Arkadi – Margarites
This is a walking route of cultural and natural interest, part of the northern section of European Trail E4.
From the historic Arkadi Monastery the route runs eastwards, passes the north part of the archaeological site of Eleutherna, descends into the gorge and runs uphill to Langa where there is a little Folk Art Museum.
It crosses Margarites gorge and ascends to the village - an attractive, large village with a number of Byzantine churches and Venetian mansions, noted also for its long tradition of pottery production. This tradition is dating back to at least the years of the Ottoman domination and makes the village of Margarites undoubtedly the most important pottery center of Western Crete. Here, amongst many others, are to visit the Byzantine churches of Agios Georgios (14th century), Agios Ioannis Theologos (1383) and Sotira Christou.
The area of the ancient city of Eleutherna constitutes one of the most important archaeological sites in the Prefecture of Rethymno and is located in a privileged area in terms of natural beauty. Eleutherna was one of the most important ancient cities of Crete - according to today's excavation data - a capital city of the geometric (1050-700 BC) and archaic (750-479 BC) years, that is, the time of the propagation and recording of the Homeric epics. A number of excavations make up the jigsaw puzzle of an archaeological park, including a cemetery of the Geometric and Archaic periods, the remains of a Hellenistic settlement, Hellenistic and Roman buildings and roadways as well as an early Christian basilica with impressive mosaic floors.
From the village of Eleutherna a dirt road descensd northwards in the direction of the roofed-over cemetery in the place called Orthi Petra, about 1 klm distant. Most of the information we have comes from the findings of the systematic excavations of the University of Crete at this location, covering the period from 870/850 until the beginning of the 6th century BC. Important discoveries are related to the custom of burning the dead, which are very close to the description of the funerary customs that attribute Homer's verses to the Iliad. Over the famous necropolis have been revealed Hellenistic and Roman phases of the ancient city, buildings, paved streets, etc.
Around the same distance further north a superb bridge of Hellenistic date is preserved. A path from Orthi Petra, running first in a southerly direction and then northwards, ascends towards Pirgi, the Acropolis of the ancient city, passing the underground aqueducts and the remains of the Byzantine church of Agia Anna. In this location are revealed building relics which date back to Roman and Early Christian times. This is the diachronic core of the ancient city, as evidenced by architectural remains of the Late Bronze Age (1600-1100 BC), an autoclave of geometric years, an archaic sanctuary, as well as Roman and Early Christian and Byzantine buildings.
A little before Pirgi, the path branches eastwards towards the place called Katsivelos, where a large part of the city has been excavated, with streets and the remains of fine buildings as well as a large Christian Basilica, that of Michael Archangelos. The church was built on the site of an older Hellenistic sanctuary, which is dated, according to the founding inscription, to 430-450 AD. Here, the path meets the dirt road which leads southwards to the main road, first passing the cemetery of the village of Ancient Eleftherna with its Byzantine church of Sotira Christou.
Excavations in Ancient Eleutherna have brought to light extraordinary findings of various chronological phases, exhibited at the new Museum of Eleftherna, which is located near the entrance of the archaeological site. Beyond the architectural constructions, the moving findings, like dozens of inscriptions, sculptures, objects of precious materials, coins, exotic objects from the East, metal objects and utensils, glass vessels, etc., reveal in their own way the life and death, the customs and the commercial and other - direct or indirect - relations of the inhabitants of ancient Eleftherna with the rest of Crete, the Cyclades, Attica and Evia, the Peloponnese, the Dodecanese, the coasts of Asia Minor, the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean coasts, Cyprus and ancient Phoenicia (It includes the coastline of what is today Lebanon, Israel, Gaza, Syria and south-west Turkey). Through all this becomes known the contribution of Eleftherna and Crete to the development of Greek culture.