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Rethymnon - Ierapetra

 

13. RETHYMNON - IERAPETRA (Following the south coast) (see Map 1 - Map 2 - Map 3 )

13.1 Rethymnon to Agia Galini 13.2 Agia Galini 13.3 Palace of Faistos 13.4 Agia Triada
13.5 Gortina or Gortyna 13.6 Asterroussia route 13.7 Levin  

The Town of Gortina (Gortyna or Gortys)

(Guarded archaeological site, open daily from 8:30 a.m. till 3:00 p.m.)
As King of the Gods, Zeus had everything in the world that he needed, and he had it just for the asking: plenty of ambrosia and nectar for his feasts, wonderful smells from the sacrifices offered in his countless sanctuaries on earth, a whole bunch of previously mortal friends who were given immortality and taken to Olympus because he enjoyed their company

Map, Rethymnon to Agia Galini

(Hercules and Ganymedes being two prime examples), an inexhaustible stock of thunderbolts to throw on the heads of his enemies, and a lovely and faithful wife called Hera. Yet he also had a weakness that tortured him, because it was not as easy to deal with as everything else: he liked women!

First of all, he had to steal away from his wife, who knew what an incorrigible womaniser he was and always kept a watchful eye on him. (In fact, she often caught him in the act). Then he had to fool the lovely chosen one, so that she would not realise who he was and would not spoil everything with her screams. But he was so resourceful and obstinate that he always found a way to achieve his goal.

One day he spotted Europe, a lovely princess who was playing with her friends at the beach of Sidona in what today is Lebanon. (Imagine the range of his vision; nothing got away!) He appeared in front of her as a harmless white bull and started rolling on the sand like a playing kitten. When Europe went near him and sat on his back, the bull started walking around carefully and quietly, because he did not want to scare the lady. Then, at the right moment, he plunged into the sea, and started swimming off the shore with great speed.

The Roman music school in Gortina

The poor girl apparently didn’t know how to swim, so the only thing she could do was to hold on tightly and cry her heart out. The cruise ended a few hours later on the empty Cretan beach that today belongs to Lendas. Zeus changed his form (though in his heat he was still like a bull), and he took the girl to the most idyllic place of Crete. (And when Zeus chose a love nest he knew what he was doing, especially on this island that was also his birthplace!) The place he chose was near a small creek by the bank of the Litheos river and it was covered with plane trees. Some years later Gortina was built on this same site.

If this was Zeus’ first choice for a love nest, imagine how beautiful the now ugly valley must once have been. This fact also explains why Gortina never suffered any great catastrophe during its long history - its end excepted - but was instead such a prosperous town. As a token of gratitude and respect, the Gortinians established a yearly celebration in honour of Europe, the Ellotia, and they put on their coins the picture of the princess as she sat on the bull.

It is true, of course, that Gortina was not a great town from the start. At the time of the Minoan palaces (2000 - 1400 BC), it was only a small village on a hill by the west bank of the Litheos that was under the power of Faistos. As the years passed, however, the town

Pieces of the ancient town

grew quite rich and powerful, and it spread over a large part of the valley at the foot of the hill. What remained on the hill, protected behind walls, was the town’s acropolis, but its religious or military significance was rather small.

By the 5th century, Gortina was the largest and richest town in the valley. But if you think that its wealth came from cultivating it, think again! Instead of growing cucumbers or getting all muddy trying to make vases, the Gortinians preferred to practise another fascinating trade: piracy! Their base of operations was the harbour town of Levin (the modern Lendas) and their territory included the entire south coast of Crete.

The main rivals of Gortina were Knossos in the north and Littos in the east. On the other hand, Kidonia, which lay west of Gortina, was also a powerful town, but it was too far away to be any kind of threat.

What is certain is that these powerful Cretan towns must have had their share of fighting over the years. However, we do not have much information on the subject, because the great historians of Greece (Thucydides, Xenophon etc) did not write much about Crete as it never played a part in the developments on the mainland. As for the local historians, they had the unfortunate idea of writing their works on... palm leaves, which some years later fertilised the soil under the Cretans’ flowers. The only thing we know is that the Gortinians and the Knossians were alternatively at war or allied against other common enemies. In 220 BC, during one of the periods when they were allies, they conquered and burned Littos, the No 3 powerful town in the region, and they turned it into... No 0 for ever!

But before the inevitable showdown between Knossos and Gortina another enemy appeared on the horizon: the Romans. Now, the Knossians joined forces with other Cretan towns to deal with the enemy, but the shrewd Gortinians immediately realised the hopelessness of the situation and, instead, they chose to become Rome’s allies. Not that they didn’t mind having a “boss” over them, but since the Romans were

The Roman music school in Gortina

there to stay they thought it would be best to be on their good side. Indeed, in 68 BC the Romans conquered Crete without much difficulty, and they destroyed Knossos along with many other towns that resisted them. But for their ally, Gortina, they reserved special treatment. Not only did they not touch anything, but they even made the town the capital of their new province, and they set about adorning it with beautiful - and needed - public buildings.

