Ancient Eleutherna

Rethymno Province

The archaeological site of Ancient Eleutherna is a Dorian-built settlement that was among the most important in the 8th and 7th centuries BC, and also experienced heydays in Hellenistic and Roman times. Excavations have been ongoing since 1985 and archaeologists continue to make new finds all the time; many are showcased at the impressive museum nearby. The 2010 discovery of the gold-adorned remains of a woman in a 2700-year-old double tomb made international news.

The excavation of the tomb of a high priestess and three acolytes a year earlier prompted the Archaeological Institute of America to include Eleutherna in its Top 10 Discoveries of 2009.

The most easily accessible section of the site is the acropolis, with the remains of a tower atop a long, narrow ridge behind the Akropolis taverna. From here, an uneven, overgrown path leads down to vast and spooky Roman cisterns carved into the hills and, further along, to a Hellenistic bridge.

Down in the valleys flanking the ridge, active digs include the 2800-year-old necropolis of Orthi Petra to the west, where findings have produced evidence of human sacrifice. In summer you can enter the covered enclosure of the necropolis; follow the dirt road down a steep hill from the village of Eleutherna.

On the eastern slope, the remains of residential and public buildings from the Roman and Byzantine periods are being dug up. You can see these by following the main road east towards Margarites, turning off at the sign to the Church of the Sotiros and taking the dirt road just past this lovely Byzantine chapel.

The site is 7km east from Moni Arkadiou, so these together form one of the most popular day trips from Rethymno.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Rethymno Province attractions

1. Museum of Ancient Eleutherna

0.43 MILES

A must-see for anyone visiting the ruins of Eleutherna is the accompanying modern museum that contextualises the ancient city through the exhibition of…

2. Moni Arkadiou

2.92 MILES

The 16th-century Arkadi Monastery, 23km southeast of Rethymno, has deep significance for Cretans. As the site where hundreds of cornered locals massacred…

3. Paraschakis Olive Oil Factory


If you're out this way for Melidoni Cave, tack on a visit to this nearby olive-oil factory for a lowdown on the production process. Its welcoming American…

4. Melidoni Cave

4.85 MILES

About 2km outside the village of Melidoni is this stunning cathedral-like cave, an evocative underworld of stalactites and stalagmites. A place of worship…

5. Episkopi

5.28 MILES

This charming village, 9km southeast of Melidoni, served as a bishopric under Venetian rule and is a maze of lanes lined with well-preserved stone…

6. Basilica of Aghia Sophia


Coins unearthed in Panormo indicate that a village flourished here between the 1st and 9th centuries AD, but the only in situ evidence from this period…

7. Church of Agios Yiorgos

6.31 MILES

Ecclesiastic-art fans should stop in town at Panormo’s parish church, which has some stunning modern frescoes.

8. Castel Milopotamo

6.32 MILES

For wonderful views overlooking Panormo's port, head up the hill to a tiny segment of stone wall that remains from a 13th-century fortress. It's believed…