Eleftherna was one of the most important Cretan city-states in Greek and Roman antiquity. Cretan archaeologists have only been digging here since 1985 and want to continue digging even now. What they have already found and what they will still find is given a place in the state-of-the-art Archaeological Museum, which opened in 2016.
For visitors, the excavations are an experience not only because of their historical dimension, but also because of the landscape and nature. If you like, you can wander through the whole area instead of driving a car or motorbike.
After you have learned in the museum which parts of the excavations are currently open to visitors, you first drive into the village of Archea Eleftherna and follow the signpost to the 'Acropolis Cisterns' in its centre. The access road ends at a simple taverna. Here begins a footpath over a ridge that stretches almost like a ship towards the sea. It is one of the last foothills of the Psiloritis massif, about 380 m high. The footpath begins at a medieval-Byzantine defence tower. After only 3-4 minutes of walking, you will find yourself in front of six huge cisterns, into which you can also go a little way with a torch. The two rock chambers with the cisterns are each about 40x25 m in size and up to 5 m high. The cisterns were fed with water from a nearby spring via an aqueduct. If you continue along the path in a northerly direction, after about 6 minutes you will come to a small terrace where the ruins of an undefined sanctuary have been uncovered under old olive trees. This is an excellent place to chill out in the shade of the trees or to have a picnic you have brought with you.
By car, return to the centre of the village and drive past the museum to the beginning of the village of Eleftherna (without 'Archea'). Down to the right, in a bend with the shop 'Ceramic Souvenirs', a signposted little road branches off to the Orthi Petra district, 1.3 km away. There, archaeologists from the University of Crete have uncovered a cemetery from the geometric period, i.e. from the 9th-7th centuries BC. Evidence of many different burial forms was discovered, and numerous valuable grave goods were brought to light. The foundation walls of numerous houses from the Hellenistic period (4th-2nd century BC) can also be seen, as well as a unique architectural monument, a very well preserved ancient bridge. It spans one of the two streams that flowed around the ridge of the ancient city and provided it with an abundant supply of water. A large part of the excavations of Orthi Petra is spanned by a futuristic-looking, modern protective roof.
After visiting Orthi Petra, drive back up to what is now the village of Archea Eleftherna and then continue towards Margarites. Near the end of the village, a signposted asphalt road branches off to the left below. You will pass the double church of Christos Sotiros and Agia Anna, the older part of which dates back to the 10th century. The road ends at a modern ticket office. Immediately below, you will find the ancient town centre in a fenced-in area. To facilitate building, terraced walls were constructed from large stone blocks. On the terraces are the remains of an early Christian basilica from the 6th century and next to it the walls of a Hellenistic building that was later used by the early Christians as a bishop's palace. The ground plans of Hellenistic and Roman houses, a thermal bath with two wood-burning ovens as well as drinking water pipes and sewage systems are also recognisable.
Signposted footpaths and trails connect the various archaeological areas, and plans are posted on site (best to take a photo of them for the road!). To explore the whole of ancient Eleftherna on foot, allow at least five to six hours, take water with you and be sure to wear shoes with non-slip soles!
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