Limenoscope - Ancient Hellenic Ports
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Crete - Phalasarna
The ancient city of Phalasarna is located in the middle of the west coast of Crete, at the tip of the Gramvousa cape. Pottery from the surrounding area proves that the city was already inhabited in the Middle Minoan period, while its development is depicted by the Archaic and Classical tombs discovered in the nearby area.
The city was at its peak between the middle of the 4th century B.C. and the middle of the 1st century B.C. During this period a "limen kleistos" (walled harbour) was constructed, coins were issued and naval trade and warfare was developed, exploiting the city's strategic position in-between the Aegean - Egypt and Western - Eastern Mediterranean sea crossroads. The Romans destroyed the city in 67 B.C., most probably because of its turning to piracy.
Relics of houses, temples and quarries have been located around the harbour area. Today the port is found inland due to tectonic action in the Crete region. Excavation is taking place by the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities.  


Main features
Region Crete  
Use Commercial - Military  
Prosperity period (centuries) 4th B.C. - 1st B.C.  
Existence of contemporary port No, the harbour is inland today  
Findings on site Yes, the two basins, remains of defending walls and towers, a quay furnished with mooring stones and the two canals  
General description
The harbour of Phalasarna was established in an existing basin, which was dredged and reshaped. Access to the open sea was achieved by building a canal from the port to the sea that was also functioning as a drainage work. This canal was most probably walled and sealed by a chain, in order to create the "limen kleistos", as mentioned in Skylax (47). A second canal, which intersected the first one, discharged further north and was built probably for preventing siltation in the port.
The main basin, 75x100m wide, was enclosed by walls and protected with at least four fortification towers. In the inner side of the walls quays equipped with mooring stones were built. A stone stepladder was also discovered.
In the middle of 2nd century B.C. a second port basin was created northern than the first one. Its entrance was built from the remainders of a fortification tower. A small canal (50x50cm.) allowed water circulation. The existing walls-quays were used for mooring.  
Technical features
Construction period (centuries) 4th B.C., The harbour was constructed around 335 B.C. By the middle of 2nd c. B.C. the second basin was formed  
Port configuration Artificial Harbour, Inner Harbour  
Port basin size 7500 m2 
Main wind direction S
Port land area km2 
Port entrance The entrance to the harbour was made via an artificial canal, 100m long, which was formed through the marsh and the rocky beach, at the south of the basin.  
Change of sea surface elevation -6.6 m 
Sedimentation Yes  
Outer port structures
Inner port structures Basins, Canals, Wharves  
Land facilities Temples, Defence Structures  
Construction method Carved stones  
Neotectonic history Lift  
Shore line displacement Silting  
Function and operations
Phalasarna bay seems to be active since Middle Minoan period as a naval station, in the form of a natural protected basin communicating with the sea. Around the middle of 4th century B.C. works took place in the basin and the entrance, so the city of Phalasarna acquired a modern internal closed harbour that determined its peak, being an important naval trading and warfare center.
Sea level rose about 20cm until the 2nd century B.C. and the port's functionality was affected, forcing builders to intervene and elevate the surrounding construction levels.
After the 2nd century B.C. the port was used as a pirate hideout, which drew the Romans attention and led to its destruction. Boulders found in the canal prove that the entrance was deliberately blocked, while stone bullets located in the basin are evidence of hostilities. Total annihilation occurred during the 4th century A.D., probably in 365 A.D., when the whole area rose by about 6.6m due to a severe earthquake. The city and the port were buried irreversibly by tectonic action.  
References in ancient literature Skylax, Polybius, Pliny, Dionisius Kallipolites, Stadiasmus  
Related researches Archeological, Geological, Seismicals  
Findings in museums No  
Other references
  • Dominey-Howes D.T.M., Dawson A.G. and Smith D.E., 1998 "Late Holocene coastal tectonics at Falasarna, western Crete: a sedimentary study", Geological Society of London Special Publication 146 , pp. 341-350
  • Flemming N.C., Czartoryska N.M.G. and Hunter P.M., 1973, "Archaeological evidence for eustatic and tectonic components of relative sea level change in the south Aegean" in Blackman D.J. (Ed), Marine archaeology, Butterworths, London, pp. 1-16
  • Frost F.J., 1989, "The last days of Phalasarna", Ancient History Bulletin 3, pp. 15-17
  • Frost F.J., 1997, "Tectonics and History at Phalasarna", in Swiny S., Hohlfelder, R.L., Swiny, H.W., (eds.) 1997, Res Maritimae: Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean from Prehistory to late Antiquity, Scholars Press Atlanta, pp. 107-115
  • Frost F.J., Hadjidaki Ε., 1990, "Excavations at the Harbor of Phalasarna in Crete: The 1988 Season", Hesperia 59.3, pp. 513-527
  • Hadjidaki E., 1988, "Preliminary Report of Excavation at the Harbour of Phalasarna in West Crete" American Journal of Archaeology 92, pp. 463-79
  • Χατζηδάκη Ε., 1993, "Εφορεία Εναλίων Αρχαιοτήτων. Φαλάσαρνα", Αρχαιολογικό Δελτίο 48, σσ. 588-591
  • Hadjidaki E., 1996, "The Hellenistic Harbour of Phalasarna in Western Crete: A Comparison with the Hellenistic Inner Harbour of Sraton's Tower" In Raban A. - Holum K.G. (eds.), Caesarea Maritima: Retrospective after two millennia, pp. 53-64
  • Hadjidaki E., 2001, "The Roman Destruction of Phalasarna" BAR international series 940, pp. 155-66
  • Hadjidaki E., Iniotakis H., 2000, "Hellenistic Ceramics from Phalasarna found from 1986-1990" Ancient World 31.1 (2000), pp. 54-73
  • Hadjidaki, Ε., 2004. "Ancient Greek Harbours on Crete", Τρίτο Πανελλήνιο Συνέδριο Λιμενικών Έργων, Εργαστήριο Λιμενικών Έργων, Ε.Μ.Π., Αθήνα
  • Papamarinopoulos S. - Stamou T., 1988, "Geophysical studies on West Crete and a detection of a harbour inland at Phalasarna" in Marinos P., G. Koukis (eds) The engineering geology of ancient works, monuments and historical sites , Greek National Group of IAEG, Athens, pp.1079-1084
  • Pirazzoli H.A. et. al. 1992, "Historical Environmental Changes at Phalasarna Harbour, West Crete" in Swiny, S., Hohlfelder, R.L., Swiny, H.W., (eds.) 1997, Res Maritimae: Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean from Prehistory to late Antiquity, Scholars Press Atlanta, pp. 371-92
  • Stiros, S.C. & S. Papageorgiou, 2001, "Seismicity of Western Crete and the destruction of the town of Kisamos at AD 365: Archaeological evidence", Journal of Seismology 5, pp.381-397
  • Καμαριανάκης Τ., "Η Φαλάσαρνα και το κλειστό λιμάνι της, στη δυτική Κρήτη", [], 27-2-06
  • Χατζηδάκη Ε. - Στεφανάκης Μ., 2004, "Μυστικά της Φαλασαρνας", Κρητικό Πανόραμα, εκδ. Μινώα, Αθήνα, σσ. 101-135  
  • Protection regime  
    Author Theotokis Theodoulou  
    Editor Theotokis Theodoulou  
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