Levena: An Ancient City of Healing and Trade

Levena, an ancient city located in Lentas, next to the beautiful Libyan Sea, sits at the foot of the Asterousia Mountains in southern Crete. Sun-drenched and charming, Levena was once a busy port town and a famous place of healing thanks to a temple for Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine.

A City With a Long History

People have lived in the Levena area for a very long time. We can find signs of settlements from the Stone Age on the rocky peak of Cape Lion. The first real town appeared in the period before the Minoans, around 2600-2000 BC. This is proven by tombs found nearby, which also show that the people of Levena traded with Egypt and the Cyclades islands.

Levena became important again in the 400s BC when it became the port city for Gortyn, a powerful Cretan city-state. This is when the temple for Asclepius was built. According to old writings, the people of Gortyn built their temple to be just like the famous healing temple in Epidaurus, showing how much they respected medicine.

The 2nd century BC was a golden age for Levena. Gortyn became the most important city in the Messara region, and later in all of Crete, after another big city, Phaistos was destroyed. However, a terrible earthquake in 46 BC, described by a writer named Philostratus, almost destroyed Levena completely.

Amazingly, Levena was rebuilt during Roman times and became a vital trading center between Egypt and Crete. People still came from far and wide to be healed at the temple of Asclepius.

People continued to live in Levena into the Byzantine period, as shown by the remains of an early Christian church and other buildings from that time.

The first clues about Levena’s history were found in the mid-1800s by an English explorer named H. Spratt. This led to proper archaeological digs in the early 1900s by the Italian Archaeological School. These digs found the temple of Asclepius and the ruins of other buildings, helping us to understand Levena’s past. Recent work by the Greek Archaeological Service has also made important discoveries.

Today, Levena is a reminder of Crete’s long history. The ruins tell the story of a busy port, a respected healing center, and a place where different cultures met.

 

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