Ancient Eleftherna

Ancient Eleftherna in the prefecture of Rethymno is an archaeological site located about 25 km to the southeast of Rethymno and 12 kilometers from the Monastery of Arkadi, between Arkadi and Margarites. The settlement occupies the jagged crest of Psiloritis at an altitude of 380 meters and is the most important archaeological site of the prefecture, which has not been fully excavated yet. The first organized excavations began in 1985 by archaeologists Petros Themelis, Athanasios Kalpaxis and Nikos Stampolidis from the University of Crete and are still going on. Today, there are ruins in the region remaining from different historical periods.

Ancient Eleftherna, which had been named after Elefthereas, one of the Curites, or maybe after Dimitra Elefthou, is a wider settlement area, which main cores are located on two hills: the hill of Prine (Ancient Eleftherna) and the plateau of the current Eleftherna village.

This town was founded by the Dorians in the 9th century BC and continuously inhabited since the Subneolithic period (4th millennium BC) until the 12th century AD. The village’s strategic position, the intersection of the roads of ancient Cydonia, Knossos and the sanctum of Psiloritis, must have contributed to its longtime course through the ages.

Ancient Eleftherna was one of the cities to back-up the Macedonians against Knossos and Rhodes during the first Cretan War (205 BC-200 BC). After the Crete being conquered by the Romans, the city has managed to resist the Roman general Metellus, until it was handed over by treason.

During the Roman period, the city continued to develop and baths, such as the Small Bath of Ancient Eleftherna, huge tanks, mansions, public buildings and a tower had been built.

The Byzantine period was the last period of prosperity of the city, before it was destroyed by the Arabs, when it became headquarters of the Episcopacy and a three-aisle basilica with rich mosaic decoration was built. Its ruins can still be seen today. The original building dates back to the 430-450 AD and was destroyed in the 7th century.

The vast necropolis of Ancient Eleftherna at Orthi Petra, a necropolis of the Geometric and Archaic periods is probably the most important part of Ancient Eleftherna with many artifacts. In 2010 a discovery of the double tomb 2,700 years old was announced, a tomb hiding more than 3,000 gold leaves and the first depiction of a bee as a goddess.

The huge importance of the site led to the decision to create the Archaeological Museum of Ancient Eleftherna. Moreover, the American magazine “Archaeology” has included the site in ten most impressive excavations in the world.

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