Erofili Theatre in Rethymnon

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The Erofili Theatre is part of the Fortezza complex on top of  Rethymnon’s Paleokastro Hill.  This is not an ancient Odeon; it was purpose-built in the 20th century and retains the beauty and feel of an ancient odeon, whilst benefitting from modern technology for performances.  I don’t know what it is about Greek open-air theatres, but even more than in regular  theatres, I feel like a participant, rather than a spectator.

This theatre was named after a famous play written by a Cretan author in the XVI century, when the Venetians ruled Crete.  It’s a tragedy that tells the story of Filogonos, an Egyptian king who has killed his brother, the legitimate king.  This traitor has taken the throne and his dead brother’s wife.  The king has a daughter, Erofili, who falls in love with a young man from the palace, Panaretos.  It turns out that the young man is the son of a king, no less, but had been kidnapped by enemies and then concealed, as he would be in danger by virtue of being the rightful heir to the throne.  Erofili’s love is returned by Panaretos, and they secretly marry.  Of course, the murdered king’s ghost appears and vows revenge.  And so, the king discovers the secret marriage of his daughter and, possessed by rage, decides to kill Panaretos.  In extreme savagery, he does kill the heir to the throne, and even presents Erofili with his ripped off heart.  Erofili, destroyed by grief, commits suicide, and in the end some form of justice is served when the murderous king is killed by the chorus.

The Erofili theatre has a lively programme of events, which includes classical and contemporary concerts, modern and ancient plays.  To me, the most fascinating are still the ancient tragedies.  It is really not about the well-known myth being represented, whose ending is known to all or most of the audience.  It is about being a participant, and witnessing a hero’s decisive moment, where he battles with his conscience and faces destiny.  It is really about the most human conundrum of  facing one’s music and grappling with fate.

If you would like to visit Rethymnon and use the opportunity to be a true participant in a performance at the Erofili, contact Karma Travel! They will be able to advise on the current programme of events and find you tickets.  Beyond these, Karma Travel can also sort out your accommodation and travel needs, and make your journey a pleasure.

Gortyna

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Past beautiful rolling hills covered with olive groves, which will soon be picked, I arrived at Gortyna. We are greeted by a number of massive statues in an open-air museum just by a Byzantine basilica which dates back to the fifth century and is dedicated to Agios Titus, the first bishop of the area, and also the addressee of one of the epistles of St Paul which are contained in the New Testament.

There is also a plane tree with a plaque which tells visitors that it was under that very tree that Zeus seduced Europa, and this tree was made to remain forever green to commemmorate their love.

Across the road and past a grove of olive trees are the ruins of what must have been a spectacular city. Archaeologists have established that the site had been inhabited since Neolithic times. Walking along the paths that criscross the site, I can’t help feeling a sense of humble awe, and wanting to tread carefully. There are bits of the excavated ruins all along the path, and I have a sense of my footsteps echoing those of the ancient inhabitants of this city. Excavations continue on the site. In fact, I’m told, just last year archaeologists unearthed a few huge statues, lamps and mable slabs sculpted with scenes of battles and myths just in the Odeon.

Behind the Odeon, there is a very important document preserved in stone. The myth of king Radamanthus and his code of law, which I mentioned in a previous post, becomes a passage of history at Gortyna: on a wall behind the Odeon is an ancient code of law that dates back to the 6th century B.C.

The Gortyna Code displayed behind the theatre is written in Dorian Greek. The text flows from right to left, then the next line from left to right, and so on. Effectively, the reader must read backwards every other line! The code describes family relationships in this society, including marriage, divorce, inheritances, adoptions, and custody rights; it also describes their approach to property (including slavery as a form of property at the time) and contracts. It does not contain any criminal laws or procedures, which has led archaeologists to think that this is but one fraction of a much longer document. It is also interesting because it represents a transitional period from a matriarchal to a patriarchal society, where women’s rights to property and inheritance were changing to a less favourable stance, but still allowed women to hold the right to their share of property after divorce or after being widowed, and recognised women’s right to hold property independently of their husbands.

The code in the tunnel behind the theatre was preserved when the Romans reused stones from previous buildings to build their own. Some parts have been lovingly preserved and restored when found in excavations. A few slabs were found when digging a water-mill, for example.

Roman Gortyna was the most important Cretan city of its time. When the Romans invaded the island, this became the capital of the island. The Roman Ruins are impressive. There is the residence of the Roman governor of Crete and Cyrene, the Praetor, which dates back to the 1st century A.D. There are also baths, a shrine dedicated to Augustus, a court of law, and a temple dedicated to the Nymphs, which judging by the size of its cistern, must have had fabulous fountains. The Roman city must have been very impressive. It was destroyed in 825 when Andalusian invaders took the island and destroyed Gortyna when its leaders refused to surrender.

There is also an Acropolis on Agios Ioannis hill, which is considered part of Gortyna. This seems to have been ‘holy land’ for a long time, as there are evidences of human activities here in the Neolithic period. A temple dedicated to Athena was erected here, and during Byzantine times, a basilica was built on the site. There are also the remains of a Roman fortress, built here in the 7th century.

If you would like to visit these sites, get in touch with Karma Travel to organise your transportation and a guided tour, as well as accommodation in the area. They will be able to advise you as only local experts can!  They can also advise if your tour of this area can be combined with a visit to the neighbouring olive groves when it’s time for the olive harvest.

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