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 824 AD.

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).

Links:

Eleusis

Located in West Attica, ancient Eleusis overlooks the bay of Elefsina and the island of Salamis, approximately 17 kilometres from Athens. It was the location of a very important religious centre where the Eleusinian Mysteries took place every year in honour of the goddess Demeter.

Coordinates: 38° 2′ 29.58″ N 23° 32′ 19.94″ E

eleusis

The settlement of Eleusis was founded in the Middle Helladic period (ca. 1900 BC) on the slopes of a hill. Successive settlements were established from the 16th century BC onwards on the summit of the hill where the first temple of Demeter was built in the 15th century BC. The cult of Demeter was introduced during the reign of the legendary King Celeus according to the Homeric Hymn to Demeter.

According to Greek mythology, the goddess Demeter (in the guise of an old woman) received a hospitable welcome from King Celeus at Eleusis while searching for her daughter Kore (Persephone) who had been abducted by Hades. In return Demeter taught the Eleusinians her secret mysteries. After Kore was returned from the underworld, Demeter made the land fertile again and taught Triptolemos, the son of King Celeus, how to cultivate the earth. He then spread the knowledge throughout Greece.

This is the largest and most important votive relief found at Eleusis. It represents the Eleusinian deities in a scene of mysterious rituel. On the left Demeter, clad in a peplos and holding a scepter in her left hand, offers ears of wheat to Triptolemos, son of Eleusinian king Keleos, to bestow on mankind. On the right Persephone, clad in a chiton and mantle and holding a torch, blesses Triptolemos with her right hand. This relief, dating to c. 440-430 BCE, was apparently famous in antiquity and was copied in the Roman period. (Archaeological Museum of Athens, Greece)
The great Eleusinian relief. On the left Demeter offers ears of wheat to Triptolemos, son of Eleusinian king Keleos, to bestow on mankind. On the right Persephone blesses Triptolemos with her right hand.

The cult of Demeter originally started as a local cult but acquired a panhellenic character in the 7th century BC when the Eleusinian Mysteries were established as one of the most important Athenian festivals. The ceremonies were held twice a year. There were two major stages to the rituals known as the “Lesser Mysteries” held each spring, and the “Great Mysteries” held during the months of September and October. The continuity of Demeter’s cult is attested until Roman times by the erection of successive temples on the east side of the hill. Hadrian, himself an initiate, began a major programme of building works with the creation of the Panhellenion.

What the visitor sees today is the sanctuary in its final stages in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. The finds from the site are housed in the Eleusis Museum as well as in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

Model of the Sanctuary of Eleusis.
Model of the Sanctuary of Eleusis.

