On the mountains of Arcadia in Peloponnese, near Stemnitsa and in the valley of Lousios river (the river where the fairies bathed baby Zeus), lies the ancient city of Gortyna. A lost city that was brought to light again by the archaeologists in the 1940s. According to Greek Mythology the city was founded by the mythical hero Gortys. Archaeologists believe that the foundation of the city could be placed between 1600 – 1100 BC. The city reached its acme between 8th century BC and 1st century AD, but the lack of many written documents and the very few archaeological findings make this timeline hypothetical.
What we could see today at the site are the Asklipieio (the temple of Asklipios, the Greek god of medicine), the thermal springs building and parts of two defensive castles (acropolis). The temple of Asklipios and the nearby springs were considered one of the most important healing centres of the ancient Greek world. According to the ancient Greek writer Pausanias the temple of Asklipios was famous and glorious. The statues of Asklipios and Hygeia in the temple were works of the famous sculptor Skopas from Paros island. Pausanias also mentions that Alexander the Great, during his campaign in Peloponnesos, visited the temple and dedicated his armor and spear to the Gods for good health. Gortyna was also one of the preparation sites for the Spartans athletes who took part in the Olympic Games. Finally, one last interesting detail is that scientists have concluded that Gortyna’s thermal baths had an elaborated heating system, that was used only here and therefore it is named “arkadiko”.
The power and fame of the city were so big, that according to Plato (the Greek philosopher and writer), the city of Gortyna in Crete was a colony of the Arcadian Gortyna. Also during the 4th century BC, although all Arcadians cities were forced to join the establishment of the great city of Megalopolis and their population was forced to relocate there, Gortyna was the only city, that due to its importance as a religious and healing centre, continued to exist until the 12th century AD, when it was totally destroyed by the Goths, who were roaming the area. After its destruction, the city was forgotten and the memory of its existence was lost. The once important and glorious city was taken over by nature and its ruins were lost under tons of mud and heavy vegetation.
Nowadays apart from the small but very interesting and impressive archaeological site, the surrounding area is magical. You could see here the magnificent stone Kokkoris Bridge, over the always blue waters of Lousios river, while a few meters away you could visit the scenic Byzantine church of Agios Andreas (11th century AD), which is built on the ruins of a Roman building. On the walls of the church, old paintings have survived, with more distinguishable the one that pictures the Crucifixion. Although most of the time the church is closed, you could admire its small interior through an opening on its doorway. Just a few meters from the church you see the remains of a watermill that was used by the inhabitants of the nearby villages until recently.
In order to reach this unique place drive from Stemnitsa towards Dimitsana and then follow the signs for Ancient Gortina and Ioannis Prodromos Monastery. At the intersection of the Monastery, turn left and follow the signs for Ancient Gortyna. Leave your car at the small parking area at the end of the road and cross the stone bridge. For here you could also follow the trekking route “Lousios Paths”, which will lead you to a wonderful walk along Lousios valley and its spectacular Byzantine monasteries (there is a sign near Agios Andreas church).
Do not hesitate to discover this magical place. Apart from the ruins of an ancient city that was lost for hundreds of years, the surrounding area is also spectacular. The river, the stone bridge, the small Byzantine church all create images that will follow for life.
Finally a short video from our visit to this unique archaeological site :