Gortyn

The archaeological site of Gortyn (or Gortyna), 45 km away from Heraklion, is the largest in Crete and one of the most fascinating. The ancient city was an important settlement throughout antiquity and became the capital of the Roman Province Creta et Cyrenaica in the late 1st century BC. Gortyn is located in the middle of the Mesara plain in south central Crete. According to tradition, it is where Zeus, in the guise of a bull, brought the princess Europa from her home in Phoenicia. Gortyn is mentioned by Homer in the Iliad as “having walls” and in the Odyssey as the place where Menelaus and his fleet of ships, returning home from the Trojan War, were blown off course to the Cretan coastline. Nowadays, Gortyn is particularly well known for its Law Code, the longest extant ancient Greek stone inscription in Greece.

Coordinates: 35° 3′ 45.46″ N, 24° 56′ 48.52″ E

gortyn

The region of Gortyn has been continuously occupied from the Neolithic era (5000-3300 BC) to this day. During the Minoan period, a small settlement established itself under the control of the Minoan palace of nearby Phaistos. Gortyn later developed around a fortified acropolis surrounding the Temple of Athena Poliouchos (city protector), as shown on a clay idol of the armed goddess found on the site. From the 8th century BC, the city expanded towards the south and began to spread to the foot of the hill and along the banks of the Lethaios river where, in the 6th century BC, the agora was laid down. At the same time, other small settlements started to appear further down the plain like the site of the Temple of Apollo Pythios. In the Archaic era, a second centre was added to the city around the Temple of Apollo which became the new official temple of the city.

During the Classical period, Gortyn continued to grew and to prosper but very little remains of this period except for the twelve stone blocks carrying the famous law code discovered in 1884. The 600 lines written in a Dorian dialect and dating to the first half of the 5th century BC were the earliest law code in the Greek world. The inscription, inscribed in the boustrophedon system of writing (alternate lines in opposite directions), provides important information on the laws of the city and specifically its civil law. The code deals with matters surrounding the family and inheritance laws, adoptions, divorces as well as with crimes against morals (rapes, adultery) and the rights of women and slaves.

When the Romans invaded Crete, Gortyn sided with the conquerors and the city became the island’s capital. It enjoyed great prosperity and was endowed with lavish public buildings including a majestic praetorium, an amphitheatre, a hippodrome (unique in Greece), a third agora, baths and temples. At its peak, over 100,000 people are believed to have lived here.

From the 3rd century AD, during the early Christian years, Gortyn was the first Cretan city to welcome the new religion. The nearby village of Agii Deka (Ten Saints) was named after the ten Christian martyrs who were killed in the amphitheatre in 249 AD. One of the first Christian churches was built at Gortyn and the remains of an important 6th century Byzantine church can still be seen today. It was dedicated to St. Titus, the first Bishop of Crete who was appointed by the Apostle Paul and who undertook the task of disseminating the Christian religion throughout the island. The city was finally destroyed by the Saracens in A.D. 824.

The ruins of Gortyn occupy a two-kilometre long square area, making this archaeological site the largest in Crete and one of the biggest in the whole of Greece. Sadly most of the buildings are not easily explored and have been fenced off. The only structure fully accessible is the Odeum with the Law Code. Finds from the site are on display in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum and in the Sculpture Gallery at the site.