PORTFOLIO

The entrance square to the sanctuary, the steps lead up to the Greater Propylaia.
The entrance square to the sanctuary dating to the Roman period and paved with large rectangular marble slabs. The steps lead up to the Greater Propylaia.
Preserved bottom of a fountain, a harmonious marble building with six columns on the facade.
The court was flanked by stoas and a fountain, a harmonious marble building 11 metres in length with six columns on the facade. It was probably built during the reign of Hadrian. Behind the fountain stand the remains of the Eastern Triumphal Arch.
The remains of the Eastern Triumphal Arch built by Antoninus Pius outside the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore.
The remains of the Eastern Triumphal Arch built in Pentelic marble by Antoninus Pius or Marcus Aurelius. It was modelled on the Arch of Hadrian in Athens, like its twin at the west end of the Sanctuary.
Partial reconstruction of the Eastern Triumphal Arch built by Antoninus Pius.
Partial reconstruction of the Eastern Triumphal Arch. Inscriptions revealed that the arches were dedicated to the two Goddesses (Demeter and Persephone) and the emperor Hadrian.
The foundations of the Western Triumphal Arch marking the end of the road from Megara.
The foundations of the Western Triumphal Arch marking the end of the road from Megara. It was a single wide arch with a second storey of columns and an entablature above it.
On the paved court stands the high podium, made of Roman concrete, of the Temple of Artemis of the Portals and Father Poseidon. Built of Pentelic marble before the reign of Marcus Aurelius, it had a front and rear portico with Doric columns.
The remains of the Temple of Artemis Propylaia and Poseidon Pater standing on the paved court on a the high podium. Built of Pentelic marble during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, it had a front and rear portico with Doric columns.
The Greater Propylaea, a monumental gate probably built by Marcus Aurelius on the same site as an earlier gate from the time of Kimon, ca. 170 AD - ca. 180 AD, Eleusis
The Greater Propylaea, a monumental gate probably built by Marcus Aurelius on the same site as an earlier gate from the time of Kimon. It formed the main entrance to the sanctuary.
The Greater Propylaea was a close copy of the Propylaia of the Acropolis in Athens consisting of two porches, each with a facade of six Doric columns.
The architectural elements that formed the Greater Propylaea, a monumental gate probably built by Marcus Aurelius.
The architectural elements (triglyphs and metopes) that formed the Greater Propylaea, a monumental gate probably built by Marcus Aurelius.
This cuirassed bust of an emperor was installed at the centre of the pediment of the Greater Propylaea. Although the face is badly damaged, it is thought to be a portrait of the emperor Marcus Aurelius who built the Greater Propylaea.
This cuirassed bust of an emperor was installed at the centre of the pediment of the Greater Propylaea.
Although the face is badly damaged, it is thought to be a portrait of the emperor Marcus Aurelius who built the Greater Propylaea.
The Lesser Propylaea, a small gateway to the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore built ca. 60 BC - ca. 10 BC, Eleusis
The Lesser Propylaea, a small gateway to the Sanctuary built by Appius Claudius Pulcher in 54 BC.
The entablature of the Lesser Propylaea had an Ionic architrave, on which is cut the Latin dedicatory inscription, and a frieze of triglyphs and metopes embellished with cists, bukrania, and stylized double poppies.
The entablature of the Lesser Propylaea had an Ionic architrave on which was cut the Latin dedicatory inscription and a frieze of triglyphs and metopes embellished with wheat-sheaves, bucrania, and stylized double poppies.
The upper part of one of the caryatids that flanked the Lesser Propylaea of Eleusis, made in Attica in about 50 BC (Eleusis Museum).
The upper part of one of the caryatids that flanked the Lesser Propylaea. On its head it carries the kiste, the sacred chest decorated in relief with the symbols of the Eleunisian cult: ears of wheat, poppies, rosettes (Eleusis Museum).
he Plutonion (caverns recalling the entrance to the underworld).
The Sanctuary of Pluto (Hades), god of the Underworld, who abducted Persephone. It is situated to the west of the Lesser Propylaea. The cavern recalls the entrance to the underworld.
The temple of Pluto is Archaic in date but was remodeled on many occasions from the fourth century BC down to Roman times.
The Temple of Pluto is Archaic in date but was remodeled on many occasions from the 4th century BC down to Roman times. It was a small temple with cella and pronaos opening east and a peribolos wall.
Flight of steps cut into the east side of the rock along the Processional Way.
Flight of steps cut into the east side of the rock along the Processional Way.
Overall view of the Telesterion, the
Overall view of the Telesterion, the “place for initiation”. It was the central building of the sanctuary where pilgrims were initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries.
The Telesterion. It was a large hypostyle hall with seats on all four sides where the faithful sat and watched the rituals. The Hierophantes produced sacred objects and receded texts to covey a positive view of life after death.
Serving as the initiation Hall and Temple for the Eleusinian Mysteries, the Telesterion was a large hypostyle hall with seats on all four sides where the faithful sat and watched the rituals.
The earliest building traces on the site are of a Mycenaean megaron opening east. This was replaced by a Geometric building, and by Solon's time (ca. 600 B.C.) a rectangular hall, probably columned, running southwest-northeast had been built to accommodate a larger number of participants.
The earliest building traces on the site of the Telesterion are of a Mycenaean megaron opening east. This was replaced by a Geometric building, and by Solon’s time (ca. 600 BC) a rectangular hall, probably columned, running southwest-northeast had been built to accommodate a larger number of participants.
The Stoa of Philo built by the Eleusinian architect Philo in the mid-4th century BC in the Doric order in order to extend the Telesterion by the addition of a semi-open space.
The Stoa of Philo built by the Eleusinian architect Philo in the mid-4th century BC in the Doric order in order to extend the Telesterion by the addition of a semi-open space.
The fortification wall and circular corner-tower dating to the 4th century BC.
The fortification wall and circular corner-tower dating to the 4th century BC.
Kallichoron Well, according to the myth it was here that Demeter rested as she searched for her daughter Persephone.
Kallichoron Well, according to the myth it was here that Demeter rested as she searched for her daughter Kore. Here dances to Demeter and Kore were once performed, hence the name meaning Well of the Fair Dances.
Eleusis Museum
Eleusis Museum
Statue of the deified Antinous represented as Asklepios, found in the outer court of the sanctuary which it apparently adorned, 2nd century AD (Archaeological Museum of Eleusis).
Statue of Antinous represented as Asklepios, found in the outer court of the sanctuary which it apparently adorned. Antinous accompanied Hadrian during his attendance at the annual Eleusinian Mysteries. (Archaeological Museum of Eleusis).

Links:

Sources:

  • Kalliope Preka-Alexandri, Eleusis (Ministry of Culture Archaeological Receipts Fund, 2015)
  • Christopher Mee & Antony Spawforth, Greece: An Oxford Archaeological Guide (Oxford University Press, 2001)