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Crete Travel - Exploring Crete
Exploring Crete: Eleutherna
Crete is rich in stunning landscapes and wildlife, along with its prevalent history and culture, which drives thousands
to the island with the intention of exploring Crete in all its splendour. It is also brimming with ancient monuments and
locations that have become the focus of tourists and researchers alike; one such location is Eleutherna, an ancient
city-state in Crete.
Once a prosperous city, acropolis, and necropolis, Eleutherna is today a striking archaeological spot with a museum
on-site, albeit separate from the actual city.
The City of Eleutherna
Eleutherna is located 25km to the south-west of Rethymno and near Mount Ida, the highest mountain in Crete, and
approximately 10 miles from the Cave of Zeus, where the Greek God is said to have been born.
Also called Apollonia, Eleutherna thrived until Byzantine times; its surrounding landscapes are rich in olive trees,
stone, lumber, honey and other plant resources, which contributed to the Eleutherna’s economic success. On the
21st of July of 365 AD, a powerful earthquake buried it underground and devastated this flourishing city.
This earthquake had an epicentre near Crete and is believed to have originated undersea, with a magnitude of
eight or higher. A tsunami followed soon after, killing thousands and destroying towns and ships.
Since 1984, a team of archaeologists led by Nicholas Stampolidis has been excavating this site and unearthing its
mysteries. Hundreds of objects and remains of houses have been discovered, although the project has focused
mainly on its burial grounds.
This early iron age excavation site is split into three different sections: Katsivelos, Pyrgi and Nissi hills, and Orthi
Petra. There’s a wide variety of locations to explore in Eleutherna, but the most relevant monuments found on the
• Hellenistic bridge – dated back to 330-67 BC, this bridge is located to the north of Eleutherna and built from
the rock of the hills on either side.
• Basilica at Katsivelos – this early Christian basilica is three-sided and has a narthex, as well as two rows of
columns and a stone iconostasis decorated with floral motifs and crosses. It’s dated from the 5th to the 7th centuries
• Peribolos near Nissi hill – a peribolos is a court enclosed by walls. The one located at the south end of
Nissi hill was built with large ashlar blocks and is dated to 400 BC.
• Burial grounds at Orthi Petra – this cemetery was used until the early Archaic period, from 870/850 to 600
BC. Several burial practices have been uncovered, such as inhumations and cremations. Funerary monuments and
grave enclosures have also been found. Orthi Petra is situated on the west slope of the old Eleftherna hill:
Recently inaugurated in June 2016, the Museum of Ancient Eleutherna is the first archaeological site museum in
Crete. This beautiful museum is a journey back to the beginning of Greek civilisation and Homer, as the excavations
have revealed a wealth of data on the daily life of ancient Eleutherna inhabitants; it also uncovered public buildings
and burial customs.
Tourists can visit the thousands of extremely well preserved finds on display at the museum and learn about ancient
Greek funerary practices. The collection will be renewed every 4 to 5 years.
Eleutherna is only one of the many locations to be discovered and explored in Crete, as the island has numerous
archaeological sites and monuments that can be visited by anyone. From tourists to researchers, many people are
drawn to the beautiful and historically significant sites in Crete every year, intent on seeing for themselves how
unique and special Cretan culture and history are.