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Knidos was founded probably in the 7th century BCE by Laconians from the southeastern Peloponnese and rapidly developed into a place of some consequence as a result of its trading activities, its shipping and its crafts (e.g. pottery). By the 6th c. BCE it was already sending settlers to the Adriatic.
On Cape Triopion there stood a Temple of Apollo (not yet located), the shrine of the Hexapolis, a league of six Dorian cities whose other members were Kos, Halicarnassus, Lindos, Ialysos and Camiros (the last three on the island of Rhodes).
In 540 BCE Knidos submitted to the Persian General Harpagos. The city continued to flourish when it became part of the Athenian Empire. Like Kos, it had a famous medical school. Later it became a Spartan base, but was liberated by the Athenian General Konon, who in 394 BCE as commander of a Persian fleet destroyed Spartan sea-power in a naval battle fought off Knidos.
That art and learning continued to flourish in Knidos in the 4th c. BCE is demonstrated by the names of the great astronomer Eudoxos and the architect Sostratos (who built the Pharos at Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the World), the Cnidian Aphrodite, Praxiteles' most celebrated work (now in the Louvre), and the figure of Demeter which is now in the British Museum.
In the Hellenistic period Knidos changed masters frequently. In Roman times it recovered its freedom; but thereafter it declined in importance and fell into decay.
The part of the town built on the mainland, at a date which cannot be exactly determined, had a completely regular street layout. The Agora (Market) was probably on the north side of the Trireme Harbour. Nearby are temples, stoas and likely a gymnasium. To the north of the Great Harbour are a small theatre and, half-way up the slope above the main street, the Great Theatre. At the east end of the site is a Sanctuary of Demeter, goddess of fruitfulness.
Along the crest of the ridge above the Great Theatre and the steep slope above it, is a long stretch of town walls, climbing towards the Acropolis. This is one of the finest examples of Hellenistic fortifications, with the walls and towers surviving almost intact. Further protection was provided by a steep-sided gorge outside the walls. The ascent is fairly strenuous but gratifying.