The archaeological site of the Basilica of Agia Sophia dates back to the early 6th century AD and is located south of the coastal settlement of Panormos and east of Rethymno. According to researchers, it was probably the Diocese’s seat of Eleftherna during the Early Byzantine years. It was most likely dedicated to Agia Sophia, hence the name and is one of the largest to be found in Crete.
The total length was 54 m and width 23 m. It is a three-aisled basilica, with a wooden roof, a transept, a narthex and an atrium to the west, at the middle of which there is a sizable water reservoir. The three aisles of the church were separated by tall base blocks which supported columns of the Corinthian and the Ionian order. The floor of the basilica was stone-paved, for the most part. Noteworthy architectural fragments were uncovered during the excavation, such as capitals of the Ionian and the Corinthian order, parapets with embossed ivy and fig tree leaves, and parts of a marble iconostasis.
It is believed that the basilica was destroyed in a violent manner in the 7th century AD, during a Saracen raid. However, it was most likely reused in subsequent years, judging by the coins found of the years of the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI the Wise (9th century AD), and the inscriptions on architectural members that were discovered there. Excavations on the site started in 1948 under the archaeologists K. Kalokyris and N. Platon. The site is a bit tricky to find on Google Maps and is not open to visitors. If you are interested in archaeology and Early Christianity period monuments, it is best to book a guided tour with an archaeologist or local guide. Nowadays, the village of Panormo is a small coastal settlement that has seen steady developments in the area of tourism and offers hotels, apartments and all other amenities to visitors. It is a nice and relaxing spot for swimming and dining in local tavernas. The archaeological site of Eleftherna is located less than 20 km to the south, very close to the Monastery of Arkadi. They are both popular tourist attractions that deserve a visit.