Archaeological Sites

Ruins of many different civilizations abound on Crete. You might come across some while hiking, you will find some that are roped off but with no information supplied about them, and you’ll find other sites that are well developed with sophisticated orientation centers. The ones listed here are the ruins that are the closest to Gavalochori, and they offer different kinds of experiences.

Vineyards. Kenneth, Pexels


15 km from Gavalochori

The closest archaeological site to Gavalochori (just 15 kilometers or 9 miles away) and one of the most spectacular is the Minoan tomb northwest of the village of Stylos (Στύλος) on the road to Aptera. In the middle of an olive grove is an intact, round, vaulted tomb built out of stones that dates to the 14th-13th century BC. To find it, look for a metal gate with a padlock locking the gate and the key to the padlock hanging next to it. There is also an information sign about the site there. There is no admission fee and no attendant, and there is usually no one else there. Walk straight ahead once you enter the gate, and you will see a bit of a path that ends quickly on your right. Pass that path up and take the second path that you come to on your right. Follow it a short way, and you will come to a passageway that leads down into the tomb. More information is available here.

This day trip lets you explore Stylos.

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Click once on an image to open slide show


17 km from Gavalochori

Another archaeological site very near to Gavalochori is Aptera (Άπτερα), 17 kilometers or 11 miles away, which contains layers of ruins dating back to the Minoan period (3000-1450 BC). Set high on a hill, it was the site of a once-prosperous city state. You’ll appreciate the excellent orientation center near the entrance that will give you an idea of what you are about to see. You could spend all day here, but be sure not to miss the stunning large cisterns dating from Roman times. The site can be quite warm in the summer, so start out early and bring a hat and an umbrella for shade. The site isn’t open every day, so check before you go to be sure it is. More information is available here and here.

Explore this day trip to Aptera!

Archaeological Museum of Chania

22 km from Gavalochori

The Chania (Χανιά) Archaeological Museum is a large modern museum, completed in 2021, that features three major permanent exhibitions. The first presents prehistoric life in the area, including the Minoan culture, and the second covers the development of city states such as that of nearby Aptera. The third exhibition tells the story of everyday life during various time periods through the use of artifacts in the collection. More information about the museum can be found here.

Take a look at this tour of Chania's historic sites.

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Click once on an image to open slide show


32 km from Gavalochori

Just 32 kilometers (20 miles) from Gavalochori is the village of Argyroupoli (Αργυρούπολη). The village area encompasses an archaeological site that contains ruins from Lappa (Λάππα), a powerful city state that goes back at least to 300–400 BC and, according to legend, was founded by Agamemnon of Mycenae. It became very powerful during the Roman period and was destroyed by Arab or Saracen pirates during the Byzantine period. Its power waxed and waned through the years, but at one time, the city had its own mint and money and encompassed ports on both the north and south coasts of Crete. Ruins here include Roman tombs, a well-preserved mosaic floor, remains of a Roman bath, and stonework. After exploring the ruins, you can enjoy the tavernas among the refreshing springs and waterfalls in the lower area of Argyroupoli. Finding the various attractions at Lappa can be confusing. For more information, see the discussion of Lappa in the Day Trips section of this website. You can also find some information here and here.


63 km from Gavalochori

Eleutherna (Ἐλεύθερνα) is a large archaeological site 63 kilometers (40 miles) from Gavalochori and 25 kilometers (15 miles) southeast of Rethymno. Located at the foot of Mt. Ida, Eleutherna was a thriving city trom the 3rd century BC to the 14th century AD. It flourished so long in part because of its natural fortification and abundant natural resources. Residents could see the sea from the acropolis, but the city was invisible to enemies approaching by boat. Eleutherna benefited from fresh running water and close proximity to arable land, pastures for livestock, forests for timber, and a quarry. Among the sites that are visible to visitors who walk the paths through the site are a defensive tower, a Hellenistic bridge, an early Christian basilica, Roman cisterns, and a cemetery. A museum houses the results of the excavations at the site, and its three rooms focus on public and private life, religious life, and funerary practices. Short films and slide shows complement the well-displayed and informative exhibits. Among the most exciting discoveries at Eleutherna were the remains of four women, one buried in a seated position, who are assumed to have had high social status because of the opulent items found in the grave. Their discovery was considered one of the top-10 archaeological finds for 2009-2010. Because Eleutherna is only 7 km (4 miles) east of the Arkadi Monastery, you might want to visit this other important site following your exploration of Eleutherna.

