ANCIENT SITES IN WEST CRETE
Crete is a magical island steeped in history.
While many flock to the region in search of sun, sea and sand, others do so in the hope of transporting back to a bygone age, long before package holidays.
While Roman and Hellenistic ruins exist, very few excavations have taken place. This necessitates some pre-planning on the part of tourists hoping to uncover remnants ancient and enchanting.
If that sounds like you, we’d advise trips to the following locations…
Aptera was at one time a sprawling city.
Situated high above Souda Bay and to the east of Chania, it was founded by the Mycenaeans, though evidence also points to a late Minoan civilisation.
An archaeological site brimming with history, Aperta was referenced as far back as the 13th century, found upon Linear B tablets and spelled ‘A-pa-wa-wa’.
It is believed to have been populated far earlier however, considered a significant city in the 8th century.
Aperta was actually destroyed by a seismic earthquake in 365 AD and only a select few lived on the land thereafter.
A vast area, just a handful of excavations have occurred on the site. They succeeded in uncovering ruins from different periods, including Roman cisterns and foundations of Demeter, Dorian and Hellenistic Apollo temples alike.
Amazingly, these are inter-twined with a Byzantine cloister and a large Turkish castle.
Those visiting this ancient city can enter the archaeological site for a small entrance fee, and quickly happen upon Roman bath houses, the monastery of Agios Ioannis Theologos and a recently excavated theatre. There is even an ancient Hellenistic villa to be observed.
Aptera’s own village is en route to the site and decorated with tavernas, shops and cafes for those looking to spend several hours in the region. The peaceful beach of Kalami is also within easy reach.
The view from Aperta is in many ways worth the trip alone, affording panoramic shots of Souda Bay and White Mountains to the south. It’s a day out you’ll cherish forever.
Situated approximately 58kms to the west of Chania is Falassarna, best known for its eye-catching beach and incredibly clean waters.
A ten-minute walk north of that hotspot leads to the remains of an ancient harbour, believed to date back to the Minoan period.
While inhabited during the Hellenistic and Roman eras, the settlement was abandoned when the island moved upwards by several meters due to a catastrophic earthquake. It currently stands 6m above sea level.
The city was at its peak during the 3rd and 4th centuries BC, having emerged from a combination of smaller settlements. It was a prosperous area at this time, due in large part to its location at the western end of Crete and with it a maritime link to Alexandria in Egypt.
The archaeological site was uncovered by British travellers in the 19th century and contains remnants of the acropolis and cemeteries of this once proud port.
As for the former harbour, this boasts workshops, docks and towers of the circular and square variety, believed to have been built in 350 BC.
These ruins help paint a picture of town life as it would have been centuries before.
The Dorionas once built a large town 6km inland of Kastelli and above the village of Polirinia.
The Greek translation of Polirinia is actually “many sheep” and it’s thought original inhabitants of this settlement were shepherds. Undeniable is the fact this spot was a Dorian colony in the 6th century.
The town was erected on a steep hill and actually used Kissamos (the present day Kastelli) as its harbour. Falassarnas, one of its nearby ports, quickly emerged as a rival but didn’t stop Polrinia from becoming a prosperous area which boasted its own coin.
The town was conquered by the Romans and at one time housed a statue to the conqueror of Crete himself, Quintus Metelles.
Today there are a smattering of small walls, graves and temple ruins that hark back to that period. In and around the village you’ll find narrow streets, flanked by old stone-built houses.
There are also the remains of both a Roman aqueduct and tower, along with a handful of Venetian arches and perhaps the star attraction… the ruins of a Venetian castle.
To the outskirts of the village are water cisterns and burial chambers from the Hellenistic period. You’ll also find the Church of 99 Saints, built in 1894 and leading up to the ruins of a Byzantine fort.
Excavations ceased in 1938 but there remains a treasure trove to be admired.
Lissos was once a coastal settlement inhabited throughout the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods.
An hour’s walk from the west of Sougia, it was famed for having supposed healing powers at the height of spring, leading to patients from across Crete flocking to the area to enjoy mythical thermal baths.
The seaport of Eluros, it was built in a small valley sandwiched between Syia (now Sougia) and Paleochora. It flourished right up to the point it was destroyed by the Saracens in the 9th century.
A number of ruins can be seen when visiting the region, despite great swathes being covered by vegetation. These include the small Asklepios temple, named after the Greco-Roman God of healing. This also contains a well-preserved mosaic floor.
Further inland you’ll encounter vaulted tombs and the remains of a Roman theatre.
Not forgetting the church of Saint Kirikos, built in 4th-5th century AD and containing architectural parts embedded into its walls.
This place of worship still holds an annual feast-day on June 15th, drawing worshippers from across Crete for overnight stays and a much-loved festival in honour of Agios Kirkos. He was put to death at the age of three, along with his mother, by then ruler of the city Emperor Diocletian as part of a persecution against Christians.
Lissos is well worth a visit for historians hoping to experience ancient Crete and can be reached by foot or boat from Sougua!