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Gortys (archaeological site) - Crete

Gort├Żna, Gortyn

The famous Roman city of Gortys stood in the south, in the central part of the Greek island of Crete. In Roman times, Gortys was even the capital of Crete, and today there is an extensive archaeological site that has uncovered, among other things, the so-called Gortys Codex.


The important archaeological site of Gortys lies 45 km south of the capital Heraklion, near the village of Agioi Deka. The excavations are spread over a large area of the green and fertile Messarian plain, in the southern part of the Psiloritis Mountains.

History of the town Gortys

The origins of the settlement of this area date back to the Neolithic period, to 7 thousand years BC. Gortys began to develop and establish itself more significantly during the Minoan period, when it competed for influence with the well-known cities of Knossos and Festos.

However, Gortys experienced its greatest prosperity during the Hellenistic-Roman period, when it became the most powerful city on the island. The Romans conquered Crete in 67 BC and subsequently Gortys was declared the capital of the island of Crete. Its population numbered up to 300,000.

Around 300 AD, the island of Crete came under the rule of the Byzantine Empire and Gortys managed to maintain a relatively important position even at this time. In 796, a strong earthquake struck the area and left significant damage to the city. However, Gortys was not finally sacked and destroyed until a few years later, around 828 AD, when the Arabs invaded Crete.

Gortys is also considered to be one of the main centres of the "Christianisation" of Crete. According to Christian teachings, St. Paul preached here from the 1960s onwards, and his disciple, St. Titus, later became the first bishop of Gortys.

Greek mythology

Mythologically, the Gortys region is associated with the supreme god Zeus. Zeus, disguised as a white bull, abducted the beautiful Europa here and under an old plane tree (which, incidentally, still stands here today) he fathered three children with her, named Minos, Rhadamanthys and Sarpedon. According to one version, the city of Gortyna was founded by Minos himself; according to another version, it was Rhadamanthus' son Gortys. These descendants of Zeus later became kings of the three Minoan palaces in Crete.

A large statue of Europa sitting on the back of a bull has been found in the Gortyn amphitheatre (now part of the British Museum collection). A large number of coins were discovered with the same depiction of beautiful Europa.

The city of Gortys is mentioned by the famous Greek poet Homer in his epics Illias and Odyssey. In the Iliad, Gortys is depicted as a city surrounded by walls. In the Odyssey, the city is mentioned by the author in connection with the wanderings of the Spartan king Menelaus, who is returning home from the Trojan War with part of his fleet when he is caught in a violent storm on the shores near Gortyna. The huge waves drive the ships right onto the cliffs and destroy many of them completely, but spare the crew.

Archaeological site of Gortyna

The archaeological work in the Gortys area began in 1884 under the auspices of the Italian Archaeological School in Athens and has continued intermittently until today. However, many of the buildings in the archaeological site have not yet been uncovered, and in some places excavations are not even allowed, as there are several thousand-year-old protected olive trees. It is also believed that a large number of the historic stones were used as building material in the construction of the nearby village of Agioi Deka.

The remains of the town are spread over a huge area of several hectares of surrounding olive groves. Part of the archaeological site is fenced off and there is an entrance fee, but most of it is freely accessible.

The centre of the historic site is the Roman odeon with the stone blocks of the so-called Gortine Codex and the Basilica of St Titus. The Odeon (or odeion) was mainly used for theatre and music performances and its current appearance dates from around the 4th century AD. Near the odeon grows a large plane tree, according to mythology the place where Zeus carried off the beautiful Europa. The early Christian basilica of St Titus was built in the 6th century and bears the name of the first bishop of Gorten, St Titus. The remains of St. Titus are today kept as relics in the church of Agios Titos in Heraklion.

One of the most important finds of the area is the so-called Code of Gortys, which describes the legal system and traditions in the society of Gortys at that time (it describes the state of law from around the 7th to the 6th century BC, and includes both civil and criminal law). More than 600 lines of text have been carved in stone blocks and in a special form (the so-called bustrophedon), where one line is read from left to right and the next from right to left, and the writing is mirror reversed. These stones were discovered on the site of a Roman odeon.

Outside the fenced area there are many other excavations and remains of various historical buildings, such as the remains of the Acropolis, a small Roman theatre, a stadium, women's and men's baths and several sanctuaries (the sanctuaries of the Egyptian gods Isis and Serapis, the temple of Apollo Pythios, etc.). The site also includes a small museum that exhibits several small sculptures found during archaeological excavations, as well as a set of photographs revealing the process of uncovering the ancient city.

More touristic destinations of Crete

Most favourite sights of Crete: Agia Triada (archaeological site), Archaeological Museum Heraklion, Phaistos (archaeological site), Gortyn (archaeological site), Arkadi Monastery, Knossos (archaeological site), Church of Four Martyrs, Fortezza Fortress (Rethymno), Frangokastello Fortress, Spinalonga Fortress, Windmills on Lasithi Plateau

Resorts, beaches, sights or trips - clearly listed on the map of Crete.

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