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Ancient Gortyna : The lost city of Arcadia

Ancient city of Gortyna in Western Arcadia

The ancient city of Gortyna lies on the mountains of Arcadia in Peloponnesos. It is located near Stemnitsa, in the valley of Lousios river, where the fairies bathed baby Zeus. Archaeologists brought the lost city back to light in the 1940s. The mythical hero Gortys, according to Greek mythology, founded the city. Archaeologists believe that the foundation of the city could be placed between 1600 – 1100 BC. The city reached its acme of 8th century BC and 1st century AD. The lack of many written documents and the very few archaeological findings make this timeline hypothetical.

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What we could see today at the site are the Asklipieio ,the temple of Asklipios, the Greek god of medicine. We also see the thermal springs building and parts of two defensive castles (acropolis). Asklipios temple and the nearby springs were one of the most important healing centres of the ancient Greek world. According to the ancient Greek writer Pausanias, the temple of Asklipios was famous. The statues of Asklipios and Hygeia in the temple were works of the famous sculptor Skopas from Paros island.

Pausanias also mentions that, during his campaign in Peloponnesios, Alexander the Great visited the temple. He especially dedicated his armor and spear to the Gods for good health.  Gortyna was also one of the preparation sites for the Spartans athletes who took part in the Olympic Games. Finally, one last detail is that scientists have concluded that Gortyna’s thermal baths had an elaborated heating system. According to scientist, that was used only here.  That is why this system is called “arkadiko”.

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The importance of Gortyna in the past

The power and fame of the city was so big according to the Greek philosopher and writer Plato. The city of Gortyna in Crete was a colony of the Arcadian Gortyna. Also during the 4th century BC, Gortyna was the only city, that due to its importance as a religious and healing centre, existed until the 12th century AD. At that time the Goths destroyed it, who were roaming the area. After its destruction, the nature took the city and its ruins were lost under tons of mud and heavy vegetation.

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What to see around the city

Nowadays, apart from the small but very impressive archaeological site, the surrounding area is magical. You could see here the magnificent stone Kokkoris Bridge, with the blue waters of Lousios river. Few meters away you could visit the scenic Byzantine church of Agios Andreas (11th century AD). It is built on the ruins of a Roman building. On the walls of the church old paintings have survived, with more distinguishable than the one that pictures the Crucifixion. Although most of the time the church is closed, you could admire its small interior through an opening in its doorway. Just a few meters from the church you see the remains of a watermill. It was used by the inhabitants of the nearby villages until recently.

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To reach this place, drive from Stemnitsa towards Dimitsana and then follow the signs for Ancient Gortina and Ioannis Prodromos Monastery. At the intersection of the Monastery, turn left and follow the signs for Ancient Gortyna. Leave your car at the small parking area at the end of the road and cross the stone bridge. Here you could also follow the trekking route “Lousios Paths”. It will lead you to a wonderful walk along Lousios valley and its spectacular Byzantine monasteries. Near Agios Andreas church, you can find a sign.

Discover this magical place. Apart from the ruins of an ancient city, the surrounding area is also spectacular. The river, the stone bridge, the small Byzantine church all create images that will follow for life.

Finally, a short video from our visit to the ancient city of Gortyna:


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Author: Antonis Tsapepas

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