Gortyn(a) (Greece / Crete)

Roman aqueducts: Gortyna (Crete - Greece) Agii Deka - GORTYNA
For the photo's, see below
For the complete website

Roman interest in Crete occurred rather late; the island became a province in 27 or 24 BC when it was combined with Cyrene to form Cyrenaica. Gortyn was named capital of the island, probably because of its early and strong support of the Roman cause and its animosity towards Knossos, a Roman enemy. The remains from Gortyn affirm its role as a place worth it capital status (...) gymnasia, fountains, colonnades, temples, workshops, schools, aqueducts and baths. Gortyn also had a praetorium (governor's residence), theaters, an amphitheater, an odeion [where the famous inscriptions with the lawcodes were found wds], a circus, waterworks and markets.(...)
Gortyn was inhabited from the Hellenistic through the Byzantine period, a rather unusual occurrence on Crete where many sites begin in the Minoan period. Its remains, especially its architecture, are also well preserved. As the capital of Roman Crete, Gortyn occupied an important political and economical position (...)
[from: Gortyn: first city of Roman Crete, J. Francis and G.W.M. Harrison (in: AJA vol 107-3 (2003) pag 487), reviewing the series Gortina written by A. di Vita]

Remains of the aqueduct branch just N of the Praetorium of Roman Gortyn, looking SW
The source of the aqueduct of Gortyn can be found N of Zaros on the S slopes of mount Ida, following its course in the valley of the river Lethaeus S towards Gortyn. In his AJA-article of 1902 Taramelli gives a description of the area around the source of this aqueduct including drawings of a cistern, the drainage system under the main channel, cross-sections of the aqueduct and a fountain near a Roman villa. At an unknown point the main channel splits into two branches
(...) both on the right bank of the river, and about 43m apart; the higher of the two was slightly larger than the lower, both in the actual size of the aqueduct, up to 1.7 m and 1.8 m wide as compared to the lower at circa 1.1 m x 1.0 m and in the size of the channel - higher 0.65 m x 0,56 m, lower 0,55 m x 0.45 m. Some distance [about 500 m wds] before they approached the Acropolis the lower one sent off a branch which crossed over the river [by means of a siphon, see the drawings of Taramelli below wds] and continued on the left bank down into the city. At the point of crossing there are visible remains of a caput aquae [=header tank wds] to maintain pressure in the system as it crossed over and rose up the other side.

The aqueducts remaining on the right bank continued along the gorge but came together to cross a valley by an other bridge [N of the acropolis wds] on two levels on the west side of the acropolis before separating again to flank it. The lower branch finally left the other just before the Larger Theatre and crossed down to the area of the Forum and the Odeion. The higher branch continued down to the plain on the west side of the Lethaeus, partially underground, where it was ventilated by wells. It is possible that it finally finished at the series of vaulted concrete structures just W of the river and N of the modern road, which may have been a nymphaeum. [from: I.F. Sanders: Roman Crete (1982)]

It can be supposed that Gortyn had at least the following waterworks: 46 fountains, several bathhouses, water supply systems for privati and several nymphaea. All these waterworks must have required a tremendous flow of water. The aqueduct branch on the E side of the river Lethaeus can be considered as the trunk line of the are S of the main road including the Praetorium with its own nymphaeum and bathhouse. The line towards this complex is in very fragmentary state but it was obvious carried on arches with small cisterns at the bottom of some arches for distributing water en route. Sanders: The only dating evidence for the aqueduct itself in the area is supplied by its relation to a building next to the Praetorium nymphaeum. Here the water tower at the end of the aqueduct overlies this building, which is rectangular, 10m x 15 m, and constructed of porous blocks; from the material found with it would seem to be a little temple of Augustan date dedicated to a female deity (Sanders1982).

The picture of the water supply of Gortyn seems to be complicated:


In het PhD-thesis (2016) Elisabetta Giorgi presents the results of a careful study of all the known remains of water related structures of Gortyn (Crete, Greece). The overview starts at the source area in Zaros, goes to the Acropolis and of course towards the city mainly east of the river Mitropolianos. She incudes all knows remains of the main course of the Roman aqueduct and its branches, two aqueduct bridges, nymphaea, at least two castella aquae, a series of early Byzantine cistern-fountains, and smaller and bigger water storage reservoirs.
Although her main interest is the relation between the developments in the city and their echo's in the water supply system, Giorgi also presents a new proposal for the course of the aqueduct and its branches in and near the city.

