Gortys or Gortyn in Crete | Explore Crete (2024)

Gortys or Gortyn is one of the most important cities in Crete with an unbroken history of 6,000 years and one of the most extensive archaeological sites in Greece. Gortys lies in south-central Crete in the fertile Messara plain, the site of the first human habitation of Crete at the end of the Neolithic period (5th millennium BC).

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Gortys is about 40 minutes drive south of Heraklion, on the same road that will take us to Phaistos and Matala. It is about 1 km past the village of Agioi Deka, at the side of the main road.

The name Gortys or Gortyna

  • According to one tradition, Gortys was named after its founder, the son of Radamanthys, king of Phaistos and brother of King Minos.
  • Another story is that it was founded by Gortys from Tegea, a town in the Arcadian Gortynia in Peloponnese.
  • A third variation on the same myth has Gortys founded by Queen Gortyna of Crete, mother of King Taurus.

Excavations at Gortys

Gortys was one of the first areas of Crete to attract the attention of researchers and archaeologists as early as the period of Turkish occupation in the late 19th century, when Minoan civilisation was still a matter of conjecture and myth.

In 1884 the discovery and preservation of the Great Inscription by Iosif Hatzidakis, Stefanos Xanthoudides and Italian Federico Halbherr led to excavations in the Gortys area.

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Excavations were undertaken by the Italian Archaeological Mission in collaboration with the Archaeological Service after Crete became an autonomous state in 1898, and lasted until 1940.

Excavations in the wider area of Gortys brought important buildings and finds to light, although a large part of the Roman city still remains unexplored today. The most important finds are displayed in Heraklion Archaeological Museum, while some will be housed in the Mesara Archaeological Museum once this is built in a few years time.

History of Gortyna

The area has been inhabited since the end of the Neolithic period. Habitation continued in Minoan times, a fact proven by the Minoan country villa found in the Kannia area near Mitropolis village, not far from Gortys.

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From the middle of the 1st millennium BC, Gortys replaced Phaistos as the chief power in the Mesara, centred around the fortified acropolis with the temple of Athena Poliouchos (Protector of the City).

After the Roman conquest of Crete in 67 BC, Gortys, which was well disposed towards Rome, became capital of Crete, replacing Knossos. Gortys was declared the capital of the Roman province of Crete and Cyrenaica, a position it held until the Arab conquest of Crete in 828 AD.

Gortys reached the peak of its power in the 2nd century AD, while its final period of glory was in the early Christian period (until the 7th century AD).

It is believed that Gortys expanded across a wide area and had a large population. It may have been built using stone from the nearby Roman quarry in the village of Ambelouzos, known in Crete as the Labyrinth of Mesara.

In 796 AD the city was hit by an earthquake which almost destroyed it. After the Andalusian Arabs conquered Crete in 828 AD, the capital was transferred to Chandax, modern-day Heraklion.

The archaeological site of Gortys

Usually a visit to Gortys is limited to the archaeological site open to the public: the church of St Titus, the Odeon and the famous Plane Tree. But how representative is the picture the visitor gains of the grandeur of this city, once the capital of Crete?

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The city of Gortys used to cover a large area, but unfortunately only a small part of it has been excavated. What the uninformed visitor sees is only the tip of the iceberg.

Stand at the entrance to the archaeological site and look across the road. You will see some blue signs which are usually ignored, but those curious enough to follow them will be amazed at what they see.

In the next few pages, we will take you on a virtual tour of the whole archaeological site of Gortys. We will visit the church of St Titus, the Odeon, the room of the Law Code of Gortys and of course the plane tree of Zeus and Europa.

When we finish our tour of this area, will cross the road to Phaistos and walk along the road to Mitropolis. A little further on we will admire the largest Early Christian church in Crete, whose splendour is still evident despite its ruined state.

Then, following the path through the olive trees, we will reach the heart of Roman Gortys, the Praetorium, the seat of the Roman Governor of Crete.

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The Praetorium is a huge and luxurious building. Unfortunately none of these areas is open to the public, but you’ll be impressed even gazing at them through the wire fencing and enjoy every moment of your visit.

Let’s begin our tour of Gortys:

We leave the car in the car park and buy a ticket (4 in 2007) before entering the archaeological site. On our left is part of the church of St Titus.

We pass by the church and cross the square with its old olive trees with their time-knotted trunks. These trees look as though they have been here hundreds of years, further evidence of the history of Gortys down the ages.

