Gortys in Crete

Gortys, the Roman Capital of Crete

Gortys in Crete is one of the most important ancient cities of prehistoric Crete. Whilst its story goes back as far as the Minoan period, one particularly important period was that which followed the occupation of Crete by the Dorians (1100 BC).

Later, during the Roman occupation (68 BC), Gortys was the largest city and the Capital of Crete and Northern Africa. The city was destroyed in 828 AD by Arabs.

One of the many important facts about Gortys is that it was the first city that accepted Christianity. The first Christian temples were built there and the remains of the biggest and most important Christian cathedral of Crete can still be seen today. The cathedral is dedicated to St. Titus, the first Bishop of Crete (6th century AD).

Parts of the Roman settlement, such as the theater (2nd century AD), have been unearthed during excavations. The theatre has two entrances and a halfcircular orchestra the outline of which can still be seen today.

Behind the Roman Theater you can see the socalled “Queen of the Inscriptions”. These inscriptions are the laws of the city of Gortys and formed the basis for modern Greek legislation. The laws are inscribed, in the Dorian dialect, on large stone slabs and are still plainly visible.

Gortys is connected to the myth of Zeus and Europe. Zeus, the father of all gods, fell in love with Europe, the princess of Finiki in Asia Minor. The young princess was playing with her friends by the beach when Zeus transformed into a beautiful white bull and galloped towards her. Europe admired the approaching bull and jumped on his back. Zeus (still as a bull) galloped off and crossed the sea until they reached the city of Gortys. He and Europe had an affair under a plane tree (platanos), a tree that may be still be seen today in Gortys.

Following this affair three boys were born and they later became the kings of the three Minoan Palaces in Crete. The mention of ‘Europe’ in this myth gives weight to the claim that the civilization of the European continent was born on the island of Crete.

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