Natural stone
Gortyna, Crete 2/3





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The origin of marble from ancient times: Gortyna (Crete)
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Text: Annemieke van Roekel

Ongoing excavations
In Roman times, Gortyna was the capital of the province that included both Crete and Cyrenaica, the eastern part of present-day Libya. Excavations there started at the end of the 19th century and have never ceased since. With an area of 4 square km, Gortyna is very extensive and even flocks of sheep are walking around; the city is intersected by a motorway. Excavations have started in the part north of the road; from the beginning of the 20th century, the excavations were moved to the south-eastern part (fig. 4-6).
The city was destroyed in the Middle Ages and has never been rebuilt. As a result, many buildings, sculptures and ornaments have remained intact.

Andreas Fischer-Happel Andreas Fischer-Happel
Andreas Fischer-Happel  

Fig. 4. Excavations in the south-eastern part of Gortyna. Fig. 5. Detail of a capital. Fig. 6. Temple of Apollo. Photo's: Andreas Fischer-Happel.

Local limestone
For sculptures and ornaments, especially for public buildings, (imported) marble was used; local limestone was used for other buildings and pavement. The limestone quarries have resulted in a labyrinth of passageways known as Labyrinth Cave. Marble statues were imported ready-made, but also produced in the city itself.

In the past fifty years, mainly artefacts from the Roman period have been excavated, of various types of rock: white and yellow porous limestone ("porolithoi") and white and colored local and (mainly) imported marbles. From Crete itself, poor quality "gray marble" comes from a quarry in Agios Kyrillos, near Gortyna in the Asterousia Mountains (Antonelli, 2017). The latter was only used in architectural elements and not for sculptures.

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Top photo: Andreas Fischer-Happel.

Copyright: Annemieke van Roekel
Last update: June 25, 2022