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Home / Where to go / Day Trips / Central Crete / Messara Plain
Messara Plain

Ghortys – Phaistos – Matala: Explore south central Crete with a full day of culture and swimming that takes you to the archeological sites of Roman capital Ghortys and its Law Code and Minoan Phaistos with its mysterious clay disc; spend some time at the picturesque village of Vori and its splendid folklore museum from where you head for Matala for a cooling dive in the Libyan sea.

Take the National Road to Iraklio, from where you follow the signpost to Mires at the 3rd exit. After the village of Ayi Dheka, 46km south-west of Iraklio, you reach the archeological site of Ghortys, which is right along the road.

Ghortys

(Ghortys fenced site, open daily 8am – 7pm; Adm.4euro). Ghortys used to be a subject town of Phaistos in Minoan times and persisted as a city-state under the Dorians. In 67 BC it became the island’s capital under Roman rule. Except for the temple of Pythian Apollo, dating from the 7th century BC and the church of Ayios Titus that dates from the 6th century AD, most of Ghortyna’s excavations that are spread around the fields, date from the Roman period, with a very well preserved Roman theatre. A sudden end to this prosperity came about with the Arab raids in 824, when the city was destroyed and never inhabited again.

The earliest known law code of the Greek world are 12 stone tablets, 3metres high, containing laws that are written in a Dorian dialect. They concern matters such as marriage, divorce, property transfer, inheritance, adoption and criminal offences. In short, pretty much the same things that preoccupy society nowadays. The Law Code provides an amazing insight into the social organization of Crete before Roman times when it was a society hierarchically structured with rulers, citizens or freemen and slaves or serfs, each class of which had different rights and duties.

This fine early-Christian church is one of the most impressive monuments in Crete. Dating from the 6th century AD it was probably built on the foundations of another church. The seat of archbishops until the Arab invasion, the holy relics of St. Titus (first century AD) were kept here until 962, when they were transferred to a new church in Iraklio.

St. Titus the Apostle was a well-educated Cretan from a noble family. He travelled to Jerusalem where he became a disciple of St. Paul the Apostle and went on missions with him to spread Christianity. In around 62 AD Paul introduced Christianity to Crete and left it to Titus to establish the Church on the island, becoming its first bishop.

After Ghortys continue your way through the provincial town of Mires until you reach the junction for Phaistos. Here, take a right turn to Vori.

Vori

Beautifully situated among olive groves and with a magnificent view of Mt. Psiloritis, Vori is a picturesque village with traditional houses. It has a lovely square with cafes and taverns. An outstanding private Folklore Museum gives a fascinating insight into traditional Cretan culture, with themes like music, architecture, customs, rural life, war, herbs and flora and fauna. Exemplary weavings are on display, along with furniture, woodcarvings and musical instruments. A real gem, it is one of the best museums of its kind in Crete. (Museum of Cretan Ethnology, Vori, tel.28920-91112; Open daily, Apr-Oct 10am – 6pm; Adm.3euro.

TIP
For a lunch break in Vori opt for tavern Velghi, upon entering the village, or mezedhopolio Milo on the main square.

Leaving Vori, you return to the junction from where you head for Phaistos, where a relaxed atmosphere lets you enjoy the site at your own pace, with here and there a shady spot to sit and absorb it all.

Phaistos

(Open daily 8am – 7pm; Adm.4euro). One of the most important palaces of Minoan Crete, it has the most magnificent view of the Messara plain and Mt. Psiloritis. It follows the same pattern and architecture of Knossos and Malia, where the central court is surrounded by the palatial buildings Inhabited since late Neolithic times, its first palace was built around 2000 BC. Like the other Minoan palaces it was destroyed by an earthquake around 1700 BC and a new palace was built over the ruins of the first one.

Phaistos was the political and administrative centre of the Messara plain. Again destroyed in around 1450 BC, habitation continued, but it was on constant warring terms with neighbouring Ghortys, by which it was eventually defeated in the 2nd century BC. Excavations were carried out by the Italian school and started in 1900 under the guidance of archeologist Federico Halbherr.

Disc of Phaistos
Uncovered in 1905, this small clay disc with a diameter of 15cm consists of a photographic script, made up of 241 hieroglyphic symbols that are to be read from the outside to the inside of the disc. Every symbol stands for a syllable and every group of symbols represents a word. Although some of the symbols like tools and animals have been recognized, the disc has not been deciphered as it bears little resemblance to Crete's Linear A and Linear B script. It is one of the most intriguing archeological relics ever uncovered in Crete.

Ayia Triadha

(Open daily May-Sep 10am – 4.30pm; Oct-Apr 8.30am – 3pm; Adm.3euro). If you are up to it, pay a visit to Ayia Triadha, a small Minoan site 3km west of Phaistos. It is set in delightful landscape surrounded by hills and orange groves. This large villa was not as important or as big as the palace of Phaistos but followed a similar architectural design. It was built around 1600 BC and only once destroyed, in the overall destruction of all Minoan sites around 1450 BC. Like Phaistos, the site had been inhabited since Neolithic times. Beautiful pieces of jewellery and pottery like the Boxer Vase and the Chieftain Cup were found here, which are now on display at the Archeological Museum in Iraklio. Return to the main road and continue your way to Matala.

Matala

On the coast 11km south-west of Phaistos lies former hippie colony Matala and its man-made caves. Originally Roman tombs of the 1st century AD, they are cut out of sandstone rock; some of them are mere holes, while others are complete with carved door, window and bed. They were used as dwellings for centuries; today they are only to be visited as a site. (Open Jun-Sep 8am – 7pm; Adm.2euro) Matala that probably served as port for Minoan Phaistos and during Roman times as port for Ghortys, is nowadays a well developed tourist resort with sandy beaches. It exploits its reputation as a former hippy colony with a proliferation of hotels and tavernas.

TIP
If you prefer things a bit more quiet and seeing Matala’s caves is not your priority, opt for swimming at Kalamaki with its white sandy beach and some attractive taverns. To get here, follow the signpost Kamilari – Kalamaki from the main road to Matala.