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Click once on an image to open slide show


77 km from Gavalochori

The ruins at Falasarna (Φαλάσαρνα) are connected to a beach, so this is a good place to combine a visit to an archaeological site with a swim. Falasarna is located on Crete’s western coast approximately 77 kilometers (48 miles) from Gavalochori. At the northern end of Falasarna Beach (Παραλία Φαλάσαρνας) are the ruins of the ancient city of Falasarna, founded in the 6th century BC. A naval power fortified with huge walls and other military buildings, its once-famous harbor was destroyed when an earthquake in 365 AD raised the city 6.5 meters (7 yards) out of the sea and flooded what remained with a tsunami. This site only began to be excavated in 1966, but discoveries so far have included towers, defensive walls, a public road, baths, water tanks, an altar, warehouses, and a wine factory. You are free to walk among the ruins when the site is open. More information can be found here.

You can explore Falasarna with this day trip.


100 km from Gavalochori

The ancient Minoan palace of Faistos/Phaestos (Φαιστός) lies approximately 100 kilometers (62 miles) southeast of Gavalochori. The ruins of the palace are as impressive as the palace of Knossos, and the site has not been questionably reconstructed the way Knossos has. Another advantage is that the crowds here are not as large as those at Knossos.

At one time, Faistos was the largest and most powerful city in southern Crete. Dating from approximately 2,000 BC, the palace was destroyed and rebuilt several times. You can see a series of terraces with massive staircases between them and the remains of storerooms, granaries, royal quarters, workshops, a theater, courtyards, and the temple of Rhea. Here is where the famous Faistos disc dating back to the Minoan period was discovered. Now in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, the various stamped symbols on the disc have never been deciphered. To fully appreciate the site, you might want to hire a guide, which can be arranged at the entrance. Faistos has a variety of amenities onsite, including a cafe, a bookstore, and a souvenir shop. You can find more information about Faistos here.

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Click once on an image to open slide show

Matala and Gortyna

110 km from Gavalochori

These two archaeological sites are close together, so it makes sense to see them both on a day trip from Gavalochori. Matala is a village 110 kilometers (68 miles) southwest of Gavalochori that is most known for its “hippie caves.” Although these caves are often considered to be ancient Roman tombs, they were more likely places where people lived during the Neolithic period (7000-3000 BC). During the late 1960s and early 1970s, many young people lived in the caves, including singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, whose song “Carey” references the “Matala moon.” The caves are now fenced off and protected by the Archaeological Society, and, of course, people are no longer allowed to live in them. More information is available here.

A drive of just 23 kilometers (14 miles) will bring you from Matala to Gortyna (Γόρτυνα), where you can see remnants of a culture that dates back to Neolithic times. The city was most powerful, however, in the Roman period as the capital of Crete. In this compact archaeological site that straddles the main road, you can see the 6th-century Byzantine Church of Saint Titus, who was asked by Saint Paul to bring Christianity to Crete. Also at the site are remnants of the Gortyna legal code that laid out civil law for the city-state. It was written on the circular walls of what might have been a public building, and some of the text can still be seen. The code dealt with issues such as property rights, the ownership of slaves, and the rights of divorced or widowed women. You can also see the ruins of a theater, a palace, baths, and several temples here. Gortyna was destroyed in 828 by the Arabs or Saracens. It is 122 kilometers (76 miles) from Gavalochori. Find out more about Gortyna here.


113 km from Gavalochori

Τhis website usually directs you to sites relatively close to Gavalochori, but Knossos (Κνωσσός) has to be included in the Cretan archaeological sites you can visit simply because it is the most famous of them. A distance of 117 kilometers (72 miles) from Gavalochori, Knossos is located near Heraklion (Ηράκλειο) and is the site of the ancient Minoan civilization that is considered the oldest city in Europe. It was occupied from the Neolithic period (7000-6500 BC) until it was destroyed around 1300 BC. Its most prominent feature is a building that may have been a palace, an administrative center, a religious center, or a combination. The site was excavated by British archaeologist Arthur Evans in the early 20th century, although some of Evans’s reconstruction work is now considered questionable and even inappropriate. The site is definitely worth seeing, but be prepared for crowds and hot sun if you go in the summer. If you visit Knossos, don’t miss the Heraklion Archaeological Museum located in the center of Heraklion just 5.6 kilometers (3½ miles) from the Knossos site. There you can see many artifacts from Minoan to Roman times excavated from Knossos and other archaeological sites on Crete. More information is available here.

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