Ierapetra and ancient Gournia

Ancient Gournia

Gournia, situated at the Mirabello Gulf, is the most characteristic of the excavated medium-size settlements, dating back to the period of the peak of the Minoan culture (Late Minoan I period: 1550-1450 B.C.). It is also called “Pompeii of Minoan Crete” because of the good state of preservation. It occupies a low hill, close to the sea, at the Isthmus of Ierapetra. The first inhabitants settled here in the Early Minoan III period (2300 B.C.). Remains of the Middle Minoan period (2000-1600 B.C.) are also preserved; in c. 1600 B.C., the palace was erected but was destroyed along with the surrounding town in 1450 B.C., at the same time with all the other palatial centres of Crete. Fifty years later the site was partly reoccupied and was finally abandoned in around 1200 B.C.

The ruins of the settlement were visible before the excavation in 1901-1904 – hence the name “Gournia” given by the villagers because of the stone basins (“gournes” in Greek) preserved in the area.
The town of Gournia provides a picture of the everyday life of the Minoans. They were mainly occupied with agriculture, stock-breeding, fishing, pottery, and weaving, as indicated by the relevant tools (chisels, hooks, hammers etc.) found during the excavations. Other, more luxurious vases (such as rhyta and ritual vases) were also uncovered.


Travel to Ierapetra in Crete, Greece
Beach in Ierapetra
Travel to Ierapetra i Crete, Greece
Street in Ierapetra
Coordinates: 35°0′N 25°44′E    (1) Agios Nikolaos (2) Ierapetra (3) Lasithi Plateau (4) Siteia


(meaning Holy Stone) is a town and municipality in the southeast of Crete.
The town of Ierapetra is located along the beach of Ierapetra Bay. It lies south of Agios Nikolaos and is an important regional centre. With its around 15,000 inhabitants in 2001 it is the most populous town in the prefecture of Lasithi, and the fourth town of Crete. Ierapetra is some times called “bride of the Libyan Sea” because of its position as the only town on the south coast of Crete.

Selakano valley surrounded by the main ridge of Dikti mountain, Crete
Selakano valley surrounded by the main ridge of Dikti Mountain

Selakano is a forested valley and a hamlet in the municipality of Ierapetra. Selakano forms one of the most important ecosystems on Crete. The forest core of wild pine is also important on a Mediterranean level. It is located in the northwestern territories of Ierapetra in the southeastern part of the Dikti massif, surrounded by the four highest peaks (Lazaros 2085 m, Spathi 2148 m, Afendis Christos 2141 m, Psari Madara 2090 m). In the East, there is a panoramic view of the Libyan Sea, at a distance of 15 km. The forest is the nesting and hunting ground of many predatory birds like the hawk. It is the most productive apiculture spot in Crete, while in the past wood and resin were harvested.

Ierapetra in antiquity

View of the old venetian fortress in Ierapetra, Crete
The old venetian fortress in Ierapetra

Ierapetra has had a place in the Cretan history ever since the Minoan period. The Greek and later Roman town of Hierapytna was on the same site as present day Ierapetra. In the Classical Age Hierapytna became the strongest town of eastern Crete and as a Dorian city in continual rivalry with Praisos, the last Minoan city in the island. Later, in the 3rd century BC, Hierapytna was notorious for its tendency to piracy and took part in the Cretan War along with other Cretan cities on the side of Philip V of Macedon against Knossos and Rhodes. Its importance as independent state ended when it was conquered by the Romans in 67 BC (the last free city in Crete) and was surpassed by the city of Gortyn. The Roman conquest of Ierapetra occurred about the same time as that of Knossos, Cydonia and Lato. Today remains of the Roman harbor can still be seen in the shallow bay.

In the Venetian era, from the 13th to the 17th centuries, Ierapetra – now known by its present name – became prosperous again. The Fortress of Kales, built in the early years of Venetian rule to protect the harbor, is a remnant of this period.

In July 1798 Ierapetra made a small step into world history: Napoleon stayed with a local family after the Battle of the Pyramids in Egypt. The house where he stayed can still be seen. In the Ottoman period a mosque was built in the town. Finds from Ierapetra’s past can be found in the local Museum of Antiquities, formerly a school for Muslim children. The centrepiece of the exhibition is a well preserved statue of Persephone.

Makry Gialos

Makry Gialos Crete Greece
This photo of Makry Gialos is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Makry Gialos with a population 4,204 in 2001 is located on the south-east coast of Crete. Since the 2011 it is a municipal unit of Ierapetra. The seat of the municipality was in Koutsouras, 22 kilometers east of Ierapetra. The name Makry Gialos is also specifically given both to a village and tourist centre on the coast, and to the nearby archaeological site of an ancient Minoan country house.

Makry-Gialos Photos
This photo of Makry Gialos is courtesy of TripAdvisor

The area faces the Libyan Sea. The backdrop of the area is mountainous and made up primarily of granite. From the mountains there are small valleys and gorges leading down to the coast. On the higher slopes there is an abundance of Walnut, Apple, Pear and Olive trees. On the lower slopes the main industry is farming and olive trees.

The coastline that runs from Galini to Kalo Nero, is etched with rocky inlets, small coves and long sweeping stretches of sand and pebble beaches. The Bay of Makry Gialos boasts the longest shallow sandy beach of East Crete. Other beaches are Diaskari, Langada, Amoudi, Mavros Kolimbos, Galini, Koutsouras; some of them are commercial beaches and some are deserted. Between the mountains there are dried up riverbeds, which are flowing down to the sea during the winter months.

The Archaeological Collection of Ierapetra

Ierapetra Sarcophagus, Crete
Ierapetra Sarcophagus

The first Archaeological Collection in Ierapetra was established in 1886 and in the past served more as a safe place for archaeological finds. The Archaeological Collection is now housed in the beautiful 1899 building – once known as the Ottoman School or Mehtepi – since 1986. The exhibition is arranged in two separate thematic units.

The first showcases include pottery ranging from Prehistoric to Roman times and the second contains magnificent sculptures from Ierapetra, most of which date from the Roman period.

The sculptures in the collection are also worth a visit. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a well preserved statue of Persephone. Ierapetra, especially during Roman times, was endowed with vibrant sculpture workshops which specialized in making excellent replicas of Classical sculptures, providing us today with invaluable information on pieces from that period that are lost. The sculpture area also houses a collection of 2nd century AD epigraphs that make reference to Ierapetra’s relation with Gortyns.

Ierapetra Archaeological Collection
Adrianou Kostoula Street
Tel: +30 28420-28721

Bramiana Wetlands

Bramiana Dam is an artificial dam and lake that demonstrates how human intervention may occasionally serve the needs of nature. The lake was made to supply the local greenhouses with water in the dry summer.
The lake area is the biggest wetland on Crete, and has become a nature reserve known for its birdlife. It is supplied with water from Selakano, Kalamafka and Malavra. Migratory birds make Bramiana dam a stopover each spring on their way from Africa to Europe and on the return trip in autumn. The dam has an idyllic setting that contains interesting flora and fauna and it has become a very important protected area.

Lassithi Trek

Horseriding through the Dikti mountains to the Libyan Sea. This adventurous trail of 160 km is only for the experienced rider. The travel has a duration of a week and takes you through the Dikti Mountain Range to the Cretan south coast and the country side. Lassithi Trek Website

External links

Ancient Gournia
Makry Gialos – Minoan Site

Cretan Diet – The Cretan Quality Agreement