The Magical Messara Plain
In the whole of the island of Crete, one area that is still magical today as well as being vitally important to the history of Crete is the Messara Plain. The Messara is in southern central Crete in the south of the Nomos of Iraklion. It is the biggest plain in Crete and very important for the extensive agriculture that is produced there both now and around five thousand years ago.
The name ‘Messara’ comes from the Greek for ‘between mountains.’ Mesos – between, oros – mountains, which becomes Mesaoria or the modern word, Messara. In the north are the southern foothills of the Psiloritis or Ida mountain range and in the south are the Asterousian mountains between the Mesara and the Libyan Sea. The coastline of the Mesara faces west almost from Agia Galini in the north to Matala in the south. Between the two is one of the most perfect and extensive beaches in Crete, mostly with hardly a soul to be seen.
Two rivers flow through the Mesara and both have their source near the village of Asimi. From there they flow in opposite directions. Geropotamos, known in ancient times as Lethaios, flow westwards to the sea and out into the Gulf of Mesara. Anapodaris, the ancient name Katarhaktes, flows into the bay of Derma, east of the village of Tsoutsouros.
Here in the Mesara in ancient times, civilization grew from Neolithic (5th Century BC) to the modern day. During the Minoan Prepalatial period growth was amazing (4th & 3rd centuries BC) where huge leaps forward were taken in architecture, pottery, the incredible circular tholos tombs, Agios Onoufrios and Kamares ware, and countless figurines, seals, and jewelry were produced.
In the first Palace period, we see the palace at Festos being built (1900 – 1700 BC). The second Palace period was centered around the later palace at Festos, the palatial buildings at Agia Triada, and at the port of Kommos just north of Matala near Pitsidia (1700 – 1300 BC).
Later came Gortyn, the magnificent city that dominated the Messara for sixteen centuries, from 800BC to 800AD. Gortyn is situated just west of Agioi Deka and covered a diameter of ten kilometers. It is said that in its greatest years over 80,000 people lived in Gortyn and in Roman times it became not only the capital of Crete but the Capital of Cyrene as well (North Africa).
There is still a plane tree in the ruins of Gortyn that keeps its leaves all year. Under that tree, Zeus made love to Europa and the children that they produced were Minos, the king at Knossos and his brother Rhadamantys, King of Festos.