APTERA

 

Aptera 6km from Kalyves off the main highway, above the village of Megala Horafia was one of the most important cities of Western Crete. Not surprisingly the Dorian settlers chose this spot for its strategic position and I'm sure not withstanding its magnificent views. Built 200 metres above sea level with the most commanding view of the whole region and Souda Bay. Its name Aptera means 'the non-winged one' or 'without wings' to this day no one seems to know exactly why it was chosen. 
 

Realistically its name came from Apteron, king of Crete, son of Kydon and father of Lappios, who is said to have lived in the time of Moses around 1800 B.C. The legend of Apteron lends itself to the suggestion that the city was once a colonial settlement governed by the Dorian Apteros or Aptaros who took part in the occupation of Crete towards the end of the Minoan era. Others suggest that because of the Muses and Sirens' conflict that took place between the city of Aptera and the sea in Greek mythology. The Muses with their eloquently sung songs and poetry, their traditional music, and exquisite dancing. (Hence music being taken from their name Muse). Competed against the Sirens who were sea Goddess, half woman and half birds, their enchanting music and voices compelled passing sailors who led their ships onto the rocks.

Homer wrote of Odysseus being the only man who escaped their fate as he put wax in his ears and that of his crew. After losing the competition they lost their wings and turned white and fell on the nearby islets of Leukai (white). Abiet, In Kalyves, there was a Venetian Fortress, the 'Castel Appricorno' site of the ancient city of Ippokoronion which part of it is said to have fallen into the deep sea and this is how the island Lefke (white) was created in Souda Bay. 

 
Aptera was founded in the 7th century B.C. and reached its peak in the Hellenistic period.  It became a thriving independent city throughout the 6th - 4th century B.C.  producing seventy two different silver coins, most of them have the head of a woman, probably Hera, whilst other the head of Zeus and the word APTARAION or APTERAION. The reverse has a bearded warrior and the word Victory to Aptera PTOLIOIKOS. Others had depiction of Artemis and a bee. The city is believed to have had up to eight suburbs at the foot of the hill in the Stylos valley. 

       

 
Archaeologists estimate the population of Aptera to have been upward of 20,000, of which one-fifth were freemen with the rest of the population in the bonds of slavery. They also sent aid to the Spartans during the 2nd Messenian War which took place in 668 B.C. and later becoming a great ally of Knossos during the Cretan civil war of 220 BC. It had two harbours. The first is thought to be at Minoa near Marathi at the north entrance to Souda Bay. The second is believed to be at either Kalami or Kalyves. Aptera continued to be an important city during the Roman and first Byzantine periods but it was destroyed by the Arabs in 823 A.D.  

 
The Venetians built a fort but this was destroyed by the pirate Barbarosa. Defence was a major concern of the Apterians, as traditionally they had fierce and powerful enemies in the Lappians, the people of Lappos. (Today the Argyroypolis in Rethymno). 

Lappos had an excellent mercenary army of highly skilled archers whose part in the Messenian war at the end of the 6th century B.C. is well chronicled. However the character of the Apterians differed greatly from their enemies' military inclination. The Apterians were primarily a trading nation, noted more for their passive nature than their aggression.
 

The city's great polygonal stones 'cyclopean' walls, still stand the perimeter was approximately 4km and you can also find remains of a small temple of Demeter built around 100 B.C. Three arched vaults enclose a huge cistern that held water to feed the Roman baths that cover the site. You can enter the cistern system through a small doorway to view the central chambers. The best preserved buildings are from the time of the Roman occupation and, apart from the impressive vaulted cisterns, include bath houses and other communal areas.


In 1942 the site was excavated by the occupying Germans, and more systematic excavations were carried out in 1986 and 1987, then again between 1992 to 1995 with many items still being retrieved to this day. There is clearly much more to be discovered, but what has been found so far is extremely well preserved. Much of the ancient city and its outskirts has yet to be systematically searched. Inscriptions and coins from the area testify to the trading importance of the city until Roman times when it took on a more rural role.
       

The city was also badly hit by an earthquake and eventually abandoned in the 7th century. By the 12th century, the monastery of 'Ayios Ioannis Theologos', St. John the Baptist, was built on the site, it continued to function as a working monastery until 1964.

 

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 More Round the Island pages
: Beaches - Western Crete : Apokoronas : Hania Town : Kournas Lake : Aptera :
: Frangokastello : Gramvousa : Spinalonga : Monasteries
: Phaestos : Gortys : Knossos:

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