Archaeological Sites . Museums . Cultural Monuments Chania area

Ancient City Aptera – Theatre, Monastery St. John Theologos, Koules Fortress

Ancient Aptera in west Crete
The time when the city of Aptera flourished as an independent city-state begins in the 4th century BC, when it is distinguished as the most commercial city of Crete.
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The theatre of the ancient city Aptera was opened to the public after the completion of excavation and partial restoration in 2016. Surrounded by a very well-kept olive grove, the small archaeological site stretches southward and also offers a beautiful view of the White Mountains.

Ancient theatre, fortification, aqueducts, public baths and graves

are some of the findings the visitor can see visiting the archaeological site Aptera. The ancient city of Aptera was founded on the hill of Paleokastro, in a place of rare beauty, surrounded by the gulf of Souda to the north and the imposing White Mountains to the south. The area covered a large amount of land, mostly fertile fields in the lowland, crossed by the river Pytktos (today called Koiliaris) from the north and the east.

Theories for the origin of the name Aptera

The oldest reference of the name Aptera is found on Linear B inscriptions (14th-13th century B.C). The most dominant theory attributes the name to an epithet of Goddess Artemis (Diana): Artemis Aptera. According to another theory, the name was given by the famous hero of Delphi, Pteras or Apteras. Finally, according to the myth recorded by Stefanis Byzantios (6th century AD) the name comes from the mythical battle between the muses and the sirens, during which the sirens were defeated, they lost their wings (in Greek Ptera means wings, Aptera means without wings, in this case), they became white and fell into the sea.

The city-state Aptera

The time when the city of Aptera flourished as an independent city-state begins in the 4th century BC, when it is distinguished as the most commercial city of Crete. The city created numerous commercial and political agreements and arrangements with Egypt, Libya, the Kingdoms of Pergamos and Vithynia, as well as with other parts of Greece such as Peloponnese, the islands of the Aegean, Asia Minor etc.

The strategic position of the city with the two ports, the port Minoa (today called Marathi) and the port Kissamos (near today’s village Kalyves) at the entrance of the natural gulf, provided the opportunity to control the industrial and commercial movement in the region, and therefore played a central role for the upgrading of the city. For this reason, it was characterized by the historian G. Svoronos as the most commercial city of Crete, and one of the most powerful, in times of glory.

The earthquake of 364-5 AD marked the end of this powerful city, and the next strong earthquake of the 7th century AD resulted in its permanent abandonment.


Roman Villa

Take the path to the right of the ticket house and you will see a signpost after 50 m showing the way to the remains of a Roman Villa west of the Theatre, a house with peristyle yard from the period of Roman domination (100 B.C – 400 A.C.).

Two very well preserved statuettes depicting the Greek gods Artemis and Apollo have been discovered in the luxury Roman home. The sculptures, which date to the first or second century AD, would have been imported to Crete and used to decorate a shrine in a luxury Roman home, the Greek Culture Ministry announced. Both statues stand at around 54 cm in height, with the base measuring around 35cm. The one of Artemis is made of copper, while Apollo is sculpted from marble. They were found during an excavation of the archaeological site led by Vanna Niniou-Kindelis, director of excavations at Aptera.

The ministry describes Artemis as being in an excellent state of preservation. She is wearing a tunic, with her stance showing her preparing to shoot an arrow. Artemis was the daughter of Zeus and Leto and was the twin sister of Apollo. She was the goddess of chastity, virginity, hunting, animals and the wilderness – she is often depicted with a bow and arrows. (text source International Business Times)

Ancient city Aptera - Monastery St. John Theologos
Agiou Ioanni (St. John) Monastery

Holy Monastery St. John Theologos

At a central spot in the ancient city of Aptera, which was erected and flourished in the 3rd and 4th centuries B.C., there is the Monastery of St. John the Divine (Theologos), a dependency of the Monastery of St. John on the island of Patmos. There is a reference to dependence as early as 1181 A.D.; therefore, it had been built before that date and stopped being active in 1964. The walls of the ancient city still stand around the monastery. Recently, the building was fully restored.

Ancient city Aptera - Roman cistern
The Roman cistern

Roman cistern

The most impressive monument, because of its size and excellent preservation, is the Roman cistern, which gathered rainwater from the roofs of the buildings and from other smaller tanks through a network of water pipes. These water tanks provided water to the two large public baths, which were later turned into laboratories.

Further findings in Aptera

Shortly after the mid-4th century BC, the city was fortified with a strong wall, 3480 m long, which surrounds the whole hill. In 1942 a small Doric temple was excavated by the Germans, dating back to the 5th century BC. In the same area, a part of a large temple has been discovered, which was used for many centuries and was probably one of the central temples of the city. Another small Doric temple has been discovered by the excavator Stylianos Alexiou , dedicated to the Goddesses Dimitra and Persefoni, dating back to the 1st century AD.

There were two cemeteries in Aptera: one on the southeast with arched tombs and one in the west, where excavations continue to take place. Near the gate many funeral monuments and inscriptions dating back to the 1st- 2nd century AD have been revealed. In the rest cemetery area that expands under the old settlement, there are many different types of tombs from different periods (from the 8th and 7th century BC to the 3rd century AD). Many representative findings from these different periods from the city and the cemetery (vases, coins, idols, inscriptions, sculptures and other objects) are exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Chania.

Koules Fortress and Itzedin Fortress

Two castles of unique historical interest are located in a small distance from antiquities. The first is Palaikastro that was built by the Ottomans for the Revolution of 1866 and the second one is Itzedin castle that is located in Kalami. Itzedin was built in 1872, allocated barracks, hospital and other facilities, while it was used up to recently as a prison for political prisoners.

Ancient city Aptera - Koules fortress
Koules fortress

And last not least

walking west on the path past the sign for the Roman villa one can discover … 2 machine gun installations from the period of German occupation.

Ancient city Aptera - machine gun installation
Machine gun installation, there are 2 of them in a short distance

(text source: municipalities of Chania and Kalyves)

Useful Information

Opening times: the archaeological site Aptera is open during all year daily (except Mondays and National Holidays) from 08.00 to 15.oo hrs.

Entrance fee: 2 €, reduced 1 €

Estimated visit duration: approx. 1,5 hrs

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