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LATO ETERA (Ancient city) AGIOS NIKOLAOS
The ancient city of Lato is 3km from the village of Kritsa. The Dorians built the city in the seventh century B.C. The walls and buildings visible today, however, date mainly from the fourth and fifth centuries B.C. Towers and two acropolis fortified Lato. It was one of the strongest cities on Crete. Lato was destroyed about 200 B.C. During the Roman times its port, Lato Etera at the side of Agios Nikolaos, became an important city.
The main gate is to the west of the site where a stepped road leads to the agora, or market. On the right were workshops and shops. On the left, the road leads to a ground entrance leading to the main part of the city. The centre of the town is at the top of the hill and from here the view down to Lato's ancient port, Agios Nikolaos, is magnificent. The agora is a pentagonal building at the top of the road between two hills. It was not only used for trade but for political and cultural activities as well. Southwest of the agora are the remains of a large temple and seats of a theatre. Near the temple is an altar where a fire burned continuously as a sign of the continuity of the city with its past. The prytaneum (administrative building) and the nobles' dining hall is behind the theatre area. Lato is one of the best excavated Greek cities in the island. Although the variety and extent of the ruins at Lato are impressive, the site is visited infrequently.
This text is cited Feb 2003 from the Crete TOURnet URL below, which contains images.
About 11 km south of Ayios Nikolaos is Kritsa, a hillside village, and 5 km further south lies Lato, a town founded in the Greek Archaic period. This Doric seventh century B.C. village was built on a series of four terraces, all that remains is an agora, in which is located a small rectangular temple, probably dedicated to the vegetation goddess, Lato, who gave her name to the city. The prytaneion on the north side of the agora is Hellenistic. Lato has a spectacular view of the Gulf of Mirabello.
The city is situated on the Gulf of Mirabello in E Crete. It was bounded
to the N by the Oxa mountain chain, marking the frontier with Olonte, to the W
by the foothills of the Lasithi mountains and to the S by the territories of Arkades,
Malla, and Hierapytna. Lato had a port, Lato pros Kamara (mod. Haghios Nikolaos)
and a number of inland plains suitable for agriculture, the largest of which however
is no more than a few km square.
The name appears on several Mycenaean tablets at Knossos. But up to the present time only a few objects and sherds of Late Minoan III have been found on the site, and then always at the surface. The earliest structures to be excavated date from the 7th c.
Excavations in 1899-1900 yielded an abundance of terracottas showing oriental influence: female figures, sphinxes, Daidalian heads. Digging carried out in 1968 near the great temple revealed a pottery dating from the same period.
Objects found in these digs are now divided between the Heraklion, Mallia, and Haghios Nikalaos museums.
Lato's ruins are situated ca. 8 km from the sea. Scattered over the whole site can be seen the remains of several terrace walls and walls of houses. The latter are designed on an interesting plan: built lengthwise, they sometimes have a courtyard with a cistern, a large room with a hearth and one or more secondary rooms. Although not all the houses have been explored, the masonry of the walls shows that they date from different, and in some cases quite early, periods. The plan of the city was governed by the nature of the site, which is hilly. The presence of large numbers of cisterns can be explained by the shortage of water.
During excavations carried out in 1899 and 1900, then again from 1967 to 1971, the city agora was uncovered on the W pass as well as some civic and religious buildings nearby and a section containing fortified houses between the agora and the W city gate.
1. Agora and prytanaion: Along the E side of the agora is a terrace wall, the earliest stage of which may go back to the 7th c. In the center of it is a small ruined temple that may date from the archaic period. The square is lined to the W by a portico and to the S by an exedra. On the N side is a flight of steps leading to the prytanaion. Lato's principal civic building is made up of two sections: a peristyle court to the E, and to the W the area where the cosmes (council of city magistrates) took their meals together. The steps leading to the prytanaion apparently served as a meeting place for an enlarged assembly. Indeed, the manner in which they are laid out--three flights of steps 30-40 cm high separated by two series of lower stairways--resembles the plan of theaters in mainland Greece. E and W of the steps are two massive structures, rectangular in plan, whose appearance is reminiscent of military rather than civic architecture. They were designed to support the platform on which the prytanaion stood. Between the steps and the W bastion is a gap of a few m, now occupied by a peasant's hut, which in antiquity may have held two rooms of still indeterminate purpose.
Recent studies have shown that the main city buildings date at the earliest from the second half of the 4th or 3d c. B.C. Only then, apparently, was a vast building plan carried out in the city center.
2. Sanctuary and theater S of the agora: The city's principal religious monument (10.1 x 6.5 m) stands on a terrace connected to the agora by a winding road. Rectangular in plan, it consists of a pronaos and a cella. It is not known to what deity the temple was consecrated.
The temple terrace is supported by a fine wall of polygonal masonry with bosses ca. 40 m long. The 1968-69 excavations uncovered an interesting complex at the foot of this terrace consisting of straight tiers of steps and a rectangular carefully built exedra. The tiers and the exedra make up the cavea of a sort of rustic theater, the stage being formed by a platform ca. 8 x 30 m. What kind of ceremony, religious or civic, this complex was designed for we do not know.
3. Fortified houses: The first excavations revealed a street that climbs gradually from the W fortified gate to the agora. To the S it is lined with a series of stalls and workshops backed against a late rampart. Traces of various kinds of crafts: pottery, iron-working, dyeing have been found here. To the N, at the end of the rows of terraces spread out over the sides of the acropolis, are some sturdy walls with one gate per terrace cut in them. The resultant passageways open onto either a house or a pathway leading to the N quarter. Study of these individual fortifications, set side by side yet separate from each other, shows that the methods used in them are more and more complex. Certain houses, the latest ones, are veritable towers with zigzag entrances. When the S rampart was put up the complex lost its usefulness.
In the 2d c. B.C. the inhabitants of Lato seem to have abandoned the high city and settled by the sea, at Lato pros Kamara. Numerous inscriptions dating from this period found at Haghios Nikolaos show that the city enjoyed renewed activity at this time.
P. Ducrey & O. Picard, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Nov 2002 from Perseus Project URL below, which contains 22 image(s), bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.
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