Ancient Elyros, Chania
Elyros: A prominent city of ancient Crete
Elyros was a big ancient city located in the South of Chania region. It is considered by many historians the most important ancient city in Southwest Crete.
Elyros is located at some kilometres’ distance northwest of Sougia, near present-day Rodovani village.
Elyros – An ancient city with a great history
Elyros was one of the biggest cities in ancient Crete. Some historic sources cite that its population was about 16.000 people, but during its peak it had reached a population of about 30.000 people.
As naval trade was one of the main occupations of the big cities in Crete at that time, Elyros had not just one, but two harbours: The first harbour was the beautiful ancient city of Lissos, where many valuable findings were discovered, and the second harbour was the ancient city of Syia, which gave its name to the nearby present-day village of Sougia.
Apart from trade, many historians believe that ancient Elyros was manufacturing – and also trading – weapons, which added to the city’s military might and prosperity. Elyros was so prosperous, that it minted its own coin, which was also used by other neighbouring cities, like Lissos, Tarra and Yrtakina.
Ancient Elyros was a flourishing city from the 5th century BC. In the 3rd century BC, Elyros was in war with Kydonia, the largest city-state in the region, based near present-day Chania.
Elyros was also a big city during the Roman and the First Byzantine periods. The city was finally destroyed in the Byzantine years by the Saracen Arabs, who arrived in large numbers to Crete from Spain.
Elyros – the city’s religious history
During ancient years, Apollo and his sons, Phylakides and Philandros were worshipped in Elyros. It is noteworthy that in the 3rd century BC, during the war between Elyros and Kydonia, the people of Elyros sent to the Delphi Oracle an impressive bronze statue, depicting a goat feeding the sons of Apollo when they were infants.
In the Roman years, Elyros may have been a local centre of philosophy, as the “Philosopher of Elyros”, a Roman statue discovered here, indicates.
Finally, during the First Byzantine period, Elyros was a city big enough to be the seat of an archbishop. The remains of the bishopric church, which was built in the 6th century AD, can still be found in the centre of the old city.
Elyros was an ancient city of great might and wealth. For more than 1.000 years, the city’s large population was thriving. Today, the remains of the city are not as impressive as other archaeological sites in Crete, but Elyros always is one of the most notable historic locations in Crete, and a recommended place to visit when you are in South Crete in the area of Sougia.