Please take in mind that the remains span a time frame from the 2nd to the 7th c CE.
The course of the Gortyna aqueduct extra urbem (left).
At point 1 the Caput Aquae plus (formerly covered) reservoir of ca 400 m3. At point 14 the first splitting; at 19 a second splitting, now in the lower aqueduct; one branch crossed the river by means of a siphon (18) after which another splitting took place, heading to the east to feed the city east of the Mitropolianos river. At 21 a (siphon?) aqueduct bridge towards the Acropolis.
(map from Giorgi 2016 fig 74)
Map of the course of the different branches of the aqueduct, supplying the urban areas (above).
At 53 and 55 two probably uncovered storage basins. The central part of the first one had a capacity of at least 6.000 m3. The second one could contain about 800 m3 water. The numbers 72 and 81 were probably castella divisoria in resp. branch A and C.
(map from Giorgi 2016 fig 122).

Wilke D. Schram

Agii Deka - GORTYN(A)

Item Info
Length 15 km
Cross-section 0,5-0,6 m x 0,9-1,0 m
Volume Average 7.000 m3/day; max. 17.000 m3/day
Fall 1,8 %
Period 2nd - 6/7th c CE
  • Huge settling basin near the spring
  • One, probably two, siphon(s)
  • Huge storage basin(s) at the Acropolis
  • (at least) Two castella divisoria
  • Over 50 early Byzantine
    cistern-fountains (ca 50 m3)

Recommended literature :
  • A. Taramelli (1902): Gortyna (in: AJA 2nd series nr 6 (1902) pag 118 ff)
  • I.F. Sanders (1982): Roman Crete item 10/10 pag 156
  • M. Pagano (1992): Recherches sur l'aqueduc romain de Gortyne (Crete) (in: G. Argoud (ed): L'eau et les hommes en Méditerraneé ... (1992))
  • E. Giorgi (2007): Water technology in Gortyn in the 4th - 7th c AD: transport, storage and distribution (in: L. Lavan a.o. (eds): Technology in Transition: 300 - 650 AD (2007) pag 287 - 320) - E. Giorgi
  • E. Giorgi (2016): Archeologia dell'acqua a Gortina di Creta in eta protobizantina (PhD-thesis in Italian with English summaries) - E. Giorgi
Recommended website : none
How to visit : see maps above and below

Waypoint Location Latitude Longitude
G1-28 At split with L in main channel 35 03 39.1 24 57 13.1
G2-27 In main turn towards the Praetorium 35 03 40.0 24 57 10.9
G3-30 E of the new parking lot 35 03 37.5 24 57 04.3
G4-29 Aqueduct L near the main road 35 03 36.6 24 57 10.7
G5-26 Aqueduct behind the Praetorium nymphaeum 35 03 31.0 24 57 14.4
G6-35 Double bridge N of the acropolis 35 03 56.5 24 56 49.7
G7-33 High aqueduct on the acropolis 35 03 49.1 24 56 52.8
G8-31 N brige over the Letaeus 35 03 45.6 24 56 55.7
G9-34 Top of acropolis 35 03 52.4 24 56 51.7

HOME More literature on more aqueducts Last modified: April, 2018 - Wilke D. Schram (wilke@romanaquaducts.info)

Map of Gortyn

Schematic layout of the
aqueduct system of Gortyn

The high aqueduct

The low aqueduct

Details of the siphon

Three aqueducts

Bridge on two levels

Details of the bridge

Remains on the acropolis

Basin on the acropolis

Bridge Y over the Lethaios

Bridge Y over the Lethaios

Bridge X over the Lethaios

Bridge X over the Lethaios

Overview on Gortyn (Crete)

Nymphaeum remains

Nymphaeum of Gortyn

Plan of the nymphaeum

The nymphaeum

Aqueduct remains

Part of the aqueduct M

Basin along aqueduct M

Part of the aqueduct M

Part of the aqueduct M

Part of the aqueduct M

Part of the aqueduct M

Part of the aqueduct M

Side branch of the aqueduct?

Part of the aqueduct L

Part of the aqueduct L

Part of the aqueduct L

Part of the aqueduct L

Part of the aqueduct L??

Aqueduct K plus basin