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Amphitheater of Gortys

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The Gortys archaeological site is located in Gortyna Municipality, in Crete. The Amphitheatre is situated at the southeast end of the city and was built in the 2nd c. AD.

Maffei asserts that it resembled the Colosseum in Rome. According to O. Belli’s description, as quoted by Sanders, the theatre was built of stout, massive walls of concrete faced with brickwork. The outer wall consisted of 56 arches in two rows, probably with a portico at the rounded apex. There were four entrances along the axes and two sections of seats inside. The internal dimensions are 66 m along the N-S axis and 50 m along the E-W axis.

On the west side were revealed sections of a wall. These are most probably the remains of a façade, between two towers with internal staircases. This was probably the site of the main staircase, in which there was a niche containing a statue. The head of the statue is housed in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum and supposedly represents Antoninus Pius. The rest of the statue is also preserved. It is a seated figure in a toga (in Sanders’s time it was still in situ, while today it is in the Gortys Archaeological Site, in the courtyard outside the Sculpture Collection). If does indeed represent the emperor, he may have been responsible for the construction of the Amphitheatre. It has also been argued, however, that the statue depicts one of the High Priests of the Cretan Koinon, Volumnius Sabinus, who organised games under imperial licence in the 3rd c. AD.

Another statue from the Amphitheatre is now in the British Museum. It is a female figure in a pleated garment, standing on a boy, with a griffin to the right and a serpent to the left. It may represent Nemesis.

Fragments of the Amphitheatre epistyle have been preserved. They are exquisitely carved out of local limestone. Relief figures can be discerned, such as a Medusa head, a lion, a dove, a ram’s head and an eagle with a serpent.

A brief excavation of the monument was carried out in the early 20th century. Today it is filled in to such an extent that the ground plan of the structure is hard to recognise.

Maria Bredaki
Archaeologist

Monument Name

Amphitheatre of Gortys

Category

Theatre

Brief Description

The Amphitheater of Gortys is located at the southeast edge of the town and was built in the 2nd century AD. Maffei claims that it looked like the Colosseum in Rome. Today it is buried to the point that hardly anyone recognizes the plan of the structure.

Images - Plans

Documentation - Bibliography

1. I. F. Sanders, Roman Crete, Warminster 1982, 63-65.

2. A. di Vita, V. La Rosa & M. A. Rizzo (eds), Ancient Crete. A Hundred Years of Italian Archaeology (1884-1984), Roma 1985, 59.

3. Α. Κάντα, Φαιστός, Αγία Τριάδα, Γόρτυνα, Athens 1998, p. 133.

Location

The archaeological site of Gortys is located in Gortyna Municipality.

 

Dating

It was built in the 2nd century AD.

General Description of Monument

The Amphitheater is located at the southeast edge of the town. Maffei claims that it looked like the Colosseum in Rome. According to O. Belli’s description, as recorded by Sanders, the theater’s condition was as follows: It was built of solid and massive walls of composite concrete faced with brickwork on the outer sides. The outer wall consisted of 56 arches in two rows and there was probably a portico at the rounded apex. There were four entrances along the axes and two sections of seats inside. The internal dimensions (which were determined after I. F. Sanders cleaned the area) are 66 m. N-S and 50m. E-W. Sections of wall were revealed in a 3 m. distance on the western side. These were probably remnants of the façade, which was surrounded by two towers with internal stairways. This was probably where the main staircase was, where there was also a niche with a statue. The head of the statue is exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion  (catalogue no. 73) and it is believed that it represents Antoninus Pius. The rest of the statue has also been saved. It shows a seated figure wearing a toga (in Sanders time it was still in situ, while today it is exhibited at the Archaeological Site of Gortys, in the courtyard outside the Glypthoteque). If indeed it represents the emperor it is very likely that he was responsible for the construction of the amphitheater. But it has been supported that it represents Volumnius Sabinus, one of the Great Priests of Cretan Common (Koinon), who organized games with imperial permission sometime around the 3rd century AD. The statue may belong to the Aphrodisian School. Another statue from the Amphitheater is found today at the British Museum. It shows a female figure, probably Nemesis, in a pleated garment, who stands on a boy with a griffin to the right and a snake to the left. Fragments from the epistyle of the amphitheater have survived. They are superbly carved out of local limestone and present relief forms, such as a Medusa head, a lion, a dove, a ram head and an eagle with a snake. A fragment that is decorated with plants and bucrania probably comes from an arch. The sculptures come from Asia Minor and cities such as Aspendos, Sagalassos and Thermessos, and date to the 2nd century AD. Today the monument is buried in the ground up to the point that hardly anyone recognizes the plan of the structure.

Current Situation

A short excavation research was conducted in the beginning of the 20th century by the Italian Archaeological School.

Jurisdiction

It is located inside the archaeological site of Gortys.

Latitude

35.056471°

Latitude

24.952977°

NameDateAmount (€)
Dimitris Panopoulos01/03/2016500.00
Total
€500.00
Balance
€500.00