Some km after Arkadi monastery, it is the most important archaeological site in Rethymno and one of the most interesting current excavations being conducted by the Archaeological section of The university of Crete. Inhabited from the ancient years till the Byzantine era, it is the only site in Crete that can give valuable information to archaeologists in how a settlement developed during the years. There can be seen the ruins of dwelling complexes, sanctuaries, cemeteries, the ancient wall, the aqueduct, the huge cisterns and the bridges and an early Christian basilica. Eleftherna is not yet an organised archaeological site.
Ancient Eleutherna, the birthplace of the poet Linos, of the philosopher Diogenes, of the tragic poet Ametor, and of the sculptor Timochares, is located on the northwest foot of Mount Ida, approximately thirty kilometres south of Rethymnon, at 380 metres above sea level.
The city was allegedly named after Eleuthereas, one of the Kouretes, or after Demeter Eleuthous. The city's excavated remains belong to various periods. A thriving Hellenistic settlement has been identified on the Nisi hill, which was one of the city's nuclei, together with the Pyrgi hill.
Eleutherna fought against Rhodes and its ally Knossos in the third century BC, but sided with Knossos against other Cretan cities in 220 BC. It was besieged and conquered, however, and forced out of its alliance. Thanks to its naturally fortified location, the city successfully resisted Quintus Caecilius Metellus's attack in 68 BC, until betrayal led to its conquest.
Ancient Eleutherna, is protected as an archaeological site but also as a natural woodland by law. The excavation teams that have worked at the site have planted rows of trees to delineate pathways, while the site of the museum that will one day house all the finds is just a short walk away, on the other side of the hill.
One of the most impressive observations about the site is the care taken by the archaeologists to preserve the natural environment, allowing visitors to take a mental leap back in time and imagine the location as it was when it was first settled – nestled in the protective embrace of the woodland.