A City from the Greek Dark Ages
The Greek Dark Ages refers to a period of Greek history from the Dorian invasion and end of the Mycenaean civilization in the 11th century BC to the rise of the first Greek city-states in the 9th century BC. In this period the ancient town of Ελεύθερνα (Eléftherna) was one of the most important cities in Crete. It was a prosperous marine power with trade and cultural relations all over the eastern Mediterranean via its port town Pantomatrio - the present day Pánormos which lies nearby Villa Talea.
Eléftherna continued as a significant centre during Roman and Byzantine times. In the 5th century it was the seat of a Bishop. When Arab invaders conquered Crete, the town fell into decline and it was finally abandoned in 787. The area was resettled in the late 10th century only to be abandoned again around 1340.
British archaeologists made a small, preliminary excavation at the place in 1929, but it was only recently that the University of Crete recommended the excavations and made the most important findings on the site. The excavations started in 1985 and are still going on. The archaeological remains are to be found between two villages 'Archaia (Ancient) Eléftherna' and 'Eléftherna'. To access the the acropolis on the hill one must go to Archaia Eleftherna. Then, opposite a fountain, a road on the right leads to a parking place by the 'Acropolis Taverna'. From here a path (which was also the original ancient access road) leads to the acropolis, probably dedicated to Apollo, which lies beyond the remains of a fortified tower.
There are significant fragments of walls and buildings from the long period of habitation here. Roman cisterns 40 meters long, 25 meters wide and 6 meters deep have been cut into the rock. In the old ruined Byzantine church at the place - the Agia Anna - the ancient altars used are probably from a pre-Christian era.
The new excavations are below the acropolis to the east. (There are road signs leading to the site but one can also walk there from the acropolis). An intact stone bridge dated to the Hellenistic period 330 to 67 BC crosses the torrent in the valley north of the excavation. The excavations have mainly been done around a hill between two torrent-beds. In the place known as ‘Katsivelos’ on the eastern side of the hill the archaeologists have uncovered part of the settlement including Hellenistic walls, Roman buildings, baths and an Early Christian basilica with mosaic decoration. On the western side of the hills, in a place called ‘Orthi Petra’ a necropolis has been found. Here one has discovered traces of a human sacrifice at one of the graves. The sacrifice probably took place in the late 8th century BC. Other offerings found such as pottery and various items of gold or ivory are now on display in the Archaeological Museum in Rethymnon.
Apart from the archaeological findings the nature and scenery is reason enough for visiting Eléftherna. There are some wonderful views at the acropolis and a walk through the lush valley is very pleasant.