The island of Leuke is mentioned by Pliny. A special reference is also
made in the inscription known as the "Diaitesia (arbitration) of the Magnetes",
built in the facade of the catholicon (main church) of the Toplou
Monastery. The inscription refers to the conflict between Itanos
and Ierapytna. Leuke was
an important station of sponge collecting and mainly, of the working of murex
shells, from which the famous, precious and expensive purple dye was extracted;
moreover, its position was strategic mainly for the ships that stopped on the
south-east coasts, and as a result became a reason of conflict between the two
cities. Itanos was justified in the end.
Leuke was continuously inhabited from the Early Minoan (3000-2200
BC) until the Early Christian period and was finally abandoned in the 4th century
AD. The very restricted human presence on the island thereafter (it was used
only for cultivation and stock-breeding) greatly contributed to the preservation
of the antiquities as it actually remained uninhabited, although the largest part
of its surface was covered with sand.
The English admiral Th. Spratt was the first who visited the island
in the middle of the 19th century and made detailed descriptions of the ancient
remains he managed to locate: a temple in the south, with fragments of a marble
statue, a settlement in the northern part of the island, and water cisterns in
the centre. In 1903, the English archaeologists R.C. Bosanquet and Ct. Curelly
conducted a survey to locate the ruins mentioned by Spratt, while in 1971 A. Leonard
Jr. carried out a more thorough investigation. Systematic excavation started in
1976 by the 24th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities and is still in progress.
The most important monuments of the area are:
The theatre. At the north-east end of Kouphonesi, opposite the Marmara
islet, and at a small distance from the beach, excavations have brought to light
a well preserved stone-built theatre; the cavea had twelve rows of seats and a
capacity of c. 1000 persons. Part of the cavea and the stone seats are not preserved
today. The orchestra, almost semicircular in shape, was paved with clay slabs.
The stage building (measuring 20 x 19 m.) is destroyed in the western part, but
the eastern part, the paraskenion, the logeion, the hyposkenion and the east parodos,
which had a tholos roof are preserved. It seems that the theatre was severely
looted and destroyed by fanatic Christians in the 4th century AD.
The public baths. The second important
building of the settlement was in use from the 1st until the 4th century AD.
This bath complex, a typical Roman edifice, includes all rooms which were in use
in such a building: a garden (for the rest of the customers and visitors) around
which are arranged rooms; the central space - with walls preserved to a height
of 4 m. - two hypocausts, saunas and changing rooms.
The settlement extends to the SE of the theatre.
Very characteristic is a villa with eight rooms preserved; it has an imposing
propylon, kitchens, and a domestic workshop for the working of murex shells. Two
of its rooms have floors lined with black and white tesserae, forming geometric
The temple. It lies in the southern part of the island,
and measures 18 x 15.70 m. It is preserved to the height of the crepis, and has
a central entrance on the narrow east side, and a second, stepped entrance on
the north. The temple is largely destroyed as its stones were used as building
material for the construction of the light-house. Two large pieces of a colossal
cult statue (more than 2.5 m. high) representing an enthroned deity were found
near the NW corner of the temple. Cisterns. Very impressive are a series of spacious
tholos cisterns which provided water carried from sources with built pipes. Caves on the west coast. They have been used as chapels
and preserve engraved representations of saints, and Latin inscriptions (one recording
the year 1638).