The Plane Tree of Gortys

The plane tree of Gortys stands at the back of the archaeological site. Although most plane trees are deciduous, this one is evergreen and belongs to a rare subspecies (Platanus orientalis var. Cretica), of which only about 50 specimens have been recorded in Crete.

The evergreen plane trees of Gortyna and Azogires Selinou in the Chania region, renowned for their ecological value, have been declared a protected natural monument. Similar trees can also be found in Voroi, Vryses and Fodele.

Can the plane tree in Gortys be considered old? Its modest size alone is no indication of its age.

the plane tree of Zeus and Europe in Gortys Crete

Plane trees, particularly those in the genus Platanus, are known for their robust regenerative abilities, including the ability to regenerate from their roots. This ability is a survival mechanism that allows the tree to recover from damage caused by environmental factors such as fire or physical injury.

Given this regenerative capacity, the plane tree at Gortys may be a descendant of the fabled plane tree associated with Zeus and Europa, under which, according to mythology, the three kings of Minoan Crete were born. This historical and mythological connection adds a layer of significance to the tree that goes beyond its physical appearance. The plane tree’s ability to rejuvenate itself from its roots suggests a continuity of life that may link the present tree to its legendary ancestor, making it a living bridge to a rich, ancient past.

the plane tree of Gortys

The abduction of Europe by Zeus

The plane tree is linked to the myth of Zeus’ abduction of Europe. Princess Europe, the daughter of the King of Phoenecia, was playing with her friends on an Eastern Mediterranean beach when Zeus, king and father of the Twelve Gods of Olympus, caught sight of her. He fell instantly in love with her and appeared before her and her friends in the form of a bull.

The maidens started to play with the bull and Europe approached him, stroked him and sat on his back. The bull-Zeus immediately carried her off across the sea to Crete.

At Gortys Zeus revealed himself to the princess in all his glory. According to legend, they made love under the plane tree, which has kept its leaves all through the winter ever since.

Zeus and Europe had three sons, all mythic kings of Crete: Minos, Radamanthys and Sarpedon. It was once believed that the plane tree of Gortys had magical properties, and people picked its leaves to help them have sons.

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