PORTFOLIO

he Acropolis of Gortyn was inhabited from the Neolithic to the Early Byzantine period when the large fortress was built.
The Acropolis of Gortyn was inhabited from the Neolithic to the Early Byzantine period when the large fortress was built.
The remains of the Temple of Athena on the Acropolis of Gortyn. The temple was built in the 7th century BC and converted to a basilica in the 6th century AD.
The remains of the Temple of Athena on the Acropolis of Gortyn. The temple was built in the 7th century BC and converted into a basilica in the 6th century AD.
View of the site of Gortyn and the Mesara Plain from the Acropolis.
View of the site of Gortyn and the Mesara Plain from the Acropolis.
The Roman Odeum. The famous Law Code was covered by a brick built vaulted stoa a few years after its discovery.
The Roman Odeum. It was built in the 1st century BC and after being damaged by an earthquake, was restored by Trajan. The Odeum was a roofed building used for musical and theatrical performances. It is one of the best preserved of its kind in Crete.
The Roman Odeum, built in the 1st century BC and after being damaged by an earthquake, was restored by Trajan, Gortyna, Crete
The Scene and Orchestra of the Roman Odeum. The scene had three entrances and rectangular niches where marble statues was places. The orchestra had a diameter of 8.5m and was covered with blue and white marble paving.
The cavea of the Odeum with carved stone seats which was supported by a vaulted arcade sheltering the Laws of Gortyn.
The cavea of the Odeum with carved stone seats. The cavea was supported by a vaulted arcade which sheltered the Laws of Gortyn.
The Law Code of Gortyn dated to the early 5th century BC. It is housed in a small vaulted brick structure built by the Archaeological Service in 1889.
The Law Code of Gortyn, dated to the early 5th century BC. It is housed in a small vaulted brick structure built by the Archaeological Service in 1889.
The Law Code of Gortyn dated to the early 5th century BC.
The Law Code of Gortyn inscribed in the boustrophedon system of writing (alternate lines in opposite directions), provides important information on the laws of the city and civil law.
The Great North Theatre built at the foot of the acropolis. It is the oldest theatre of Gortyn. The proscenium (front of the scene) was decorated with statues and reliefs among which a statue of Europe on the Bull was found. This marble group is now kept in the British Museum and is dated to the 2nd century BC (see image here).
The Great North Theatre built at the foot of the acropolis. It is the oldest theatre of Gortyn. The proscenium (front of the scene) was decorated with statues and reliefs among which a statue of Europe on the Bull was found. This marble group is now kept in the British Museum and is dated to the 2nd century BC (see image here).
The Temple of Apollo Pythios, the main sanctuary of pre-Roman Gortyn built in the 7th century BC.
The Temple of Apollo Pythios, the main sanctuary of pre-Roman Gortyn built in the 7th century BC. The temple was restored and enlarged during the Hellenistic period whilst alterations and additions were made during the Roman period.
The stepped altar of the Temple of Apollo Pythios which stood before the pronaos and was built during the Roman period.
The stepped altar of the Temple of Apollo Pythios which stood before the pronaos and was built during the Roman period.
Overview of the Temple of Apollo Pythios.
Overview of the Temple of Apollo Pythios.
The Praetorium built at the beginning of the 2d century AD during the reign of Trajan, it was the residence of the governor of the province.
The ruins of the Praetorium built at the beginning of the 2nd century AD during the reign of Trajan. It was the residence of the governor of the province and also served as an administrative building.
The Praetorium consisted of a peristyle court covering an area of 1000 square metres and large halls.
The Praetorium consisted of a peristyle court covering an area of 1000 square metres with large halls.
The fenced area of the Praetorium.
The fenced area of the Praetorium.
The Temple of the Egyptian Gods dedicated to the Egyptian gods Isis, Serapis and Anubis. The sanctuary consists of quadrilateral nave, arcade on the west, underground crypt in the south and a cistern outside east of nave. In the central alcove stood the statue of Serapis and the side statues of Isis and Anubis.
The Temple of the Egyptian Gods dedicated to Isis, Serapis and Anubis. The sanctuary consisted of a quadrilateral nave with an arcade on the west, an underground crypt in the south and a cistern. The final construction phase of the temple dates to the 1st / 2nd century. AD.
The Church of Haghios Titus. It was built in the 6th century AD, but much of what survives certainly belongs to later repairs and additions.
The Church of Agios Titus. It was built in the 6th century AD, but much of what survives certainly belongs to later repairs and additions.

SCULPTURES found at gortyn

Headless statue of emperor Hadrian. He is shown as a triumphant army commander wearing the military cuirass.
Headless statue of emperor Hadrian. He is shown as a triumphant army commander wearing the military cuirass.
Statue group of Persephone (as Isis) and Pluto (as Serapis), from the Sanctuary of the Egyptian Gods at Gortyna, mid-2nd century AD.
Statue group of Persephone (as Isis) and Pluto (as Serapis), from the Sanctuary of the Egyptian Gods at Gortyna, mid-2nd century AD.
Statue of emperor Antoninus Pius (original head in the Heraklion Museum).
Statue of emperor Antoninus Pius (original head in the Heraklion Museum).

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