The archaeological site of Aptera contains an array of interesting Greco-Roman ruins, the highlight of which is probably the remains of the Roman cisterns which originally supplied water to the city’s baths.
History of Aptera
Founded around the 7th century BC, Aptera became one of the most important cities of western Crete and grew into a thriving centre for much of the Hellenic and Roman periods. The city continued to be inhabited into the Byzantine age before a combination of natural disaster and external attacks forced its abandonment, which is dated to 823 AD.
In the 12th century, the monastery of St John the Theologian was established; the reconstructed monastery is the centre of the site. Excavations have exposed the remains of a fortified tower, a city gate and a massive wall that surrounded the city. You can also see Roman cisterns, an amphitheatre and a 2nd-century-BC Greek temple.
At the western end of the site, a Turkish fortress, built in 1872, enjoys a panoramic view of Souda Bay. The fortress was built as part of a large Turkish fortress-building program during a period when the Cretans were in an almost constant state of insurrection. Notice the ‘Wall of the Inscriptions’ – this was probably part of an important public building and was excavated in 1862 by French archaeologists.
Today as well as the impressive Roman cisterns, visitors to Aptera can explore a number of fascinating ruins at the site including Roman baths, villas and an ancient theatre – though this is not currently accessible as it is under excavation and possible restoration (since Sept 2013).
The archaeological site also includes a small ancient temple most likely dedicated to the goddess Demeter as well as the ruins of early churches. There is a small museum at the site which expands the history of Aptera and is situated within the surviving 12th century monastery.
A World War Two German machine gun post can also be viewed nearby along with a 19th century Turkish castle.
Getting to Aptera
The ancient site of Aptera is located in western Crete, a kilometre inland from the southern shore of Souda Bay, about 13 km east of Chania in the municipality of Akrotiri. If travelling from the island’s capital Heraklion (Airport), simply take the 90/E75 westbound along the coast for 130 kilometres until you reach the site. This trip should take no longer than 2 hours.
Immerse yourself in classical history by stepping into the world of Ancient Greece. Here's our pick of 10 essential sites to visit.
Alongside its contributions to philosophy, astrology, and medicine, Greece's sites from classical antiquity have stood the test of time. Here are 10 must-see sites for any visiting history enthusiast.