Gortyn Ancient Site in Heraklion

The archaeological site of Gortyn near Heraklion Crete: The historical site of Gortyn lies about 44 km to the southwest of Heraklion town. Evidence found at the site shows that the area was inhabited in the Neolithic days of the 7000 BC. But Gortyn took its name in the times of the Minoan civilization when a flourishing Minoan settlement stood here in the fertile plain of Mesara, Central Crete.

In those days Phaestos, to the southwest, was the center of power in the region. Later, Gortyn flourished and grew to become a city that overshadowed Phaestos. The peak years of Gortyn started during the Roman occupation in the 1st century BC when it became the capital of Crete and the Romans occupied the North African provinces (Cyrenaica). Evidence of these days can still be seen in the remains of the archaeological site of Gortyn.

Excavations at the site began as early as 1884 when Joseph Hatzidakis studied the Minoan law code inscriptions in the walls of the ancient structures. Even today much of the vast city remains unexplored below the ground. The excavations unearthed many marvelous buildings, like the Church of St. Titus which was built on the position where Apostle Titus and ten other saints (Agioi Deka) preached Christianity and were later persecuted by the Roman emperor. Other monuments in the city include the Roman Odeon, a circular theatre with rows of seats, built by the emperor Trajan.

The famous Gortyn law code was found here on the stones of the circular walls behind the Odeon. It is the oldest known Greek law code inscription. The stones were actually part of an inscribed wall with Doric-style writings of the complete old law. The stones were stripped and then reused when the Odeon was being constructed only to be discovered in 1884. To the north of the Odeon, there is the sacred plane tree which was the spot where Zeus got married to princess Europa after abducting her, disguised as a bull.

The Roman Praetorium, built in the 1st century AD, sits in the center of the site. It was the seat and residence of the Roman governor. Surrounding the Praetorium, there are remains of the marble fountain and cistern of the Nymphaeum, the Roman bath complex and the temple of the Apollo and some Egyptian deities. To the northwest of Gortyn, on Agios Ioannis hill, there are the extensive remains of the Gortyn Acropolis with its fortified walls, foundations of the temple of Athena Poliouchos and a Christian basilica. This point a great view of the Mesara plain.

Much of the town was destructed during the earthquake of 796 AD and when the Arabs invaded Gortyn in 828 AD. This important archaeological site can be reached following the National Road to the southwest of Heraklion which leads to Phaestos and Matala. It is just 1 km from the village of Agioi Deka.

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