Lato, the best preserved mountain city of the Dorians on Crete.
Location and history of Lato
Just outside Kritsa, there is an asphalt road for about 2 1/2 miles to the archaeological site of Lato.
Alternatively, the village of Chamilion, 2 1/2 miles west of Aghios Nikolaos on the signpost road to the Lasithi Plateau (and can be reached by bus or hired car), one can take a one hour hike in beautiful countryside along the signs to Lato.
Lato was originally founded by the Dorians and existed until the classical age. The ruins are not much visited, as tourists and archaeologists are more concerned with the remains of Minoan culture in Crete.
But this is the reason for, that there is the lucky opportunity to be almost alone here in the beautiful landscape and to breathe the atmosphere of the Greek classical period on Crete.
However, that Lato was not an insignificant place, is already clear from the mere extent of the ruins of the old city, which spread in all directions.
The mountain town has a magnificent location and lies between two twin peaks of a heavily rugged hill. The city was surmounted on the peaks by a double-acropolis encircled by walls.
The design of the mountain town clearly shows the desire for security of the Dorian warriors, who had migrated from Greece to Crete. From here they were able to defend themselves well and at the same time had a good overview of the surrounding area in order to carry out their own raids.
From the southern hillside you can see the white buildings of the present city of Aghios Nikolaos, which where in classic times only the port of Lato.
Further north you can see the Gulf of Mirabello and the Bay of Elounda with the sunken port town of Olous, which was the largest competitor of Lato during its heyday.
To the west is the inland with its valleys and the steep peaks of the Dikti mountains with the Lasithi plateau.
The name Lato derives from ‘Leto’, the mother of Artemis and Apollo from mythology. Homer tells in the Odyssey how Eileithyia (the Minoan goddess of birth) visited Leto when she bore the god Apollo on the island of Delos. It is therefore fitting that Eileithyia became the guardian god of Lato, confirmed by coins found here.
Undoubtedly, Lato was founded already in the first half of the first millennium BC by the Dorians. The ruins now visible are from the 5th and 4th century BC. They were already excavated shortly after the year 1900.
Visit of Lato
One enters the place about 200 yards below the first ruins and reaches after a walking path a rectangular area with a gate, where once the original entrance by a city gate had been.
When you are walking up the steps of the old main road you can see the remains of shops and workshops, which stood on the city wall on the right, as well as defensive towers and access to the residential areas on the left.
Further up is the five-corner market square Agora, which was the meeting place for the citizens. On its northern side are a series of steps, which remind of a theater square of the Minoans as in Knossos or Festos.
The steps lead between the remains of two towers to the Prytaneion, the town hall. Here the councilors met and held receptions. On the hearth, in the middle of the room, the sacred fire burned. On the back are smaller chambers containing the city archives.
In the center of the Agora is a deep, square cistern and a shrine. Here stood a temple without pillars, where numerous statues from the 6th century BC were found. On the western side was a shaded and protected square, flanked by colonnades, the Stoa or the colonnade. The southern end of it was intersected by a modern, circular threshing-site, which was used by the peasants until the middle of the last century.
The nearby Exedra was a kind of public seating area, similar to a grandstand. In the south-east corner of the site is another Exedra and another wide staircase in Minoan style, which is officially referred to here as the ‘theatrical area’. This leads to an elevated terrace with a well-preserved temple from the fourth century BC dedicated to Apollo. The foundations and the altar have been restored.
Admission fee: 2 Euros; opening hours during the season from Tuesday to Sunday from 8:30 am to 3 pm.