Gortys, Phaestos . . . and Stepford

We’re visiting more archaeological sites today: Gortys and Phaestos. No, Stepford was not an archaeological site, but we visited it, too. You’ll see.


Gortys had its heyday in the 6th century BC, when the Dorians, one of four groups within Greek society, ruled the area. It was probably first settled by Minoans or Mycenaeans, but it didn’t garner a spotlight until later. In the 2nd century BC, Gortys defeated its rival, Phaestos, to become the leading Cretan city.

We got here fairly early and were the only ones in the place. The women in the ticket booth didn’t seem to speak English, and the giant laminated info map was all in Greek, useless to us. We sorted things out as best we could with our guide books.

Basilica of Agios Titos

The first ruins on the circuit were of the Basilica of St. Titus. Titus came with St. Paul the Apostle to Crete in AD 59 and stuck around to become the first bishop of Crete.

Agios, Titos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Agios, Titos, Crete

Agia Titos, Gortys, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Nice artsy picture, Mike! I love this!

Roman Amphitheater

For being a leading city on Crete, this odeion is pretty small, emphasis on “pretty,” though.

Roman Odeion at Gortys, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Roman Odeion at Gortys, Crete

We all loved the intimacy of the place combined with the beautiful, fresh, green, open surroundings. It was easy to imagine plays and speakers here. The guide book mentions gladiatorial events as well, but those didn’t suit my imagination, so I chucked them right out.

The best part for me, though, is hidden at the back of the amphitheater. Come take a look.

Roman Amphitheater, Gortys, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Roman amphitheater, closer

See that big brick building on the left behind the seats? Let’s walk through it.

A Greek Surprise at the Roman Amphitheater

Gortys laws, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Gortys Code of Laws

Gortys Code of Laws, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

See the writing on the wall?

You know how craftsmen re-used materials when constructing new buildings? Well, the builders here used stone slabs inscribed with laws, dating from around 500 BC, making this the oldest and most complete record of ancient Greek laws. How flipping cool is that?!

Now look closer. Note that there is no punctuation, and there are no spaces between words or sentences. Oy. What a struggle to read, no?

Look closer still, especially if you’re at all familiar with Greek letters. Notice how one line of letters reads left to right, as we read today; all the Greek letters appear normal. On the next line down, however, the letters are backward. That’s because they’re read right to left. This text is read back and forth across the page slab.

And now for bonus points, if you know your Greek letters and can sound out words, see if you can find a word you recognize! If you find one, leave a comment. There might be a prize involved. Actually, you should leave a comment whether you find a word or not; I always want to hear what you have to say.

Olive Trees and Where’s the Rest of Gortys?

In addition to the archaeological ruins, Gortys had some wonderful, twisty, old olive trees. The older the olive tree, the wider and more gnarled the trunk. Scientists have verified some olive trees to be at least 2,000 years old. And they stay productive, too, unlike, say, chickens.

Old olive tree at Gortys with silhouette, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

This is an old olive tree

And look: More olive trees all around.

Olive trees on the countryside, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Olive trees and more olive trees. And a rainbow.

And more!

Olive trees on the countryside 2, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Soooooo many olive trees!

Now, according to our guide books, there was plenty more to see at Gortys, but we looked and looked, making two full loops around the site, and we couldn’t find the rest. Where were they hiding them? Were they out on loan? Did Lord Elgin take them back to England?

In hindsight, we think they were keeping the rest across the street, but we saw no signs and didn’t figure that out on our own. Instead, we moved on to Phaestos.


You can think of some other ways to spell this, right? I’ve seen “Phaistos” and even “Faistos.”

While Arthur Evans rebuilt Knossos according to his wishes and imagination, Italian scholar, Frederico Halbherr, meticulously unearthed earlier and later Minoan palaces at Phaestos, the earlier palace being destroyed at the same time the earlier palace at Knossos was destroyed. He made no attempt to reconstruct anything, just recorded what he found and let the site stand on its own crumbling floors and walls.

Our Guides

I think we were the first visitors to arrive at Phaestos, too, and we were greeted and escorted by several kitty-cat guides. Two stuck with us for a long time—until other visitors arrived and we’d proven ourselves to be non-sharers of food.

Phaestos feline guide, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Phasetos feline guide 1

“This is the Grand Stairway,” she indicated.

Phaestos feline guide 4, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Phaestos feline guide 1

“You’ll find lots of information on these interpretive signs.”

Phaestos feline guide 2, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Phaestos feline guide 2, perhaps in training

“Brilliant choice! That’s a lovely shot, Two-legs.”

Phaestos feline guide 3, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Phaestos feline guide 2

“Look at this one.”

The Details

Phaestos had features and a layout similar to Knossos.

Grand stairway, Phaestos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

A grand stairway

A grand stairway.

Stairs at Phaestos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Ancient stairs

Less grand—but more interesting—stairs.

Circular pit at Phaestos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Circular pit you can walk into

Giant circular pits. Grain storage, perhaps?

Theater seating and stairs, Phaestos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Theater seats on the left; stairs ahead

Theater seats—or stairs that end in a rock wall.

Clay pot at Phaestos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Large clay pot

And, of course, the ubiquitous clay pots. This is another biggun. With a face! I want to call it “Humpty Dumpty.”

Phaestos central court, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

The wide-open central court of Phaestos

All surrounding a central courtyard.

Greek statue at Phaestos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Life-size Greek statue demonstrates how tall these walls are.

But Phaestos also had a Greek statue. Or a Greek-like statue, anyway. Look how tall those walls are. Hide and seek, anyone?

I loved Phaestos! Popular opinion says Knossos is #1, but it takes a back seat to Phaestos as far as I’m concerned.


Food! We need food! So off we went in search of a grocery store where we could forage for dinner materials.

A landmark we used to locate our hotel was a Carrefour store, which is a large-ish grocery chain resembling American grocery stores. We decided to go there rather than wander the town streets in search of a small local store. Cut us some slack. It was a long day.

We pulled into a nearly empty parking lot, where two forlorn cars slumped in two lonely spaces. This photo is from another day; the parking lot occupation has doubled in this photo:

Stepford store, Kissamos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

The empty parking lot at the Stepford grocery store

Upon entering, the first thing I noticed was a display of Lipton tea boxes on shelves to the right of the door. Lipton Strawberry Cupcake green tea?! Intriguing! The display stood out as both strange and effective: Individual boxes of tea, twenty bags per box, spaced about a foot apart occupied a large section of shelving. The empty space got my attention, to be sure. If that was the marketing goal, it worked, but the “waste of space” seemed extravagant.

Except it wasn’t extravagant.

The entire store was stocked this way, with huge gaps between products. We found no tuna for our proposed tuna-and-white-bean salad. We had a choice of three cereals, two of which were corn flakes. A few geriatric chickens sprawled lethargically in the deli case. Crack me up! Barb wondered if the owners were actually aliens trying to appear normal and missing the mark. Stepford sprang to my mind. Mike feared we might discover the doors were locked as we tried to sneak out.

So in the end, we wandered the streets of Kissamos until we found a tiny shop with narrow aisles and shelves packed with a variety of foods and sundries. We walked and drove past the alien store a few times during our stay, and I said I wanted some photo evidence of the freaky experience, but we didn’t muster our courage to go back into the lifeless Big Box.

Categories: Greece, Travel

Tagged as: , , ,