Gortyn or Gortyna is a municipality and an archaeological site on the Mediterranean island of Crete, 45 km away from the modern capital Heraklion. The seat of the municipality is the village Agioi Deka. Gortyn, the Roman capital of Crete, was first inhabited around 3200 BC, and was a flourishing Minoan town between 1600-1100 BC.
It is located in the valley of Messara in the south of the Psiloritis mountain, in the current position of the settlements of Metropolis and Agioi Deka, and near the Libyan Sea.
Coordinates: 35°0′N 24°58′E (1) Heraklion (2) Archanes-Asterousia
(3) Viannos (4) Gortyn (5) Malevizi (6) Minoa Pediada (7) Faistos
There is evidence of human occupation in Gortyn as far back as the Neolithic era (7000 BC). Many artifacts have been found from the Minoan period, as well as some from the Dorian (circa 1100 BC).
Monuments in Gortyn
The heart of Roman Gortyn is the Praetorium, the seat of the Roman Governor of Crete. The Praetorium was built in the 1st century AD, but it was altered significantly over the next eight centuries.
In the same area, between the Agora and the temple of Apollo are the ruins of the Roman baths (thermae), as well as the temple of Apollo, an honorary arch, and the temple of the Egyptian deities with the worship statues of Isis, Serapis and Anubis. Parts of the Roman settlement, such as the theater (2nd century AD), have been unearthed during excavations. The theater has two entrances and a half-circular orchestra, the outline of which may still be seen today. Behind the Roman Theater are what has been called the “Queen of the Inscriptions”. These inscriptions are the laws of the city of Gortyn, which are inscribed in the Dorian dialect on large stone slabs and are still plainly visible.
The Law of Gortyn
Among archaeologists, ancient historians, and classicists Gortyn is known today primarily because of the 1884 discovery of the Gortyn Code which is both the oldest and most complete known example of a code of ancient Greek law. The code was discovered on the site of a structure built by the Roman emperor Trajan, the Odeon, which for the second time, reused stones from an inscription-bearing wall that also had been incorporated into the foundation of an earlier Hellenistic structure. Although portions of the inscriptions have been placed in museums such as the Louvre in Paris, a modern structure at the site of the mostly ruined Odeon now houses many of the stones bearing the famous law code.
The myth of Europa and Zeus
According to the classical Greek mythology Gortyn was the site of one of Zeus’ many affairs. This myth features the princess Europa, whose name has been applied to the continent, Europe. Disguised as a bull, Zeus abducted Europa from Lebanon and they had an affair under a plane tree (platanus), a tree that may be seen today in Gortys. Following this affair three children were born, Minos, Rhadamanthys and Sarpedon, who became the kings of the three Minoan Palaces in Crete. The identification of Europa in this myth gives weight to the claim that the civilization of the European continent was born on the island of Crete. Many coins were found with Europa representations on the back, showing that the people honored Europa as a great goddess.
The port and caves of Matala
The caves in the cliff of the Matala bay were created in the Neolithic Age. Matala was the port of Phaistos during the Minoan period. In the year 220 BC.
Matala was occupied by the Gortynians and during the Roman period Matala became the port of Gortys. In the 1st and 2nd centuries the caves were used as tombs. One of the caves is called “Brutospeliana” because according to the legend it was frequented by the Roman general Brutus.
In newer history Matala was a fishing village. In the 1960s the caves were occupied by hippies who were later driven out by the church and the military junta. Now Matala is a small village living mainly from tourism.
Canadian folk singer Joni Mitchell’s experiences with the Matala hippies were immortalised in her 1971 song “Carey”.