Aptera, Chania: A powerful city-state of ancient Minoan Crete, and the most important ancient trading hub in the island.
Aptera, Chania, was one of the most important cities in ancient Crete. The remnants of this glorious city of the past are located just outside the homonymous Aptera village close to the national road, near the coastal village of Kalives, in a distance of about 15 kilometres from Chania city.
The location of Aptera in Chania is strategically excellent: the city stands at a point where the whole of Souda Bay, and a large part of the Apokoronas plains are visible. The view from the ancient city is simply stunning!
Regarding the name of the city, there are two possible explanations. The most probable is the one in the ancient Greek mythology. The city used to be a centre for musical arts in ancient Greece, having a big Temple of the Muses. During a mythological music competition in the temple between the Muses and the Sirens, the Sirens lost, and were so distressed that their feathers fell off into Souda Bay, forming the small “white islands” in the bay. The poor sirens were left wingless, or “aptera” in ancient Greek.
It is also possible that the name of the ancient city of Aptera, Crete, came from king of Crete Apteron, son of Kydon, who ruled Crete around 1.800 BC.
Aptera Chania – a very long history of trade and growth
Aptera, Chania, was a very powerful and wealthy city. It could only be compared to ancient Kydonia, close to present-day Chania city, and ancient Knossos, near the capital of Crete, Heraklion.
Aptera had amassed immense wealth from trade. The city was possibly the prominent trading centre of Minoan Crete. Apart from traders, many of its residents were ship-owners, as in those years most of the trade was made through the sea.
Aptera had its own coin, depicting god Zeus or a woman on one side, and an ancient soldier at the other. Aptera, Crete, had two ports, Kissamos and Minoa, located in the present-day Kalives and Marathi respectively. Aptera also produced bronze and iron, and owned the oldest known mine in Europe, the ancient mine of Verekinthos, near present-day Malaxa.
Aptera, Crete, had a population of more than 20.000 people, but the real number of its citizen was about 5.000, as all the other residents were slaves.
During the ancient Minoan years, Aptera was in constant alliance with Kydonia, the most powerful city-state of the region. Its greatest enemy was Lappos, located in the present-day Argiroupolis in the region of Rethymno. Lappos had a very well trained mercenary army, and was known for its archers. The people of Aptera and Lappos were totally different: the Apterians were generally peaceful, hard-working traders, in contrast to the Lappians who were aggressive and military-oriented. The contrariness with the Lappians is the main reason for the great, high walls of Aptera, which are still visible today.
During the Roman occupation of Crete, ancient Aptera did not fight against the Romans. Having found favour with ancient Rome, the city of Aptera kept flourishing during the Roman era.
During the Byzantine era, Aptera, Crete, was still a big city and a bishop’s seat. Aptera was unlucky enough to be struck by a great earthquake in the 7th century AD, which caused most of its residents to abandon the once glorious city. The city was finally destroyed by the Arabs in the 9th century AD. Later, at the location of the city of Aptera, the settlement of Paleokastro was built. Paleokastro was destroyed in 1583 during a pirate raid.
Aptera, Chania, was one of the prominent cities-states of ancient Minoan Crete. Although not as famous as the ancient Minoan cities of Knossos and Phaistos, ancient Aptera is a rare sight, which we highly recommend. If, on the other hand, you are not so into ancient cities and history, the breathtaking view from Aptera, Chania, can also make the trip to the ancient city very rewarding!