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.