The ancient town of Gortys

Well hidden in the middle of a lush olive grove, you will find the ancient town of Gortys in the south of Crete on the Messara plain. This is best known for the 'Great Inscription', which is the oldest code of law in Europe.

According to tradition, the city was founded by King Minos - although archaeological finds point to a first settlement in the Neolithic period. Ancient myth has marked this place as the one where Zeus and Europa conceived their children Minos, Sarpedon and Rhadamantys. The site, steeped in history, has been excavated by archaeologists since 1884, who have brought an impressive ancient world back to the surface.

Be it the early Christian Titus Basilica from the sixth century, the Roman Odeion, the Temple of Apollo or the imposing amphitheatre - the excursion to Gortys promises you an exciting journey back in time to an ancient metropolis that even found its way into Homer's Iliad myth.

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From the entrance, you first come to the Titus Basilica, dating from the 6th century, whose apse walls still rise to their full height. It is named after a companion of the Apostle Paul, who preached here in 59. At that time, Gortys was the Roman capital of all Crete, had three harbours and earned good money from trade with Cyreneika, which was also Roman and is now Libya. Before moving on, Paul consecrated Titus as the island's first bishop. He is still the patron saint of Crete today.

Afterwards, the path leads you to the Roman Odeon. In this open-air theatre, concerts were given, pantomimes and musical comedies were performed 2000 years ago. Here you will also find the most important archaeological find of Gortys - protected from vandals by bars: the tablets of the law carved in stone from the time around 500 BC in Greek script. Twelve of what were once 20 of these tablets, consisting of a total of 42 stone blocks, have been preserved. The text of the law has a total of about 17,000 letters. The writing runs alternately from left to right and then mirror-inverted from right to left. The civil and criminal laws decreed here formed the inheritance and family, divorce and criminal law of the city-state 2500 years ago. These stone blocks thus belong to one of the oldest 'law books' in the world.

For many guided groups, the visit to Gortys ends at the Odeon. But you can go a few steps further. From the back of the Odeon you come to a small, park-like terrace. On it stands an ancient plane tree, secured by a fence. Zeus and Europa are said to have conceived a son under this tree: the legendary Minos. Perhaps you will lie down on the grass here and imagine the event...

Back at the ticket office, your exploration of Gortys doesn't have to end there. You could now spend another 60-75 minutes or so wandering through the olive grove on the other side of the main road, spotting - if only over fences - numerous delightfully enchanted ruins from Roman times.

First walk along the asphalt road that begins opposite the entrance to the car park, towards the village of Mitropoli. Immediately on the left, an olive tree does capers: it has taken an ancient column between its two trunks. After about 150 m, a fenced-in area begins on the right. You will see a circular building with eight apsidal niches and columns standing on pillar-shaped bases: this is probably a baptistery, i.e. an early Christian baptismal font for adult baptism.

In the fenced-in area, the foundation walls of a five-nave early Christian basilica adjoin it further south, cut by the road to Mitropoli. Many columns lie around, gravel on green nets protectively covers simple floor mosaics.

Here you should turn around and walk back towards the car park. If you want to discover more, follow the dirt road that leads into the olive grove to the right. You will come across the imposing remains of a theatre, a Roman temple of Apollo, a nymphaeum, Roman baths in the Roman administrative building of the Praetorium and a temple of the Egyptian gods. But if it's very hot, this is probably only good advice for the particularly interested. Be sure to take plenty of drinking water with you!


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