Malia - the Dessenne Building

In 1960, André Dessenne excavated the entirety of the surface of the West Court of the Palace of Malia with the aim of improving the site’s presentation for tourists. At that time, he discovered to the south of the court a series of rooms, some of which still contain numerous storage jars (fig. 1 and 5). These pithoi are arranged on low sandstone platforms coated with plaster and edged with drainage grooves ending in collection vases sunk into the ground. This system has also been identified elsewhere on the site, such as in the Quartier Mu, the Hypostylus Crypt and in the Palace. The many vases unearthed and the quality of the installations on which they are arranged suggested to the excavator that the edifice was used for the storage of liquid provisions, perhaps under the instructions of the directly neighbouring palace. These ‘South Storerooms’ or ‘South West Storerooms’ are generally referred to in the literature as the ‘Dessenne Storerooms’ and date from the protopalatial period (1900-1700 BC). In spite of the French School at Athen’s interest in the edifice, it was abandoned after the premature death of André Dessenne in 1972.

  Figure 1. Vues de la Cour Ouest et du Bâtiment Dessenne après leur dégagement par André Dessenne. Clichés André Dessenne ©EFA

Figure 1. Views of the West Court and of the Dessenne Building after their exavation by André Dessenne. Photographs by André Dessenne © FSA 

 Fig. 2. Plan schématique de la séquence de construction du Bâtiment Dessenne, d’après le plan dressé en 2012 par M. Devolder et L. Fadin ©EFA

Figure 2.

Schematic plan of the sequence of construction of the Dessenne Building, according to the plan drawn up by M. Devolder and L. Fadin in 2012  © FSA

In May 2012, a new project of studying the ruins with a view to publication was initiated under the direction of Maud Devolder (AEGIS/UCLouvain). A detailed plan of the edifice was drawn up, and a new study was undertaken to take a fresh look at the architectural phasing proposed by several different authors. It seems that a core composed of the western part of the remains was constructed first, to which the storerooms (fig. 2) were then added, in two distinct phases. Since these rooms were part of additions made to the initial edifice, the term ‘storerooms’ was abandoned for the more neutral term ‘Dessenne Building’.

Figure 3. Murs alternant blocs de grès taillés et moellons bruts de calcaire local dans la partie centrale du Bâtiment Dessenne. Noter que certains des blocs de grès taillés insérés dans les murs font face à des bases de colonnes (à droite). Clichés M. Devolder ©EFA

Figure 3.

Walls alternating between blocks of cut sandstone and uncut limestone rubble in the central part of the Dessenne Building. Note that certain of the blocks of cut sandstone inserted in the walls are facing the column bases (to the right). Photographs M. Devolder © FSA


This phasing is based on the identification of a particular construction technique in which blocks of cut sandstone are placed at key points in the structure, specifically the door frames, in the angles of walls and within walls facing intermediary supports (fig. 3). These provide evidence of the care taken by the builders in positioning the blocks, which had to support a wood load-bearing structure. This technique facilitated the construction of balconies while also providing support for a floor above the ground-floor rooms of the first edifice (fig. 4). The rooms used for storage added to the north-east of the Dessenne Building were constructed almost exclusively using rough limestone rubble from the area. In all likelihood, these rooms were single-storey. 

 Figure 4. Proposition de reconstitution de la façade Ouest du premier état du Bâtiment Dessenne. K. Anagnostakis et M. Devolder ©EFA

Figure 4. Reconstruction of the western facade of the initial state of the Dessenne Building. K. Anagnostakis and M. Devolder © FSA

In addition to its architectural orientation, the new project also involved the study of material discovered by André Dessenne in 1960, again with a view to publication. Ceramic and stone objects had been preserved in storerooms of the French School in Malia and numerous storage vases had been left in place in the edifice, protected by backfill. This material essentially originated in the destruction layer of Middle Minoan IIB of the Dessenne Building. The latter contained cups, small dishes, goblets, pitchers, jars, lids, lamps, and miniature vases which, like the storage vases, have many parallels with material discovered in the destruction layer of the Mu Sector (fig. 5). This ceramic material principally illustrates the storage of provisions and the consumption of liquids. No indication has yet been discovered amidst the fragments of stone vases that the inhabitants of the Dessenne Building were involved, as in the Mu Sector, in the production of such objects. The features of this collection of material nonetheless suggests its uncommon character. Indeed, although they had been selected and were in a relatively bad state of preservation, the Dessenne Building’s stone vases have a quality that is more suggestive of palatial contexts. The seals and their imprints identified amongst the material from the Dessenne Building display simple figurative motifs. The seals were produced on semi-hard stones by local craftsmen, some of whom seem to have worked in the seals workshop of the Mu Sector (fig. 5). A possible prismatic weight in hematite discovered in the destruction layer of the Dessenne Building would seem to illustrate the involvement of inhabitants of the building in commerce with distant regions. Its reduced weight, 10.92 gr., suggests that it had in fact been used for the weighing of precious metals (although the weighing of spices is also a possibility). This weight might therefore reflect the involvement of the Dessenne Building in networks of international exchange facilitating the acquisition of metals, possibly for the smithy. The reduced collection of material, originating in the destruction layer of Middle Minoan IIB of the Dessenne Building, is the result on the one hand of the ancient character of excavations of only a part of the edifice, and on the other of the scarce selection of material unearthed. This material nonetheless suggests the particular status of its inhabitants, who must have been involved, like those of the Mu Sector, in networks of exchange with sometimes distant regions. 

