History of Ierapetra

Ierapetra is built on the site of the ancient city of Ierapytna which flourished during the Archaic and Roman times. Its older names include Kyrva, Kamiros and Pytna.

According to legend Kyrvas was one of the Telchines, mythical inhabitants of Rhodes who came to the island of Crete.

The word Ierapytna is a compound one, with the second component, ‘pytna’, meaning ‘hill’. From the 4th century BC, Dorian Ierapytna acquired economic and military power and developed into a major force in eastern Crete, along with Itanos.

The Roman conquest initially saw the destruction of the city, but then Hierapytna was rebuilt, its economic and population grew, it maintained its own currency and strengthened its strategic location because of its harbour (which made it into an important naval base). Soon the city became one of the richest in Crete, and was culturally developed too, even having two theatres.

The 7.5 earthquake in 796 AD marked a major destruction, and later, in the 9th century the town was plundered by the Saracens privateers.

During the Venetian rule the town acquired its current name. Although it ceased to be the administrative centre of the region (the seat of the province to which it belongs is Siteia), it acquired fortification, the Kales fort being built at the entrance of the harbour.

Ierapetra fell into Turkish hands in 1647: its decline gathered pace. In the old town today are still visible signs of the Ottoman rule in the Ottoman buildings still surviving, such as the old mosque with a passage of the Koran on the lintel, and the ‘Mehtepi’ or Ottoman School.

Somewhere between truth and legend, it is said that Napoleon, returning from his failed campaign in Egypt, passed a night in Ierapetra. The house that maybe hosted him is still preserved in the old town.

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