Gortyn, Crete, Greece, 15 October 2018.
(Click on any image to see it in a larger size, if you are on a PC or tablet at least.)
Section of Citadel wall, looking a bit sphinx-like.
From Matala, we headed for the ancient Minoan, Greek and Roman City of Gortyn, or so we thought. What I had specified on my car GPS was actually the Acropolis of Gortyn. The Acropolis is up on top of a hill whereas the city is down below on the plain. We got to the city later but this proved to be a most fortuitous mistake.
Getting closer to the remaining walls.
The Acropolis is open to view but there are no noticeboards relating the significance of what you are seeing.
Holes knocked through three walls.
Perhaps these holes were made when the Moslems took the Citadel in 828AD, but my guess is it was done later to remove large heavy objects from inside. After all, this is before the time of cannons.
Largest remaining citadel wall.
Fortifications were initially erected during the Dorian or Geometric Period 1100 to 700BC. The walls we see are from the 7th century AD, erected during the reign on the emperor Heraclius. I recall reading that they are six metres high, which seems about right.
Looking down from the top of the cliff behind the citadel, we see the city that was our intended destination. This is the Church of St Titus.
… And this is the Odeon and the building housing the Law Codes, obscured by trees.
In the middle distance, behind the Citadel and near the cliff, is the Temple of Athena Pollouchos, from the 7th century BC. Significant sculptures were unearthed here. In the foreground may be either part of the temple or part of the basilica erected in the 6th to 7th century AD, using materials from the temple.
There was a settlement here during Neolithic (6000 to 3000 BC), Minoan (3000-1200BC), Greek and Roman, and Byzantine (6th to 10th century AD) periods.
Clearly Roman building style.
Lichen on some of the walls produces an almost abstract effect.
The site is all the more impressive for being largely unremarked and unexplained.
One last look back as we walk out….
And here, looking down from the edge of the Acropolis, you see the obscure country road in and the huge crowds in the car park. Well, actually it’s just our rental car on the edge of the road.
Now, we have driven round and are now in the ancient city and the Church of St Titus.
It was built in the 6th to 7th centuries to replace the larger Basilica of St Titus that was destroyed by an earthquake in 670AD.
The city is more recent that the Acropolis up on the hill. It was founded as an offshoot of nearby Phaestos during the Minoan period. During the Greek period, Gortyn grew in status and surpassed Phaestos. It survived a war at various time against or allied to Phaestos, Knossos and Lyttos.
Ancient olive tree besides the Church.
It gave refuge to Hannibal in 189BC, thus incurring the displeasure of Rome. It must have decided that was a bad idea so shortly after it allied with Rome.
Consequently, as a Roman ally, it wasn’t sacked when the Romans took over Crete and subsequently became the capital of the Roman Province of Crete and Cyrene (including, in modern terms, Crete, Libya and Egypt). This was the period of its greatest power and influence.
Remains of the Odeon, a small theatre for music.
The building that houses the Law Code.
Not much remains of Greek Gortyn (it’s mainly the Roman structures that survive) but one thing that does is the Law Code of Gortyn.
Dating to 450BC, it was inscribed on marble blocks spanning eight metres wide. It was originally on the walls of the Agora, an open meeting place for all citizens. After the supporting wall was destroyed in the 1st century BC, the Romans re-erected the Law Code in the same place but in the walls of their council chambers.
It covers rules for inheritance, debts, adoption, marriage, divorce, slavery and sexual violence. There are distinctions between legal classes of free, serf, slave and foreigner. It is 600 lines long in the Dorian text and is in boustrophedon, or “as the ox ploughs”, so the lines are read in altnerating direction from either left or right. It is the oldest and most complete European Law Code and was in many ways quite liberal for its time. For more information on it, see here.
(Click image to read the text on the tablets).
An ancient bridge.
Only a small part of the ancient city of Gortyn is open to the public. We did not realise at the time that over the road with few indications, there are other sites that you can view at a distance through wire fences.
An olive tree, 2,000 years old.
There is also a tree on the site, a plane tree, that is said to be the tree where Zeus disguised himself as a bull and seduced Europa, a Phoenician Princess. Their children came to rule major Minoan cities including Minos in Knossos. Assuming this legend is completely historically accurate, as Schliemann assumed Homer to be for Troy, then that tree must be more than 4,000 years old. Modern science does not explain how this is possible but then it also doesn’t explain how it may be possible for a God to turn himself into a bull and mate with a woman.
The Mycenaeans arrived in Greece more than halfway through the Minoan civilisation and the Dorians even later. There are many sites in Crete that claim to be the birthplace of Zeus and many other places in Crete with specific associations to Greek Gods. We know little in detail of Minoan society. Linear A has not been deciphered, we don’t even know what language they used and even if we did, the tablets may merely contain accounting records. I speculate though that Minoan religion may have been the basis for Greek religion and Athenian democracy might even have its basis in Minoan political practices.
This statue is usually assumed to be of the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius, but is more likely to be a copy of a Greek statue from 2nd or 3rd century BC of an unknown person. The original head is in the museum at Heraklion.