History of Elounda | Ancient Olous or Olounda

History of Elounda – From Ancient Olous to Modern Elounda

Elounda has a rich history beginning with the ancient city of Olous or Olounda. Archaeological finds have shown that the Elounda area has been inhabited since Minoan times, while the city-state of Olous, mentioned in Homer’s epics, arose here later, in historical times.

Ancient Olous was located on the site known as Poros, around the narrow strip of land connecting Elounda to the peninsula of Κolokytha opposite. At some point the ancient city sank into the sea, and its ruins are still visible on calm days.

The name of Olous is probably Prehellenic, meaning that it dates from prehistoric times. It may even have been the name of Minoan Elounda, the prehistoric settlement on the site of the later city.

Olous was the most powerful city-state near Lato, one of the greatest on the island, with a sanctuary, harbour and its own coinage. In ancient times, around the 2nd c. AD, it was famous for its wooden statue of the goddess Artemis Britomartys, and Zeus Tallaeus was also worshipped here.

mosaic floor on a church in elounda

Elounda flourished particularly in Roman and Byzantine times, as we can see from the two basilicas discovered between Elounda and the Kolokytha Peninsula.

One of these, a building of the 5th c. AD, was an episcopal seat, but now only the wonderful mosaic floor remains (photo –>)

This period of prosperity lasted until the ominous appearance of the Arab corsairs in the Mediterranean in the 7th century AD. Masters of pirate raids, they did great damage to coastal settlements, whose economy was based on trade.

During the Arab period, the inhabitants of Olous withdrew to villages in the interior of the prefecture, abandoning their city and obviously their trade. Another possible reason for the destruction of ancient Olous was a major earthquake in 780 AD.

By the time the Venetians restored the harbour to its former glory, Elounda was in ruins.

Elounda in the Venetian period

In 1376 the name Elonda, a corruption of the ancient Olounda, was first mentioned in a Venetian document.

The Venetians, who always prized maritime commerce, made good use of the excellent natural harbour and also built saltpans in the shallow waters of Elounda, to supply the particularly lucrative salt trade.


Because, despite the Venetian domination of the Mediterranean, the pirate threat was still real, and to ensure protection from the Turks, the Venetians fortified the island of Spinalonga in 1579, to improve the defences of the harbour and Elounda Bay in general.

The fortress of Spinalonga with its 35 cannon was so well-built that it remained in Venetian hands until 1715, even though Crete had been conquered by the Turks almost 70 years earlier. The Venetians surrendered Spinalonga to the Turks only once they were persuaded there was no chance of retaking Crete.

During the Turkish occupation Elounda did not develop at the same rate, but nor was it abandoned. The Venetian saltpans continued to provide a source of income, attracting workers from nearby villages such as Fourni, who settled in Pano Elounda, Kato Elounda and Mavrikiano.

Elounda in the 20th century

Shortly before the end of the Turkish occupation, Elounda numbered 681 inhabitants. In 1906 the seaside hamlet of Schisma was built east of the harbour. The main occupations of the inhabitants were emery mining, salt extraction, fishing and farming.

In 1913 Crete was unified with Greece, and Elounda continued to grow, reaching a population of 1,500 in 1928. From 1928 to 1939, British Imperial Airways seaplanes landed here to refuel.

Seaplanes in Elounda in the 1930s

seaplane, Imperial Airways
Imperial Airways Seaplane

In the 1930s, Elounda, Crete, played an important role in the operations of Imperial Airways, serving as a key support base for its seaplanes. The MV Imperia, anchored in Elounda Bay, acted as an important radio and refuelling station for the airline. Notably, on 22 August 1936, a tragic event occurred when one of Imperial Airways’ seaplanes crashed in the bay.

During the Second World War, the German Army occupied Elounda and fortified it to prevent a possible Allied landing.

The development of tourism in Elounda started in 1969, when the first large hotel was built. In the following years Elounda expanded, reaching 2,200 inhabitants in the last census. It is now famous as a holiday resort for prime ministers, Arab princes and other distinguished guests. Which is not to say that ordinary mortals are not welcome too…

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