Worth the wheeze for the rural serenity alone – the mountain a silvery sheen of wildflowers, the nearby peaks tipped with snow – the ancient city of Lato, 4km north of Kritsa, is one of Crete’s few non-Minoan ancient sites. Lato (la-to) was founded in the 7th century BC by the Dorians and at its height was one of the most powerful cities in Crete, until it was abandoned in 200 BC for its more convenient harbour, where Agios Nikolaos now stands.
The surviving ruins sprawl over the slopes of two acropolises in a lonely mountain setting, commanding stunning views down to the Bay of Mirabello. At a little elevation they begin to take form as you look down and imagine the bustling agora (market).
The city gate is the entrance to the site and leads to a long, stepped street. The wall on the left contains two towers, which were also residences. Follow the street to reach the agora, built around the 4th century BC, which contained a cistern and a rectangular sanctuary. Excavations of the temple have revealed a number of 6th century BC figurines. The circle of stones behind the cistern was a threshing floor. The western side of the agora contains a stoa with stone benches. There are remains of a pebble mosaic nearby. A terrace above the southeastern corner of the agora contains the remains of a rectangular temple, probably built in the late 4th or early 3rd century BC. Between the two towers on the northern end of the agora, there are steps leading to the prytaneion, the administrative centre of the city-state. The centre of the prytaneion contained a hearth with a fire that burned day and night. On the eastern side of the prytaneion is a colonnaded court. Below the prytaneion is a semicircular theatre that could seat about 350 people next to an exedra (stage), which has a bench around the walls.
Neachus, one of Alexander’s generals, is said to have come from here. The city’s name is derived from the goddess Leto, whose union with Zeus produced Artemis and Apollo, both of whom were worshipped here.
There are no buses to Lato. The road to the site is signposted to the right on the approach to Kritsa. It’s a 30-minute road walk through pleasant wooded countryside.