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We continue straight on and admire the evergreen plane tree of Gortys, said to have shaded the wedding celebrations of Zeus and Europa.

  • Start here: The plane tree of Gortys(1)
  • The Great Inscription with the Law Code of Gortys (2) – The Odeon
  • The church of St Titus (3)
  • The statues display
  • The Great Basilica (4)
  • The Temple of Apollo and the Temple of the Egyptian Gods
  • The Roman baths (5)
  • The Praetorium of Gortys (6)
  • The Nymphaeum of Gortys (7)
  • The Acropolis of Gortys
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* Article by Maria Kivernitaki – Photos by Yannis Samatas

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Gortys or Gortyn in Crete | Explore Crete (2024)


Why is Gortyn on Crete significant? ›

Among archaeologists, ancient historians, and classicists Gortyn is known today primarily because of the 1884 discovery of the Gortyn Code which is both the oldest and most complete known example of a code of ancient Greek law.

Where is the Gortyn code? ›

The Gortyn Law Code, also known as the Great Code, is a legal code of the civil law in the ancient Greek city state of Gortyn in southern Crete. It exists in a fragmentary state, carved on a city wall. The inscription has been dated to the first half of the 5th century BCE.

What is Crete best known for? ›

Crete is Greece's largest island, located in the southern part of the Aegean Sea. It's known for its natural wonders, which range from fertile plains and crystal-clear seas to craggy mountains and colourful wildflowers.

Is Crete worth going to? ›

There is genuinely so much to see and do in Crete, whether you want a hotel holiday, activities, city vibes or to escape into a village up in the mountains far from the madding crowds.

What is the Gortyn Code? ›

The Gortyn code (also called the Great Code) was a legal code that was the codification of the civil law of the ancient Greek city-state of Gortyn in southern Crete.

Who is Gortyn in Greek mythology? ›

Bronze Age Gortyn is also the setting of several important stories from Greek mythology. Europa was seduced here by Zeus when he took the form of a bull; their marriage taking place under an evergreen tree at the site.

What is the Gortyn law wall? ›

The famous Gortyn law code was found here on the stones of the circular walls behind the Odeon. It is the oldest known Greek law code inscription. The stones were actually part of an inscribed wall with Doric-style writings of the complete old law.

How do I start a war in Gortyn? ›

This quest begins by speaking with the civilian in the village of Gortyn, in western Minos's Legacy. The civilian wants a visiting herald murdered, starting a war and making him the leader of the council after they win the war.

What were the punishments in ancient Greece? ›

On fellow citizens, the Athenians imposed fines, imprisonment, a set time of public humiliation in the stocks, limited loss of political rights, total disfranchisem*nt, exile from the city (which could be amplified with the confiscation of property and/or the razing of the convict's house), and death (which could be ...

Which part of Crete is the prettiest? ›

Chania Town is probably the most beautiful town in Crete. The Old Town of Chania, with the evident Medieval style, is a wonderful place to walk around, lined up with elegant Venetian mansions.

Where do celebrities stay in Crete? ›

About Elounda Gulf Villas & Suites

This intimate villa suite complex is ultra-luxurious, drawing A-list celebrities, including sports stars like Ronaldo and singer Lady Gaga.

How many days in Crete is enough? ›

How long to spend on Crete. For a first-time visitor looking to experience a mix of Crete's history, culture and cuisine, nature, and beaches, 7 to 10 days is just about the perfect amount of time to spend here.

Are mosquitoes bad in Crete? ›

The risk for mosquito activity is extremely high. Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when spending time outdoors to prevent bites. The risk for mosquito activity is high. Consider an EPA-registered repellent to deter mosquito bites.

Why was the Battle of Crete so important? ›

The people of Crete fought admirably and bravely against invading Nazi German forces. The battle is historic because of their participation as it was the first time the Nazis encountered mass civilian resistance.

What is historically special about Crete? ›

Ancient Crete is the place where the Minoan civilization, one of the most important civilizations of the world (2600-1150 BC), started.

What is the importance of ancient Crete? ›

An important member of the Greek world in the Archaic period, Crete dipped a little in significance during the Classical period but was again a major cultural centre in Roman times when it was a province within the Roman empire and centre of early Christianity.

How did Talos defend the island of Crete? ›

The myth describes Talos as a giant bronze man built by Hephaestus, the Greek god of invention and blacksmithing. Talos was commissioned by Zeus, the king of Greek gods, to protect the island of Crete from invaders. He marched around the island three times every day and hurled boulders at approaching enemy ships.


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