Sitting high above Souda and Chania on the northwest side of the island of Crete, Ancient Aptera stands guard in the clouds over the entrance to Souda bay. Roughly 15 km outside of Chania, Aptera is an accessible archaeological site that continually intrigues us. The drive up into the area is beautiful, and the views (in every direction) once you arrive are just awe-inspiring. We’ve found that the site is the perfect combination of wildness and ancient history, without the formality of other, more well-known historical sites. Visitors are free to roam, and it’s very easy for one to imagine life as it once was hundreds and thousands of years ago. In the spring, the area is absolutely covered in gorgeous wildflowers, and worth a visit for that alone.
The site is very large, and includes the remains of: an ancient outdoor theater, Roman cisterns, Doric temples and baths, an ancient villa, and old Roman roads. The site also includes a Church and monastery, and over 4km of ancient walls. Oh, and sheep still actively graze all over the area! To the North there is also a fort (Koules) that was erected by the Turks sometime after 1866 during their occupation of Crete. The fort overlooks the Itzedin fortress at Kalami.
We were lucky enough to visit on a beautiful, sunny and windy day in April. The place was deserted, and both the drive, and parking once we arrived, were exceptionally easy. We entered the site (free admission) at the pathway leading down to the Church and monastery. We had to stop for a few minutes just to take in the gorgeous view all around us. The view to the south is of the mountains and to the north, east and west of the sea. Stunning. Wildflowers everywhere!
The city was founded in the geometric period (8th century B.C), and based on excavations at the site, was a city of quite some significance at that time. Our understanding is that the remains visible at this time are from the Roman and Hellenistic periods. There are most likely Minoan-era buildings and artifacts buried underneath the ruins that have yet to be excavated.
In our opinion, the most fascinating ruins were the Roman cisterns. The scale and condition are remarkable, and the acoustics inside were amazing.
Archaeologists continue to work at the site, and in January of 2016 found two statues that are remarkably preserved. These small statues are of Artemis (made of copper) and Apollo (made of marble) and were most likely used to decorate the altar at a luxurious Roman villa.
The story is better told through images, so we’ve included lots of pictures to give you a sense of the atmosphere of this place. Wear comfy shoes, go early before the tourist buses arrive, and take in all of the natural beauty of this site. Highly recommended!