Ancient Eleutherna, the birthplace of the poet Linos, of the philosopher Diogenes, of the tragic poet Ametor, and of the sculptor Timochares, is located on the northwest foot of Mount Ida, approximately thirty kilometres south of Rethymnon, at 380 metres above sea level. The city was allegedly named after Eleuthereas, one of the Kouretes, or after Demeter Eleuthous. The city's excavated remains belong to various periods. A thriving Hellenistic settlement has been identified on the Nisi hill, which was one of the city's nuclei, together with the Pyrgi hill.
Eleutherna fought against Rhodes and its ally Knossos in the third century BC, but sided with Knossos against other Cretan cities in 220 BC. It was besieged and conquered, however, and forced out of its alliance. Thanks to its naturally fortified location, the city successfully resisted Quintus Caecilius Metellus's attack in 68 BC, until betrayal led to its conquest.
Humphrey Payne of the British School at Athens excavated at Eleutherna in 1929. Systematic excavations by the University of Crete began in 1985, revealing important archaeological remains dating from the Geometric until the Early Byzantine period and evidence for continuous occupation from the Early Minoan period until recent times.
The archaeological site of Eleutherna, Crete, covers a vast area, which includes the Nisi and Pyrgi hills in the modern villages of Eleutherna and Ancient Eleutherna respectively. Hellenistic retaining walls, the remains of a Roman settlement, and an Early Christian basilica were excavated at Katsivelos, at the east foot of Pyrgi hill, and a Late Geometric/Archaic cemetery, which is partly covered by a Roman building, was revealed at Orthi Petra, on Pyrgi's west slopes. The remains of a Hellenistic settlement were identified on Nisi.
According to a dedicatory inscription, the Early Christian basilica at Katsivelos was built in 430-450 AD and dedicated to the Archangel Michael. The basilica was founded on the ruins of a Hellenistic sanctuary, which remained in use in the Imperial period, and was destroyed in the seventh century AD. Forty-two tile and cist graves of the sixth and seventh centuries were identified inside and around the temple and the basilica. West of the basilica are the remains of three Roman houses, which were destroyed by an earthquake in 370 BC, a Roman bathhouse with two hypocausts, a paved road, and a large, possibly public building of the Hellenistic (second-first centuries BC) and Roman (first century BC-second century AD) periods.
Architectural remains primarily of the Roman and Late Roman periods were also revealed on the northern plateau of Pyrgi hill, where the ancient city's nucleus is believed to have been always located. At Orthi Petra, on the west slope of Pyrgi hill, is the late Early Geometric - early Archaic (870/850-600 BC) cemetery, which features different burial practices (open burials, cremations) and various architectural constructions (enclosures, grave courts, monuments).
Research at Nisi hill revealed a settlement of the Hellenistic period, which was abandoned at the beginning of the Roman period. A characteristic feature of the settlement is that each residence had its own water cistern to ensure its water supply. A rectangular enclosure with a pentastyle Doric propylon of the Classical period (400 BC) was also discovered in this area.
Other archaeological remains and isolated monuments have been identified in the area, but not excavated. Among these, the tower at the top of Pyrgi hill, which was used from the Hellenistic until the Byzantine period, and the Hellenistic bridge north of Pyrgi hill are particularly noteworthy.Chronique des Fouilles linkWikidata ID: Q1328347
(Odysseus, Greek Ministry of Culture)