Figure 5. Sélection de matériel céramique issu des fouilles menées en 1960 au Bâtiment Dessenne : pithoi et petits vases en céramique, et empreinte de sceau sur une paroi de pithos. Clichés C. Papanikolopoulos et K. Papachrysanthou. Dessin M. Anastasiadou ©EFA

Figure 5.

 Selection of ceramic material from excavations held in 1960 in the Dessenne Building: pithos and small ceramic vases and an imprint of a seal on the partition wall. Photographs C. Papanikolopoulos and K. Papachrysanthou. Drawing M. Anastasiadou © FSA



Parallel to material from previous excavations, surveys were conducted in July 2014 under the soil levels of several rooms in the edifice. The material recovered from these surveys showed that the Dessenne Building was constructed at the beginning of Middle Minoan II. The preparation layer associated with the walls of the edifice in several rooms revealed the presence of material dating at the latest from Early Minoan IIA. The surveys also revealed that the Dessenne Building was constructed on the remains of a habitat dating from Early Minoan IIA to the beginning of Early Minoan III. In the central room 2, some of the walls were constructed in this way, i.e. directly on the remains of plaster soil belonging to a domestic prepalatial structure (fig. 6). Along the east side of the Dessenne Building, a survey indicated the presence of a paved road overlapping on the west side with remains of Early Minoan IIA and recovered in Early Minoan III by a backfill of small stones kept in place by walls providing crude support (fig. 6). This backfill seems to be linked to the levelling of the west court of the Palace of Malia and has many features in common with the material unearthed in surveys in the north part of this same court. Il would therefore highlight the significant improvement works on the Malia site from the end of the Prepalatial period onwards. 

Figure 6. Le mur Ouest de la pièce 2 du Bâtiment Dessenne érigé sur un niveau de sol en plâtre prépalatial (gauche), et le pavement de la rue prépalatiale recouverte d’un remblai à l’Est du Bâtiment Dessenne (droite). Clichés M. Devolder ©EFA

Figure 6. The wall of room 2 of the Dessenne Building constructed on soil level in prepalatial plaster (west) and the pavement of the prepalatial street covered with backfill to the east of the Dessenne Building (right). Photographs M. Devolder © FSA
Investigations of the Dessenne Building have benefited from the support of the French School at Athens, the Institute for the Study of Aegean Prehistory (INSTAP), the Fund for Scientific Research (F.R.S.-FNRS) and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. The research team is: Maud Devolder, Ilaria Caloi, Athos Agapiou, Maria-Emanuela Alberti, Maria Anastasiadou, Mila Andonova, Gianluca Cantoro, Tristan Carter, Thérèse Claeys, Sylviane Déderix, Thibaut Gomrée, Valasia Isaakidou, Simon Jusseret, Alexandra Livarda, Marie-Philippine Montagné, Eleni Nodarou, Maria Roumpou, Apostolos Sarris, Baptiste Vergnaud et Rena Veropoulidou.

Publications and Papers
  • Le Bâtiment Dessenne et les abords Sud-Ouest du palais dans l’établissement pré- et protopalatial de Malia, M. Devolder et I. Caloi, with the collaboration of A. Agapiou, M.-E. Alberti, M. Anastasiadou, M. Andonova, G. Cantoro, T. Carter, T. Claeys, S. Déderix, T. Gomrée, V. Isaakidou, A. Livarda, M.-P. Montagné, E. Nodarou, A. Sarris and R. Veropoulidou, submitted for publication to Études crétoises de l’École française d’Athènes.
  • M Devolder, I. Caloi and Th. Gomrée, à paraître. « Le Bâtiment Dessenne à Malia. Étude et nouveaux sondages », Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique 139-140.2.
  • M. Devolder, I. Caloi and Th. Claeys, 2014. « Études complémentaires aux ‘Magasins Dessenne’ à Malia », Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique 138.2, p. 775-781.
  • M. Devolder, S. Déderix and L. Fadin, 2012-2013. « Recherches aux ‘Magasins Dessenne’ à Malia », Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique 136-137.2, p. 869-873.
  • M. Devolder, « Νέα έρευνα στα Magasins Dessenne στα Μάλια », Proceedings of the Γ΄ Παγκρήτια Επιστημονική ΣυνάντησηΑρχαιολογικό 'Εργο στην Κρήτη, Réthymnon, 5-8 décembre 2013, p. 489-494.
  • A. Sarris, N. Papadopoulos, G. Cantoro, A. Agapiou, S. Déderix, Chr. Tsigonaki and M. Devolder, « New Technologies for Capturing the Dynamics of Cultural Landscapes », Proceedings of the Γ΄ Παγκρήτια Επιστημονική ΣυνάντησηΑρχαιολογικό 'Εργο στην Κρήτη, Réthymnon, 5-8 décembre 2013, p. 73-83.
  • M. Devolder and I. Caloi, « The Dessenne Building in the Protopalatial Settlement at Malia (Crete) », Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, San Francisco, 6-9 janvier 2016.
  • M. Devolder, « The Dessenne Building and the South-West Area of the Palace at Malia », 5th Day of Belgian Archaeological Research in the Greek World, MRAH/KMKG/Royal Museums of Art & History, Bruxelles, 4 March 2015.
  • M. Devolder, « The ‘Magasins Dessenne’ at Malia (Crete) Reconsidered », Annual Meeting of the American Institute of Archaeology, Chicago, 2-5 janvier 2014.

© FSA / Maud Devolder


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