Of course, they started with a very luxurious Praetorium for the needs of the Roman praetor (the governor of the province); fancy offices and conference rooms, comfortable bedrooms and a spa were all thought to be indispensable parts of it. Then they built an Amphitheatre in which to enjoy their... graceful shows that ended with the loser’s death (beast and gladiator fights). But to these they added two Theatres, a Music School, a Stadium (6), a large Public Bath, and many temples, including the one of Isis and Serapis, two imported deities that were “made in Egypt.”

From the pre-Roman Gortina we have the splendid temple of the Pythian Apollo (9), one of the most important temples of the town, dating from the 7th century BC. On the base of it the Gortinians carved their laws and the treaties they signed, because they wanted to place them under the protection of the god. The large blocks of stone at the Music School which are inscribed with The Laws of Gortina must in all likelihood have come from this temple. No other Greek inscription has been saved that is that big: in 12 columns,

Gortina Law Code (450 BC)

600 lines, and a total of 17,000 letters - carved one very close to the other and forming lines that are alternatively read from left to right and vice versa - is the longest and most difficult legal text we have in the ancient Cretan dialect. It dates from the 5th century BC, and... no matter how good your ancient Greek, you will have a hard time reading it! After years of study, the experts inform us that it is a kind of civil code, dealing with matters of property, dowry, inheritance, marriage, divorce, adoption etc., as well as with the rights and obligations of slaves.

A second temple of the 7th century BC is the temple of Athena (10) on the acropolis. Here you will see traces of the wall that protected the first settlement, as well as the foundations of a Roman building of unknown use which is known as “Kastro” (The Fortress).

When the Christian religion started spreading in Crete, Gortina, following its standard policy of going along with the nation or trend that seemed strongest, was the first town to adopt it. As a result, the archbishop of Crete and student of Paul, Titos, had his base in Gortina. The Metropolis, dedicated to Aghios Titos, was built much later (around 500 AD), and it has been preserved in pretty good condition. However, Christianity did not win immediately. The Romans did not like the new religion, and at first they reacted with violence. During the reign of Emperor Decius (249 - 251 AD), ten young Christians were put to death here. In their memory, the modern village that was built near the ancient town was named “Agii Deka” (The Holy Ten). To honour the ten martyrs, let us also mention their names: Saturninos, Efporos, Gelassios, Theodoulos, Evnikianos, Zotikos, Pompios, Agathopous, Evarestos and Vassiliades.

But apart from the Romans, there was somebody else who was mighty displeased with the Gortinians’ change of religion: Zeus Himself. After giving them a grace period of six to seven centuries in which to repent, he sent them a huge Thunderbolt (with a capital T) and laid everything waste. The thunderbolt came in the form of the Saracens in 828 AD. The town could not resist the Arabian attack and it disappeared from the face of the earth for ever. Its glory and splendour were gone, and its shattered pieces can be seen today scattered all over the fields and olive groves surrounding it...


THE ROUTES THE ROUTES

Routes starting from Hania

Hania
1. Hania - Akrotiri
2. Hania - Paleochora
3. Hania - Sameria
4. Hania - Hora Sfakion (Sfakia)
5. Hania - Kissamos (Kasteli)

Routes starting from Kissamos
Kissamos (Kasteli)
6. Kissamos - Gramvoussa
7. Kissamos - Elafonissos
8. Kissamos - Paleochora (through the Topolian Gorge)
9. Kissamos - Paleochora (through Episkopi)
10. Kissamos - Sirikari

Routes starting from Hora Sfakion (Sfakia)
11. Hora Sfakion - Rethimno (Rethymnon) (travelling inland)
12. Hora Sfakion - Rethimno (Rethymnon) (following the coast)

Routes starting from Rethimno (Rethymnon)
Rethimno (Rethymnon)
13. Rethimno - Ierapetra (following the south coast)
14. Rethimno - Ierapetra (travelling inland)

Routes starting from Ierapetra
Ierapetra
15. Ierapetra - Zakros (coastal road)
16. Ierapetra - Zakros (inland route)

Routes starting from Iraklio (Heraklion)
Iraklio (Heraklion)
17. Heraklion - Rethymnon (coastal road)
18. Heraklion - Rethymnon (travelling inland)
19.Heraklioon - Agios Nikolaos (coastal road)
20. Heraklioon - Agios Nikolaos (travelling inland)

Routes starting from Agios Nikolaos
Agios Nikolaos
21. Agios Nikolaos - Zakros


Source of the information on this page : “Unexplored Crete”, Road Editions. For more guidebooks and maps of Greece, click here.

 

 

Tip of the day

Chania (3) Continue on Akti Kountourioti, along the shoreline, where you will reach Eleftheriou Venizelou square, known as Syntrivaniou Square during the ottoman occupation (syntrivani meaning fountain). Today the fountain is on display at the court of the Archaeological Museum of Chania. From Eleftheriou Venizelou Sq. go on to Akti Tompazi where you will see Kioutsouk Hasan Mosque (Yali Tzami) an excellent specimen of islamic architecture, which was built in honour of the first ottoman commander of Chania. This is the oldest muslim building on Crete which is now renovated and used as an exhibition area. Walk further on and you will view the Byzantine walls on Kasteli hill beyond the tavernas and cafes. This is the location of Kydonia, a Minoan town, where the first human settlements appeared as early as the Neolithic age.

 

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