Aptera

The ancient city of Aptera lies on the northwest coast of the Greek island of Crete, on a low hill dominating the Souda Bay. According to the findings of the excavations, Aptera was founded in the geometric period (8th century BC) and reached its peak during the Hellenistic period as one of the most important and powerful city-states of ancient Crete. With its two ports, Minoa and Kastelli, Aptera continued to be an important city during the Roman period and during the early days of the Byzantine Empire before being destroyed by two earthquakes in the 4th and 7th centuries and then by the Saracens in 823 AD.

Coordinates: 35° 27′ 46.44″ N, 24° 8′ 31.2″ E

Comforted by the finding of coins bearing the legend APT, the 19th-century English traveller Robert Pashley was the first to establish a link between the remains discovered on the hill of Paliokastro and the city of Aptera. The name “Aptera” might have been linked to the cult of Artemis Aptera since it was not uncommon for a city to derived its name from a god or a goddess. At Aptera, the city might have, rather unusually, chosen the goddess’ epiclesis (epithet) rather than the actual name of the goddess. However according to Pausanias, Pteras, the founder of the second temple of Apollo at Delphi, gave its name to the city. The ancient city of Aptera is also mentioned in Greek mythology. It was the site of a contest between the Sirens and the Muses. The Sirens were defeated and as a result lost their feathers and cast themselves into the sea. Aptera means “without wings”.

Given the lack of texts mentioning Aptera, what is known of the city mainly comes from excavations. Pausanias tells us that hundreds of skilled archers from Aptera were fighting as mercenaries in various places outside Crete, bringing wealth in their home city. Silver, imported from Egypt and Cyrenaica, allowed the city to mint its own coins and thus strengthened its independence and economic power. In the 5th century BC, like all Cretan cities, Aptera did not take part in the Persian wars and the city prospered. During the Cretan civil wars of the 3rd century BC, Aptera became a great ally of Knossos.

During the conquest of Crete by Metellus, Aptera surrendered without a fight as did Kydonia and Gortyn. This act enabled the city to get the favours of the Romans who lowered the taxes it had to pay. Aptera experienced a new period of peak during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, according to the impressive public and private buildings that have come to light. From the 3rd century AD, the city’s influence started to fade away, its decline being accelerated by the earthquake of 365 AD that destroyed several cities in Crete. A second earthquake in the 7th century, along with the invasions of the Saracen pirates, marked the abandonment of the city. A Late Byzantine monastery dedicated to St. John the Theologian was built amidst the ruins and continued in operation until 1964.

The most impressive of the preserved ancient buildings are the two Roman cisterns that served the needs of the city and supplied the facilities of the public and private baths. The city walls still standing are made of large polygonal stones and echo the walls of Tiryns and Mycenae. One can also see the remains of a small 5th century BC Doric temple dedicated to Artemis and his brother Apollo as well as the preserved ruins of a small theatre. Excavations at the site are still ongoing.

PORTFOLIO

The main entrance of the city and the ancient road built in the mid-4th century BC.
The main entrance of the city with the remains of the ancient road and the fortification tower dating from the mid-4th century BC.
The remains of the massive fortification wall made of large polygonal stones, it was built in the mid-4th century BC with a total circumference of 3.5km.
The remains of the massive fortification wall made of large polygonal stones. It was built in the mid-4th century BC with a total circumference of 3.5km. The defense of the wall was enforced by a series of fortification towers.
The main entrance of the city with the west fortification wall and the west cemetery outside of the city walls.
The main entrance of the city and the west cemetery outside of the city walls. The cemetery includes tombs of all periods, from the 8th century BC until the 3rd century AD.
The remains of an Heroon from the 1st -2nd century AD with inscribed pedestals and a mausoleum.
The remains of an Heroon and a mausoleum dating from the 1st -2nd century AD.
The remains of an Heroon with inscribed pedestals located between the ancient road and the west fortification wall.
The remains of the Heroon with inscribed pedestals located between the ancient road and the west fortification wall. The inscription on the pedestal cites a citizen of Aptera, Praxiohos, the son of Filetairos, whom the city honored after his death, perhaps for some public donation.
View over Souda Bay from the ancient city of Aptera.
View over Souda Bay from the ancient city of Aptera.
The gamma-shaped cistern which collected rainwater through openings on the roof, it is 56m long and 25m wide and could store 3050 cubic metres of water.
The gamma-shaped cistern which collected rainwater through openings on the roof. It was 56m long and 25m wide and could store 3050 cubic metres of water.
 Remains of one of the two Roman baths constructed in the Roman period 1st century BC- 4th century AD.
The remains of one of the two Roman baths constructed in the Roman period (1st century BC – 4th century AD).
The remains of one of the two Roman baths constructed in the Roman period (1st century BC - 4th century AD).
The remains of one of the two Roman baths constructed in the Roman period (1st century BC – 4th century AD).
The exterior of three-parted Roman vaulted cistern.
The exterior of the three-parted Roman vaulted cistern.
The interior of the three-parted Roman vaulted cistern.
The interior of the three-parted Roman vaulted cistern. It had three barrel-vaulted aisles divided by two rows of four longitudinal arched piers (overall size 24.7 x 18.5 x 8.2 m high). It is of Roman date, at least in its final form.
The remains of a small 5th century BC Doric temple dedicated to Artemis and his brother Apollo.
The remains of a small 5th century BC double-cella temple dedicated to Artemis and his brother Apollo.
The remains ancient theatre dating back to the early Hellenistic period and modified during the Roman period (from the 1st century AD to the 3rd century AD).
The remains of the ancient theatre. The excavation and architectural information to date indicates that there were three building phases: Hellenistic, Roman I (1st c. AD) and Roman II (3rd c. AD).
The theatre has the typical structure of Hellenistic theatres, consisting of the auditorium (koilon), the orchestra and the scenic building. It was made of the local limestone, like most monuments of the ancient city.
The theatre had the typical structure of Hellenistic theatres, consisting of the auditorium (koilon), the orchestra and the scenic building. It was made of the local limestone, like most monuments of the ancient city.
The preserved lower section of the cavea of the ancient theatre.
The lower section of the cavea of the ancient theatre. Only the seats in the central section remain, along with a sizeable part of their stepped foundations.
The scene building of the ancient theatre built during the Roman period with three large niches corresponding to three entrances.
The scene building of the ancient theatre built during the Roman period with three large niches corresponding to three entrances.
The long stepped construction at the north side of the ancient theatre. Its exact function is not clarified yet but it may have served as stands for event taken place in front of it. It is dated to the Hellenistic period but does not below to the initial phase of construction of the theatre.
The long stepped construction at the north side of the ancient theatre. Its exact function has not been clarified yet but it may have served as stands for event taking place in front of this structure. It is dated to the Hellenistic period but does not belong to the initial phase of construction of the theatre.
The 55m long paved road dated to the Hellenistic period and leading to the ancient theatre.
The 55m long paved road dated to the Hellenistic period and leading to the ancient theatre.
The ruins of the peristyle courtyard (5x7 columns) of a residence dating from the 1st century AD.
The ruins of the peristyle courtyard (5×7 columns) of a Roman residence dating from the 1st century AD.
The ongoing excavations at the Roman residence.
The ongoing excavations at the Roman residence.
built on the site; it continued in operation until 1964
The monastery of Agios Ioannis Theologos. It was built during the 12th century and was in function until 1964.
The monastery of Agios Ioannis Theologos.
The monastery of Agios Ioannis Theologos.

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