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Ancient Eleftherna

Place description

The ancient site of Eleftherna is situated 25km southeast of Rethymno and in close proximity to the Monastery of Arkadi. It is the most significant archaeological location in the Rethymno prefecture, with many areas still to be excavated. The University of Crete began the first organized excavations in 1985.

Eleftherna was established by the Dorians around the 9th century BC and was inhabited until the early Byzantine years. Its strategic location at an altitude of 380m, with roads connecting it to ancient Kydonia, Knossos, and Ida Mount, contributed to its long history. Findings have been discovered in three different positions on the same hill.

During the first Cretan War (205BC-200BC), Eleftherna sided with Macedonia against Knossos. The town resisted the Roman occupation, led by general Quintus Caecilius Metellus, until it eventually fell by treachery. In the Roman period, the city continued to prosper, with the construction of baths, cisterns, villas, public buildings, and towers. The Byzantine era marked the last period of the city before its destruction by the Arabs. It became a Diocese, and the great basilica, of which remains still stand today, was built. The significance of Eleftherna as an archaeological site led to the creation of the Archaeological Museum of Eleftherna above the site.

The Orthi Petra Necropolis

At the Orthi Petra position, a necropolis was discovered, becoming the most important part of Eleftherna with numerous findings (and still being excavated). Here, archaeologists found the “tomb of warriors” containing 480 vases, weapons, and the trench of warriors killed in battle.

In 2010, archaeologists discovered an unlooted tomb from 700BC. The tomb was a large lying jar, with its entrance blocked by an 800kg boulder. Inside the jar were the bones of a young couple, possibly siblings, covered with a gold cap made of 3000 gold sheets of different shapes. The girl wore gold jewelry depicting a bee, the first representation of a bee as a goddess in Crete. Interestingly, when the jewelry is turned upside down, the bee disappears, and a beautiful lily takes its place. In another jar, archaeologists found a golden, real-size eye among the bones. They named it “Tutankhamun’s eye” as it is identical to the one in the funerary mask of the Egyptian King.

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