Gortyn, or Gortys as it was called in ancient times, was the most important Roman town on Crete, but its origins go back to the end of the Bronze Age.  The date of the foundation of Gortyn is lost in the depths of time, as is clear from a series of myths that take place in the vicinity.  It is here that Zeus took Europa after her abduction.  Tradition holds that the town owes its name to the hero, Gortys, who according to some was the son of Rhadamanthys, the brother of Minos, and to others was the son of Tegeates. The town was already recognized by Homer as a walled city and Plato mentions it in his Laws as a well-governed, powerful and affluent town.

During the Classical period, it was in constant conflict with Knossos over the hegemony of Crete, but cultivated peaceful relations with the Achaeans and the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt
In the 3rd century BCE, Gortyn captured Phaistos and its port, Matala.  During the period of Roman domination it knew its greatest period of prosperity since it took the side of the Romans and did not put up any resistance against them.  In exchange, not only did the Romans not destroy the city as they had done to the other cities which had resisted, but they helped Gortyn extend its dominion in 69 BCE by making it the capital of the Roman province that included not only Crete, but also much of North Africa.

Gortyn accepted Christianity early and became the seat of the first Bishop of Crete, the Apostle Titus.  In the early Byzantine period, it flourished and retained its prestige until 828 CE when it was taken and destroyed by Arab raiders.  From that time on, the town was deserted and was never inhabited again.

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PraetoriumA large public building of state use in the Praetorium is preserved, of the type called a basilica, a term used during the Early Christian period for churches of similar architectural type. The building dates to the 4th century CE and consists of three aisles. PraetoriumThe large architectural complex which forms the Praetorium covers an area of about 120x100 meters and was Gortyn's center of government during Roman times. Although containing public buildings, it was also the location of the residence of the Roman governor of Crete.  PraetoriumEast of the basilica there were baths built of brick whose relatively small size indicates that they were probably private baths for the use of the Proconsul Governor. A colonnade can be seen and also a hall with three niches.
PraetoriumThe Praetorium is currently being excavated by the Italian Archeological School. PraetoriumThe Praetorium complex underwent several transformations during its lifetime. The present ruins are mostly of the 4th century CE but structures dating from the 2nd century CE are visible. The Pythion The Temple of Apollo Pythios (Pythion) is one of the most notable and ancient monuments in Gortyn. The original Archaic temple of the 7th century BCE was a square building built of poros resembling those found in Cretan shrines of Minoan origin. The roof was supported by 4 wooden columns of which only the bases survive. During the Hellenistic period, a vestibule with six Dorian columns was added. In Roman times, two Corinthian colonnades were added to the cella and a niche to the west wall for a cult statue of the god. The large stepped altar with a square trough was also added by the Romans.
Ruins of the AqueductThe remains of an Aqueduct The OdeonThe Odeon, a small amphitheater where musical recitals were staged, was built on the site of an older square structure during the 1st century CE. The small building in the north circular wall of the Odeon (center background) contains the famous inscriptions of the Gortyn laws. Cavea of the OdeonThe cavea of the Odeon has four preserved rows of seats traversed by two flights of stairs. Behind this run two vaulted passages that would have supported yet more rows of seats which are not preserved today. The floor of the orchestra has a black and white marble checkerboard pattern.
Laws of GortysFor the reconstruction of the Odeon, the stones of a nearby archaic circular building were used, on which were carved the famous Laws of Gortys. Such codes of law were usually engraved upon the walls of public buildings or temples and thus often found their way on to the walls of new buildings when the stones were reused, the original building having been destroyed. On the northwestern side of the Odeon, four rows of the precious inscribed stones still survive, constituting the most important record of the Law of the time. At 10 x 3 meters, this is reputedly the largest Greek inscription ever found. Detail of Law CodeThe inscriptions were carved in a Dorian dialect, in a style known as  boustrophedon, that is, "as the ox plows" (from left to right and then right to left and so on).  They date from the beginning of the 5th century BCE and are Europe's earliest code.  In 600 lines, it details the laws concerning marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption, assault and rape, and the status of slaves. It is a complete code of law, based on Minoan tradition. It seems that the Cretans has an established tradition in just government since Minoan times.  Aristotle confirms that the Minoan laws were still valid at this later date for the populations subject to the Dorians. Basilica of St. TitusThe ruins of the early Christian Basilica of St. Titus consist of three main aisles and a dome of the transitional type. The east side is the best preserved, together with side walls of the aisles and the barrel-vaulted roof. The church has many successive architectural phases but the one seen dates from the 6th century CE.
Antoninus PiusRoman statue of the Emperor Antoninus Pius SculpturesTwo large and finely worked sculptures from the small museum in a loggia that holds a number of the sculptures found at the site. StatueAnother sculpture in the small museum.

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