likely a smaller palace or a royal summer villa and enjoys an enchanting setting on the tree-covered hillside looking out to the Gulf of Messara. Although it succumbed to fire around 1400 BC, the site was never looted, which accounts for the extraordinary number of masterpieces of Minoan art found here. These include a famous trio of vases (the Harvesters Vase, the Boxer Vase and the Chieftain Cup) now on display in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
Unfortunately, the site is not very visitor-friendly, as there is no labelling and a basic pamphlet provided. On the plus side, it drips with historic ambience and rarely sees crowds.
Past the ticket booth, the ruins in front of you are those of the palace, with structures arranged along two sides of a central courtyard. The Byzantine chapel of Agios Georgios , on the left, has some beautiful frescoes (ask for the key at the ticket office). To the right of the palace is the village area, with the cemetery (closed to visitors) beyond the fence.
To your left, as you go down the stairs, are the ruins of a Minoan house with a shrine dating from the early 14th century BC just behind it. It once featured a frescoed floor painted with octopuses and dolphins, also now at the museum in Iraklio. Beyond here is the paved central courtyard with the residential wing on the right beneath a protective canopy. The west wing, at the far end of the courtyard, is a maze of storage rooms and workshops ; the ‘Chieftain Cup’ was found in one of them. One of the most beautiful rooms is in the northwest corner: called the Fresco Room , and lidded with a modern cement ceiling, it sports fitted benches, alabaster walls and gypsum floors.
A ramp running along the north side of the palace is thought to have led all the way to the sea, which was at a much higher level then; hence the name given to it by archaeologists – Rampa al Mare . It leads up to the village area with the marketplace and common residential buildings. Of special interest here is the row of stores that were once fronted by a portico.
On the other side of the fence, beyond the stores, is the cemetery that dates from around 2000 BC with two tholos tombs. The famous sarcophagus decorated with funereal scenes was found here; it too is in Iraklio.