Chania Ancient Lissos and the Temple of Asclepius

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Location: Sougia

Located on the southern coast of Crete, between the settlements of Paleochora and Sougia, the ancient city of Lissos is an enchanting place where ancient ruins and early Christian chapels fuse with the beauty of the landscape.

Founded during the classical era, Lissos was one of the harbors of the ancient town of Elyrus. To this day, its early history remains unknown. Inscriptions and coins from the 3rd century BC indicate that the city allied itself with King Magas of Cyrene and joined the League of Oreians, a political-economic coalition of autonomous cities. The League was made up of Lissos, Elyrus, Syia, Poililassos, Tarrha and Yrtakina. Boasting a powerful merchant and fishing fleet, Lissos was a significant commercial center, being the only city in the wider area to mint its own coin. Some of the coins belong to the maritime type, while others are indicative of the worship of Diktynna (also known as Britomartis), a Cretan deity associated with mountains and hunting. It flourished during the Hellenistic and Roman times and the early phases of the Byzantine Empire, which explains why it was a bishopric during the 600s. However, it was abandoned around the 9th century AD as a result of Saracen raids and has remained uninhabited ever since.

The archaeological site

Lissos occupies a small hollow shaped by the hills facing the sea and was renowned for its Asklepieion. In fact, it attracted people from the whole island who came here to be cured. Its ruins can still be seen on the northeastern side of the valley and consist mainly of elaborate mosaics depicting animals and geometrical patterns. Erected during the 3rd or the 2nd century BC, this was the first Doric temple to be built in Crete and boasted a Doric facade paired with an Ionic portal — an unusual combination. Though the sanctuary was mostly destroyed by an earthquake, inscriptions of laws and resolutions can be seen on its walls. A spring, whose existence was a prerequisite for the construction of the Asklepieion, as the water was used for therapeutic and cathartic purposes, still runs close by. Excavations have brought to light a considerable number of children’s figurines. Other than the city of Gortyna, which used to be the capital of Crete during Roman times, no other place on the island has yielded as many statues (more than 20) as Lissos. It was here that the impressive statues of Asclepius, Hygieia and Pluto, now housed in the Archaeological Museum of Chania, were found.

Take the time to stroll around the eerily enchanting valley of Lissos, where you are sure to experience a tremendous sense of awe, as the place is literally strewn with ancient ruins. Ornately carved capitals, foundations, and marble fragments loom among the bushes. Here you can also find a Roman necropolis with over 50 vaulted tombs, the remnants of the Roman theater, the Customs House, as well as the ancient pier which was raised in 365 AD after a tremendous earthquake.

Near the port, you will encounter the church of Panagia (the Virgin Mary), which has been built on the site of a pre-existing early Christian church. Materials from the buildings of the ancient city can be discerned embedded within its walls. The other church that you will see is that of Agios Kirikos, where you can marvel at some magnificent frescoes. An annual celebration takes place there on the 15th of July when dozens of pilgrims arrive at Lissos and stay overnight to participate in the feast.



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