The ancient city of Phalassarna is located at the west edge of Cape Gramvousa on the western coast of Crete. In the antiquity its name was Korykos and it included the rocky cape, where the acropolis was located, with an incredible view to the western Cretan Sea.
The cape encloses the area Koutri, divided in five different sectors: The area of the acropolis, which protects the gulf from the side of the sea, the area of the small valley, which extends southeast of the acropolis, with access to the sea in the south, the two slopes in the south and in the east that surround this valley and include the borders of the settlement and the necropolis and the two bays, one in the south, which allows entrance to the harbour, and one in the north, which is rocky and inhospitable.
Phalassarna was one of the most important harbours of Crete, which flourished mainly in the 3rd and 4th centuries B.C. Its name originates from the local nymph Phalassarne. The area of Phalassarna was inhabited from the Middle-Minoan period until the middle of the 1st century B.C., as testified by sherds found in the neighbouring slopes and the fillings of the harbour. Although the earlier phases still remain unknown, the settlement flourished from the 4th century B.C. and could afford strong fortifications, a closed harbour, a considerable marine force, a mint, various temples and had the characteristics of a rich city with access to the commercial routes. The prosperity of the time chronologically belongs in the Hellenistic times, as it was on the marine way that connected the Ptolemaic Alexandria with the Aegean Sea.
It is possible that its prosperity was due to piracy, which was a common practice in the Mediterranean, so it fell in conflict with the Roman political, social and economic network that was expanding at the time. Rome, in an attempt to reduce the pirate centres, established military bases around Crete, which destroyed the city in 69 B.C. The city never recovered, while a new Roman settlement in the south of it was also named Phalassarna. Other factors, like the rise of the sea level, possibly also contributed to its decline. Written sources from inscriptions mention that Phalassarna emerged in around 350 B.C. and finished in the middle of the 4th century A.D. Skyllax from Karyandes (middle of the 3rd century B.C.) is the first to refer to Phalassarna as follows: “one day’s trip from Lacedaemona is the edge of Crete. The city that is located there, at the side where the sun sets, is called Phalassarna. It has a closed harbour”. Polyvios mentions an alliance between Falassarna, Kydonia (that were allies since 392 B.C.), Knossos and 28 more Cretan cities against Phaistos and its allies, one of which was the old enemy of Phalassarna, Polyrrenia. The result of the alliance was a 100-year war that was won by Polyrrenia. The war ended in 186 B.C., when Appius Claudius ordered the two cities to withdraw their forces and cease the hostilities in other parts of the island. Plinius mentions that in 176 B.C. Phalassarna sent a force of 1500 men, along with another 1500 men from Knossos, to help Perseus of Macedonia against Rome.
According to excavation finds and historical information, the city was not established before the 6th century B.C., but it is possible that it had been founded already at the end of the Geometric period through the unification of the scattered settlements that existed in the plain into one settlement that developed into a considerable naval force. In the following years the city played an important role in the sea trade of western Crete, with the construction of its closed harbour and its fortification. Today the port and its facilities are on the land, following the rise of the sea level by 6-9m, possibly due to the strong earthquake of 365 A.D.
According to the excavations supervisor of the site, it was a pirates’ base which was finally destroyed by the Romans in the middle of the 1st century B.C., when the entrance of the harbour was sealed. The city was examined again in the middle of the 19th century by British travellers, who spotted the settlement and the closed harbour. Since 1968 various rescue excavations have taken place. In 1986 the Ephorate of Marine Antiquities began a systematic research in order to identify the area of the harbour and the elements surrounding it.