Crete Stories and Tips

The Roman Ruins of Gortys

Olives at Gortys Photo, Crete, Greece

Gortys is not a common tourist spot on Crete, but for those history buffs out there, it is definitely worth a visit. If Phaistos (Festos) is in your itinerary, then Gortys isn't too far away. Both are important Greek archaeological sites deep in the mountains in Southern Crete. You can possibly plan a visit to the two sites on the same day, but mind the heat. During the summer months, it can be up to 40°C during the day, so be prepared with a good hat and some water.

We traveled from Rethymnon on the north coast by bus; transferred at Agia Galini, a seaside resort by the Libyan Sea; and took another bus through the winding mountain paths. After 2 hours, we finally arrived, greeted by hundreds of ancient olive trees.

Left: A sculpture of an unknown Greek philosopher at Gortys. Right: Arch of the St. Titus Church looking out to the agora (marketplace).

Known also as Gortyn, the site was once a Roman capital city after the fall of Knossos. In fact, Gortys was one of the oldest and strongest cities in Crete during the prehistoric and historic period. The population of ancient Gortys was believed to be 300,000. The Gortynians occupied Phaistos during the third century B.C. During the Roman period, Gortys reached the peak of its glory and was the capital of Crete. The city maintained its glory until 828 A.D., when it was occupied and destroyed by the Saracens. Since then it was never inhabited again.

Gortys also has a significant place in Greek mythology. Among the ruins, we saw a tree under which the Greek god Zeus was allegedly born.

Left: Excavation work is being conducted by Italian-led archaeologists at the site. Right: A huge area of ruins is waiting to be restored.

The most prominent and well-preserved structure at the huge site is the Odeum. There is a Roman theater in the center. Surrounding it are arched pillars, and at one corner, a modern structure has been erected to protect the ancient law code of Gortys inscribed on the stone wall. The law code of Gortys is known to be the earliest written one in Europe. The entire law governing the population was inscribed on this wall around 500 B.C.

Another interesting fact is that Gortys became the first city of Crete to accept Christianity. In fact, the disciple Paul was here when he was stranded during his sea journey and taught a student, later known as St. Titus, to spread Christianity. The Church of St. Titus stands near the entrance of the site, and there is still an alter where candles are constantly lit.

There are still large areas of ruins that remain to be discovered and restored, such as the Metropolis area. If they succeed with the restoration, Gortys is likely to become the largest archaeological site in all of Greece.

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