Gortys or Gortyn or Gortyna
Gortys, also known as Gortyn or Gortyna, is one of the most important cities in Crete with a history of 6,000 years. It is also one of the most extensive archaeological sites in Greece. It lies in south central Crete in the fertile Mesara plain, the site of the first human habitation of Crete at the end of the Neolithic period (5th millennium BC). Gortys is about 40 minutes drive south of Heraklion, on the same road that will take you to Phaistos and Matala.
The name Gortys or Gortyna
According to one tradition, Gortys was named after its founder Gortys, the son of Radamanthys, king of Phaistos, brother of Minos. Another Myth is that it was founded by Gortys from the city of Tegea in Arcadian Gortynia. A third variation on the same myth has Gortys founded by Queen Gortyna of Crete, mother of King Taurus.
Excavations at Gortys
Gortys was one of the first areas of Crete to attract the attention of archaeologists and researchers in the late 19th century, during the period of Turkish occupation, when Minoan civilization was still considered to be mythical.
In 1884 the discovery by Iosif Hatzidakis, Stefanos Xanthoudides and Italian Federico Halbherr and preservation of the Great Inscription led to excavations in the Gortys area. Excavations were undertaken by the Italian Archaeological Mission in collaboration with the Archaeological Service (after Crete became an autonomous state in 1898). They lasted until 1940.
Excavations in the wider area of Gortys brought to light important buildings and finds. Still a large part of the Roman city remains unexplored today. The most important finds are displayed in Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
History of Gortys
The area has been inhabited since 5th millennium BC, at the end of the Neolithic period. Habitation continued in Minoan times. It is proven by the Minoan country villa found in the Kannia area, near Mitropolis village, not far from Gortys.
Gortys replaced Phaistos as the chief power in the Mesara, from the middle of the 1st millennium BC, centered around the fortified acropolis with the temple of Athena Poliouchos which was the Protector of the City.
After the Roman conquest of Crete in 67 BC, Gortys became the capital of Crete, replacing Knossos, due to its good relations with Rome. Gortys was declared the capital of the Roman province of Crete and Cyrenaica, a position it held until the Arab conquest of Crete in 828 AD. It reached its peak in the 2nd century AD, while its final period of glory was in the early Christian period (until the 7th century AD).
It is believed that Gortys expanded across a wide area and probably had a large population. It may have been built using stone from the nearby Roman quarry in the village of Ambelouzos, known in Crete as the Labyrinth of Mesara.
In 796 AD the city was hit by another earthquake which almost destroyed it. After the Andalusian Arabs conquered Crete, the capital was transferred to Chandax, modern-day Heraklion.