Fortified acropolis of Polyrrhenia
Fortified acropolis of Polyrrhenia

Ancient city Polyrrhenia was situated in the area of the village Polyrrhenia in Kissamos , 6km south from Kasteli , the area of the ancient port. Its name derived from “poly” and “rinea”, which in Greek means “many sheep”. According to the legends, Polyrrhenia was founded by the Achaeans and the Lakons either in the end of 2nd millennium BC or in the 8th century BC. The oldest vestiges of settlements in the area show that Polyrrhenia was inhabited since the 11th century BC. Furthermore, evidence shows that its inhabitants lived in smaller settlements.

According to Greek mythology, Agamemnon stopped in Polyrrhenia to sacrifice to the gods on his way back from Troy. Before the end of the sacrifice, he was told that the captives were burning his ships so he left and the sacrifice was not finished. Ever since, when a sacrifice was troublous, it was called a Cretan sacrifice .

Polyrrhenia flourished in the Classical and even more in the Roman period, when it became a city of significant political strength and had two important ports, Kissamos and Falasarna.

Polyrrhenia minted coins as a free independent city state during its flourishing. Most coins depicted Zeus’ head with wreath, a bull’s head and the word Polyrrhenion or Hera's head with wreath. Other coins depicted Diana’s or Athena's head or Bacchus with horns. These coins date back to the 5th century. More recent coins depict man’s head with quiver and a woman sitting on a throne. Coins of the Roman period depict Augustus’ head wearing wreath.

Family tomb
Family tomb

Some of these coins are exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Chania.

The ruins of the ancient city were uncovered in the area of the modern village under the same name. A T-shaped acropolis has been excavated. The fortifications of the Hellenistic period were reconstructed in the Byzantine period and few remains are visible today. Two aqueducts have been excavated. One of the two is located near a cave which was dedicated to the nymphs and is today called peristerospilios.

In this cave, there is a hole through which blows warm air. Many tombs are cut on the rocks. House and temple foundations and numerous tombs have been excavated in Polyrrhenia. Inscriptions found in Diktynna’s temple suggest a treaty among Falasarna and Lacedaemonians signed in the 4th century. Another inscription found built in the wall of the church of Agioi Pateres – churches were frequently built with material from ancient monuments in second use – mentions that a statue of Lacedaemonian King Aris was dedicated to the Diktynna’s sanctuary in 272BC.

Diktynna’s temple was situated on the top of the hill, an area which is today called Chalkoklisia. Diktynna or Britomartis was a Cretan goddess whom Greeks recognized in Artemis. Polyrrhenians worshipped Diktynna, Cretan Zeus and helmeted Athena with spear. Cult of Athens in armor indicates that Polyrrhenians were war people and that made Polyrrhenia the second strongest city state in western Crete, right after Cydonia.

The picture depicts a family tomb cut in stone with five rooms, excavated in Polyrrhenia.

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