It is interesting to note the mythology surrounding Gortyn, as it is the birthplace of Minos. It was at Lebena that Zeus emerged from the sea and disguised as a bull brought Europa from Phoenicia. Under the everlasting plane tree, he laid with her. There is a large plane tree within the confines of the Gortyn site. The meadows of Gortyn were also mentioned in the mythology where Daedelus concealed Pasiphae inside a wooden female cow so that the great white bull would be tricked into insemination. The result was the creation of the minotaur of Knossos fame in the labyrinth under the palace.

Gortyn as an ancient settlement has been continually inhabited for 8000 years. The site is passed on the main road from Heraklion and is about 9 km east of Mires. It sits in the centre of the Messara plain and it’s original perimeter was around 9.5km.

The enclosed site is quite small, but houses the famous Law Code. It can still be seen engraved onto the original stones and is quite impressive. The basilica and an array of statues and finds are on display.

The whole site of Gortyn is spread over a few square kilometres in the fields around Agia Deka, Kastelli and Mitropoli. Ruins can be seen in the open fields and villages, some standing 7 m. tall. It has been estimated that the city was home to 100,000 people in its heyday.

The great inscription of the Law Code is a measure of the importance of the city. It sets down in great detail how ownership, marriage, status and disputes will be dealt with under the legal process that it prescribes. Its age – approaching 2500 years is all the more amazing by the fact that it is still legible having been left to the elements for that amount of time. Today it behind protective bars, but still in the open air and can be seen easily by visitors.

The Roman Odium is in fine condition also given its exposure to time and elements compared to other Graeco-Roman buildings. Only three rows of seats remain although the brick-built piers show that many more rows above these were once in use giving a clue to the large population that it serviced. Some of the excavated statues and artefacts indicate that Gortyn influenced the rest of ancient Greece with its art and culture.

The earliest Christian monument in Crete is the Basilica of St Titus. Dating from the 6th Century it is constructed of stone – three semi-circular main parts with two small apses north and south making a cross. It was built with a vaulted roof and excavations have shown many burials. It was destroyed with the rest of the city around 825.

Some of the excavated sculptures have been preserved on the site in the adjacent museum.

The rest of the city can be explored by walking around the extended site. The Acropolis can be found on the hill to the north. Large sections of the ramparts are intact and the remains of another Basilica built on the same site can be seen.

To the east and south of the main road there are Temple of Apollo, the Sanctuary of the Egyptian Gods, the Praetorium (HQ of the Proconsul) and the Nymphaion (public fountain with statues of the Nymphs).

A little further south can be found the Thermae (Roman Public Baths). The ruins are relatively high and can be identified as a once magnificent building.

Even further south is the Amphitheatre – not yet excavated and the Hippodrome Stadium is further south again. The ruins stand about 1m. tall and some has been destroyed altogether.


A short video about the ruined basilica at Gortyn...