Ministry of Culture and Sports

Ephorate of Antiquities of Chania

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History

Archaeological Site of Aptera

THE HISTORY

Aptera, known as Aptara in the historical period, stands on the Paliokastro hill, which dominates the southeast side of Souda Bay. The earliest reference to Aptera is the toponym a-pa-ta-wa, known to us from the Mycenaean Linear B tablets of Knossos (14th-13th c. BC). The original site may have been located further south, on a low hill in the area of Azoires Stylou in Apokoronas, where prehistoric remains have been discovered. The name Aptara in the Doric dialect is found on coins, while during the Hellenistic period (4th-1st c. BC) we also find the spelling Aptera in inscriptions and also in references outside Crete.

Several ancient geographers and historians refer to the city (Scylax, Stadiasmus Maris Magni, Strabo, Pliny, Dionysius Calliphontis, Ptolemy, Stephanus of Byzantium). Pausanias mentions that Apteraian archers fought alongside the Lacedaemonians in the Second Messenian War (668 BC). More information is recorded during the Late Classical and Hellenistic period, when the city’s temples were organised, it minted its own coins, the central nucleus was provided with a strong fortification wall 3,480 m. long (4th c. BC) and the theatre was constructed. Between the 3rd and the 2nd century BC, Aptera developed relations with major Hellenistic centres.

The city was famed for its skilled archers, who often fought as mercenaries. In 273 BC, Oryssos of Aptera defended Sparta and killed Ptolemy, son of King Pyrrhus of Epirus. During the Chremonidean War (266-263 BC), the Apteraians sided with the Athenians, the Lacedaemonians and Ptolemies against the Macedonians. During the great War of Crete, following the destruction of Doric Lyktos by Knossos and Gortyn, Aptera was besieged by the Polyrrhenians, aided by the Macedonians of Philip V and the Achaeans, and forced to end its alliance with Knossos.

In the 2nd c. BC, Aptera responded to the increasing pressure from powerful neighbouring Kydonia with a dynamic foreign policy, seeking interstate alliances and political contacts both on and off the island (treaties with Eleutherna and Hierapytna). In 183 BC it was among the 31 Cretan cities that concluded a treaty with Eumenes II of Pergamon. A wealth of inscriptions (proxeny, alliance, asylia), now lost, from the ‘wall of inscriptions’ attest to the city’s relations with the great Hellenistic kingdoms of the Ptolemies of Egypt, the Attalids of Pergamon, the Bithynians, and other powers such as the Achaeans, the Aetolians and the cities of Asia Minor.

Aptera enjoyed close relations with Rome from an early date and surrendered to the Romans in 67 BC without being destroyed. During the following period (69 BC – 365 AD), the city prospered once more, particularly in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, as attested by the great public buildings (baths, cisterns, temples) that still survive today. From the 3rd century on the city fell into decline, before being destroyed by the devastating earthquake of 365 AD.

The Synecdemus of Hierocles, a list of cities composed in the reign of Justinian, probably before 535 AD, mentions a bishop of Aptera, but the excavation finds to date suggest that it was only a small town. Nevertheless, it continued to be inhabited until the 7th century AD, when a strong earthquake and raids by Arab corsairs led to the definitive destruction and abandonment of the city.

In the 12th century AD, Alexius III Comnenus ceded the land to the Monastery of St John the Theologian (St John the Divine) of Patmos in order to exploit its revenues. However, the main building of the monastery, which survives today in the centre of the archaeological site, was constructed later, during the Venetian period (2nd half of the 16th or early 17th c.), while the smaller annexes are of even later date.

Northeast of the monastery, inside the fortification wall, the Ottomans built a fort, the ‘Aptera Koule’ or ‘Subashi Fortress’, probably in 1868, as part of a broader programme to reconstruct the fortresses of Crete in order to suppress the insurgent Cretans. A representative work of Ottoman military architecture, the well-preserved fortress was built entirely of architectural material taken from the ancient city of Aptera.

The monastery closed in the 1960s, when the central part of the archaeological site was ceded to the Greek State and the remaining area within the walls was divided into lots and allocated to the inhabitants of the village of Megala Chorafia. In recent decades the Ministry of Culture has been carrying out an extensive expropriation programme covering the ancient settlement within the walls, in order to ensure its unhindered protection, investigation and promotion.
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Monday: 08:00 - 20:00
Tuesday: Closed
Wednesday - Sunday: 08:00 - 20:00

Full price: €4
Concessions: €2

Megala Chorafia, Souda, Crete 730 03
2825033425, 2821044418 & 94487

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