Ancient Elyros

Elyros was one of the most important cities of southwestern Crete in antiquity. It is referred as a city with strong Doric tradition associated with the worship of God Apollo at the Delphic sanctuary. Its seaport city was Syia, on the cost of the Libyan sea.

 

The chronological point of the original founding of the city is still undetermined. According to written sources Elyros was the birth place of Thaleta or Thales, a great lyric poet who lived and created his work around the mid-7th century BC. However, as supposed by current archaeological evidence, the city thrived in the 4th century BC and continued ti flourish till late antiquity.

In the 3rd century BC Elyros along with the neighbour cities Hyrtakina, Lissos, Tarra and Poikilassos, established an alliance of political and economic nature. The alliance was consolidated by the use of common coinage and is historically known as the Oreioi Confederacy. In the183 BC Elyros is referred among the thirty Cretan cities that joined an alliance with the king of Pergamon Eumenes II. Nonetheless, Elyros minted its own coin attesting that it was a powerful, prosperous and independent agricultural economy. The coin is stamped with the city’s name (ΕΛΥΡΙΟΝ) and usually represents a goat’s head along with a spear on the obverse and a bee on the reverse. Elyros continued to thrive during the Roman period. Pausanias (ancient travelling writer) wandering in Delphi during the 2nd century BC describes a votive monument dedicated by Elyros. Surprised, he points out the existence of the city till his days: “there is indeed a city located on the Cretan mountains names Elyros that exists even today”.

 

During the Byzantine period Elyros housed the bishopric headquarters until its desctruction by raiding Saracens. During the Ottoman period a Turkish fort (“kules”) occupied the city’s most strategic point on the plateau of the hill.

 

Elyros’ location is placed on the “Kefala” hill east of the Rodovani settlement and was already known by the traveling researchers of the 19th and 20th centuries. They city is chiefly identified by ancient architectural remains preserved in situ over an extended area coverning the highest point of the hill’s plateau, the west, east and especially the southern lee slopes. Evidence is also provided by ancient written testimonies. Numerous findings have been retrieved from the site; among them stand out a stone fragment of a public inscription where was written a voted decision starting with the phrase:  “It appeared as the best option to the citizens of Elyros to… “.

 

The sire has not been systematically excavated so far. In 1963 a church of the Assumption was built on the heart of the archeological site where said to be the location of the ancient temple. During construction of the church were discovered and excavated an Early Christian Basilica with partly preserved mosaics dated in the 5th century AD as well as a medieval temple along with three tombs. Part of the Early Basilica is still preserved east of the modern church.

 

During 2002 – 2003 a limited excavation research was conducted on a land property that was purchased by the local Municipality and granted to the Archeological Service. An ancient theatrical building was partly revealed. The average height of its terraces is calculated around 3m each and is roughly dated between the late 1st and the 3rd century AD.

 

The visible architectural relics on the hill are mainly Roman and consist of public works such as an aqueduct that supplied the city with water channeled from a source at the area Livada. A cistern complex is also preserved. Remains of the other large structures probably belong to various public buildings. Evidence of older architectural phases is currently scant. The most prominent among them is the ancient fortification wall dated in the late Classical/Hellenistic period, based in masonry features. The eastern side of the all is preserved 100m. in length and reaches 1.5m in height. Small part of the north fortification line is also preserved.

 

The exact location and extend of the settlement has not yet been traced or excavated. The necropolis was located on the southeastern hillside where are preserved rock-cut chamber tombs, either isolated or clustered. Some cist graves are also scattered in the wider area. A rare, conical structure, probably a burial monument, is situated southeast of the city in total isolation, facing towards the Libyan sea.

Source: Ministry of Culture and Sports/Ephorate of Antiquities of Chania

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