Gortyn is a historical location located 44 kilometers southwest of Heraklion. The region was occupied in the Neolithic period, around 7000 BC, according to evidence uncovered at the site. Gortyn, on the other hand, got its name during the Minoan era, when a thriving Minoan colony thrived here in the lush plain of Mesara, Central Crete.
Phaestos, to the southwest, was the region’s power hub at the time. Gortyn afterwards developed and expanded to the point that it eclipsed Phaestos. Gortyn’s golden age began with the Roman colonization of Crete in the first century BC, when it became the capital of Crete and the Romans seized the provinces of North Africa (Cyrenaica). The traces of these days may still be found in the archaeological site of Gortyn.
Excavations at the site began in 1884, when Joseph Hatzidakis began studying the Minoan law code inscribed in the ancient structures’ walls. Even now, most of the massive city’s underground remains undiscovered. Many magnificent structures were discovered during the excavations, including the Church of St. Titus, which was erected on the site where Apostle Titus and ten other saints (Agioi Deka) proclaimed Christianity and were afterwards persecuted by the Roman emperor. The Roman Odeon, a circular theatre with rows of seats erected by Emperor Trajan, is another relic in the city.
On the stones of the circular walls beyond the Odeon, the famous Gortyn law code was discovered. It is the oldest known inscription of a Greek law system. The stones were part of an engraved wall that had Doric-style texts of the entire ancient law. The stones were scraped and reused during the construction of the Odeon, only to be found in 1884. The sacred plane tree, located to the north of the Odeon, was the site where Zeus wedded Princess Europa after abducting her while dressed as a bull.
The site’s centerpiece is the Roman Praetorium, which dates from the first century AD. It was the Roman governor’s seat and home. The marble fountain and cistern of the Nymphaeum, the Roman bath complex, and the temple of Apollo and several Egyptian deities all surround the Praetorium. The Gortyn Acropolis, with its defensive walls, foundations of the temple of Athena Poliouchos, and a Christian basilica, is located northwest of Gortyn on Agios Ioannis hill. The Mesara plain is seen from this vantage point.
The earthquake of 796 AD destroyed much of the town, as did the Arab invasion of Gortyn in 828 AD. This notable archaeological site may be accessed by driving southwest of Heraklion on the National Road to Phaestos and Matala. The settlement of Agioi Deka is about 1 mile away.
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