14. RETHYMNON - IERAPETRA (Travelling inland)
Lato (archaeological site)
(Guarded archaeological site, open Tuesday through Sunday from
8:30 a.m. till 3:00 p.m. Free entrance)
One beautiful morning somewhere around 700 BC, some Dorian settlers,
looking for a new homeland and tired of their long voyage, decided
to pull their boats on the small sandy beach that later became
the site of Agios Nikolaos. We don’t know what need or
desire led them to this God-forsaken place, but we feel they
must have been impressed at the sight of the lake and the vertical
rock behind it which they named Kamara.
Used as they were to build their towns in hard-to-assail positions
in the mountains, they merely built a small settlement here
so that they could have a seaport. Then they took their stuff
and continued inland in a westerly direction, looking for a
suitable hill on which to build their town. Their goal was to
find a hill that would offer them protection from enemy attacks
and a great view. Indeed they made the best choice possible,
especially as concerns the view, which you can admire for yourself.
As for the town that was born here marking their new life, they
gave it the name of the goddess of labour Leto, which in the
Dorian dialect changes to Lato.
Like a true warlike people, they surrounded their town with
a wall and built a very strong gate (1) that could not even
be passed by an enemy mosquito! After you pass through it (fearlessly!)
you can follow the steep path that used to be the main road
(2) of the town. On the left (north) side of the road were the
people’s homes and a couple of defence towers (3,4), and
on the right (south) side of it were the shops and the workshops
of the craftsmen. One of these (5) is believed to have been
the workshop of a textile dyer, because the water cistern and
the other paraphernalia found in it suggested a similar kind
of use. The main road will take you to the main square of the
town, the Agora (6), a large open area that served the needs
of public life. When the weather was good the citizens would
sit on the steps (7) at the north end of the Agora and they
would listen to political speeches or watch art shows or religious
ceremonies or other public events. When the wind or the great
heat made it inadvisable to sit there, they probably gathered
in the roofed gallery (8) at the west end of the Agora. At the
centre of the Agora was their temple (9), which was apparently
without a roof. Numerous clay statuettes were found here, but
unfortunately they did not have any distinctive features that
would allow the archaeologists to decide safely which deity
was worshipped in the temple. The water supply of the town came
from large underground cisterns, one of which (10) is right
in front of the temple. Behind the temple you can see a three-sided
platform (11) carved into the rock, with two steps on each side
of it. This platform was also used on public occasions.
The major decisions and the administration of the town’s
affairs, however, were in the hands of the Prytaneis, a group
of wise elderly men who spent their time in the Prytaneum (12a,
12b). This was a well made building behind the steps (seats)
at the north end of the Agora, and it was framed by two towers
on its left and right side that were more effective in giving
it a monumental character than in offering any kind of protection.
In this building the Prytaneis received the envoys of other
towns and all important visitors that came from other lands.
As a visitor from a foreign land, you, too, have every right
to enter the Prytaneum. Start with the Banquet Room (12a), where
you can take a rest from your trip and have something to eat.
(If you do not find those in charge of the banquets just make
do with your own sandwiches!) Then proceed to the Conference
Room (12b), choose the stone bench that you like best, and lie
back comfortably; the prytaneis are “away on business,”
and it is not certain when they will be back...
In the middle of the Conference Room is an altar that stands
right before your eyes. It was here that Lato’s sacred
flame once burned, a flame that was never put out and had come
to symbolise the uninterrupted life of the town. However, this
life was terminated only five hundred years after the town was
founded. No, it was not any violent attack from the outside
that caused the flame to go out; it was rather the “lack
of fuel.” The Latoans at some point grew tired of living
in a well fortified mountain town that was never threatened
by anyone, and they decided that it was time to move closer
to the sea. So they abandoned the old Lato, which by that time
had become less important and was called “The Other Lato,”
and they moved to their seaport, Lato near Kamara, which had
already taken the place of the old town.
of the information on this page : “Unexplored
Crete”, Road Editions. For more
guidebooks and maps of Greece, click here.