Crete’s Ancient Cities: Eleutheras GR – Ελευθέρας
When the heat of the summer months fade and change to cooler autumn days, it’s again time to spend some of my days hiking and exploring with others and enjoying more of the wonders and magic of the island of Crete. Visit Crete and experience all and more that the island has to offer. Find a choice of accommodation in Chania Old town here.
It’s a late October grey overcast autumn day; with sprinkles of light rain. However, the weather certainly didn’t dampen our joy of learning and experiencing more of Crete’s ancient history.
Approximately 30 mins drive South/East of Rethymno, nestled 380m above sea level, on the slopes of Crete’s highest mountain; Mount Ida (Psiloritis GR – Ψηλορείτης) is the ruined ancient city of Eleutherna, GR – Ἐλεύθερνα.
This ancient city site has been undergoing excavation since 1985, with researchers from the University of Crete continuing with ongoing excavations and investigation. Before hiking the grounds of the archaeological site; it’s well worth stopping in at the modern and extremely interesting Museum of Eleutherna, just a short five minutes’ drive from the more modern village of Eleutherna. The museum was opened in June, 2016 and houses incredible artifacts dated back to 3000 BC to the 14th century AD and is the result of many years of archaeological work found throughout the area now known as ‘Eleutherna Grove’. The museum has a wonderful collection of vases, sculptures, weapons, tools, and figurines of clay, stone and metal that provides insight into the public, political, religious, social and private life of Eleutherna through the ages; along with a rich explanation of information and impressive audio visual presentation showing the exchange of materials and goods between East and West during the times of antiquity. An incredibly interesting and wonderfully informative museum, that is a must visit when visiting Crete and definitely, well worth the €4.00 entry fee.
An added bonus was to see the Museums current (at the time of writing) exhibition ~ Cretan Cities: The Testimony of Coins. The exhibition covers the coinage of the ancient cities of Crete and coin circulation on the island providing history of the cities (based on the current four Prefectures of Chania, Rethymno, Herakleio (learn more here) and Lassithi) during Classical and Hellenistic periods. As an Astrologist, I was particularly interested to see coins using religious and mythological traditions; with the earliest coins showing the heads of the Greek God Zeus (Roman mythology – Jupiter); and Goddess Hera (Roman mythology – Juno), wife and sister of Zeus in the Olympian pantheon. Taking photos was prohibited inside the museum; images of coins can be found courtesy of the Alpha numismatics website.
Another short drive from the Museum of Eleutherna and we find ourselves at a point within the archaeological site of the ancient city of Eleutherna, were there is an opportunity to hike the whole area as part of the E4 ‘The Cretan Way’ trail; time permitting.
According to tradition, the ancient city’s name – Eleutherna was named after Eleutheras GR – Ελευθέρας, one of the Kouretes GR – Κουρετές (a god, in Greek mythology); who protected the new born Zeus from his father Cronus hearing the infant’s cries and devouring him.
The ancient city was strategically located at the heart of Crete, being approximately midway between the ancient city of Kydonia GR – Κυδωνία (current day Chania), in the west and Knossos GR – Κνωσός in the east, along with the ancient cities of Gortyn and Phaistos GR – Φαιστός in the south. The ancient city lies atop two long and narrow ridges, named Pyrgi and Nissi; with three rivers flowing around the foothills. Archaeological evidence to date shows this ancient city had been inhabited since at least the 3rd millennium BC and continued throughout the Minoan period during the 2nd millennium, and through to roman occupation during the 1st century AD and Early Byzantine period 4th – 7th centuries AD. The gradual decline began from the 8th century AD onwards and was finally abandoned following the revolt by the Kallergis family in 1333-38 and the Venetians banning any habitation.
The archaeological site covers, ruins of the Hellenistic walls and pathways that lead to the remains of what was a defensive tower that provided a vantage point to see across the island and out to sea, that was used during the Hellenistic and Byzantine periods between the 4th century BC and 7th century AD.
The seas ties to the ancient city was the basis for the society that was open to the world.
Given time considerations, we returned to the cars and drove a short ten minutes to again park and pay a €4.00 entrance fee to visit the roof covered necropolis GR – νεκρόπολη (cemetery) of Orthí Pétra GR – Ορθή Πέτρα; still under excavation.
The necropolis is the resting place of the late Protogeometric period and early Archaic period between 870/85 – 600 BC, until the beginning of the 6th century BC.
Photos and videos under the roof enclosure weren’t permitted.
An extremely interesting site to visit and learn more about a variety of inhumantion (burial) practices and customs, including cremations and bones of the deceased stored in various sized Pithoi GR – Πίθιους (ceramic vases). Along with grave enclosures, complete with funerary monuments, including amphora’s GR – του αμφορέα (Ancient Greek and Roman jar or jug used to hold various forms of liquid).
From the site of the Necropolis Orthi Petra, we made our way along a section of the E4 and walked the path to the rock-cut cisterns. This impressive large pillared cistern, standing about 4.5m in height is believed to be from the Roman period and was quarried from the rock of the Pyrgi hill. The water was conveyed from the southern side of the hill to the eastern side by a vaulted aqueduct.
We continued walking and passed St. Elessa’s tombs before reaching…
…the Hellenic triangular (ekforic system) arch bridge and finding ourselves in a peaceful and idyllic spot in nature.
This unusual designed ancient bridge standing at only 1.84m was built in the early 4th century BC using limestone blocks in the shape of isosceles triangles; and crosses over the Chalopta stream.
A second bridge was built using the triangular design around the same time standing only a few hundred meters away, however was destroyed at some stage prior to 1893.
There is still more to see in the area, however it was mid/late afternoon and a few hungry hikers (myself included) were in need of food. Returning to the village of Eleutherna for a late lunch at Taverna Eleisthir, a traditional Cretan Taverna serving wonderful Cretan food, and ending our lunch with the complimentary Raki and preserved sweets to compliment a great day.
I will need to make a return visit to see more of the ancient city of Eleutherna.
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This blog is part of a series of posts providing information on day trips, starting at the Venetian Harbour City of Chania, including ancient historic sites in Crete. I hope you enjoy reading and that I bring some inspiration (if needed) to visit this amazing and magical part of the world. Looking for additional reading on the Ancient City of Eleutherna, check here.
Experience more of the island with me, check here and read about the village of Elos, annual chestnuts festival with traditional Cretan Dancers.
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