Discover the unknown Crete. Easter Crete, Book one G&A MAMIDAKIS FOUNDATION

Discover the unknown Crete. Easter Crete, Book one



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The G. & A. Mamidakis Foundation, has for two decades<br />

now made ongoing efforts to present to the public major<br />

cultural events, always directly related to Tourism.<br />

Taking as our point of departure our native island of Crete,<br />

a crossroads of cultures from East and West, we have<br />

sought to propose seminal exhibitions of Greek and<br />

international Contemporary Art for art lovers.<br />

Perhaps unique for the 48 sculptures on display in its<br />

gardens, the MINOS BEACH ART HOTEL boasts of a<br />

substantial collection of works by leading Greek and<br />

international artists.<br />

Continuing our cultural activities today, we have<br />

established, illustrated, documented and explored<br />

untrodden paths of Eastern Crete in a tasty 144-page<br />

catalogue titled:<br />

Awake your Senses<br />

Discover the unknown Crete<br />

Eastern Crete - book one<br />

We trust that the publication of these practical catalogues,<br />

which also provide information about other unknown<br />

destinations-monasteries, archaeological sites-will enable<br />

modern-day travellers to experience another side of Crete,<br />

the authentic, unexplored inland regions of the island, just<br />

like the international travellers who discovered and<br />

recorded the charms of our land in the 17th and 18th<br />

centuries.<br />

Gina Mamidakis<br />

President<br />

G. & A. Mamidakis Foundation


awake your senses<br />

DISCOVER THE UNKNOWN <strong>CRETE</strong><br />

Eastern Crete - Book One<br />

Publication of this book has been made possible thanks to Gina<br />

Mamidakis, President of the G.& A. Foundation and bluegr Mamidakis<br />

Hotels group, and long-time patron of culture and the arts. The book is<br />

dedicated to those ever-curious travellers who wish to learn more of<br />

the beautiful region of eastern Crete.<br />

© copyright text and photographs by Judith Lange - Maria Stefossi<br />

© copyright edition by the G.& A. Foundation and bluegr Mamidakis hotels group.<br />

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written<br />

permission from the authors.


Crete is the island of which Homer sang, "Along the winedark<br />

sea, by water ringed, there lies a land both fair and<br />

fertile", a mysterious and magical land, source of the myths<br />

of the Greek world. Zeus, king of the gods of the ancient<br />

Greeks, was born in a grotto here, and it was here too that<br />

he died and came back to life.<br />

This book tells of the beauty of eastern Crete, of the<br />

Prefecture of Lasithi, with its mountain ranges, vast<br />

plateaus, fertile valleys, arid plains, magnificent beaches<br />

and its ancient memories. To discover the authentic Crete<br />

one must travel slowly, drawn by curiosity not only to the<br />

great archaeological sites and monuments, but also to the<br />

landscape and the sky, the houses and the rocks, because<br />

on Crete everything is myth, legend and history: the<br />

mountains, the grottoes, the gorges, the trees, the stones<br />

and even the scent of the shrubs in bloom.<br />


MINOS BEACH art hotel<br />

Escape in style<br />

Experience the wonder of Cretan luxury with aromatic gardens<br />

and distinctive architecture.<br />

Located on the waterfront in the magical area of Ayios Nikolaos,<br />

in the eastern part of Crete, the town centre is a mere ten minute<br />

walk away.<br />

Set within a serene landscape and unique environs thus ensuring<br />

an unforgettable experience in one of the 129 beautifully and<br />

spaciously appointed bungalows. All are equipped with balconies<br />

or private terrace with unique views of the azure sea and<br />

extensive gardens, air-condition, direct dial telephone, mini bar,<br />

TV, in room safe, hairdryer and bathroom. Our Executive and<br />

Presidential suites are spacious and offer a private swimming<br />

pool.<br />


MINOS BEACH art hotel<br />

You can awaken your senses at Minos Beach Art hotel, with its<br />

unique artistic environment of 45 works of Greek and foreign<br />

artists. A local and international culinary choice of traditional<br />

Cretan cuisine and unique gourmet tastes for exquisite dining in<br />

our restaurants or enjoy an array of thirst-quenching cocktails in<br />

our two bars.<br />

An abundance of<br />

recreational activities<br />

and leisure facilities will<br />

ensure fun and<br />

entertainment<br />

throughout your stay<br />

in an environment of<br />

tranquillity and luxury.<br />



Experience a world of fun<br />

and recreation<br />

Candia Park Village is an ideal place for<br />

families and couples<br />

of all ages. Modelled on a traditional Cretan<br />

village, all 222 apartments are spaciously equipped and offer a<br />

magnificent waterfront location overlooking the turquoise<br />

waters of Mirabello Bay.<br />

Set in the environs of a traditional Cretan Village with extensive<br />

gardens, the clock square, the Greek coffee house, all add to the<br />

charm of this picturesque village of traditional hospitality.<br />

All apartments are spacious of 40 m2 and 60 m2 offering private<br />

balconies or terrace. Each can accommodate from 2 to 6 persons<br />

and are fully equipped with airconditioning, bathroom, direct<br />

dial telephone and a kitchenette to prepare afternoon coffee or<br />

tea or perhaps a light meal.<br />

A variety of restaurants with a wide choice of a la carte items,<br />

sunny bars for thirst-quenching drinks and light snacks provide a<br />

unique ambience with panoramic views of Mirabello bay. A mini<br />

market is available.<br />



The Candia Park Village is a complete holiday village making it<br />

the ideal place for relaxation and amusement. Facilities include<br />

sea water and fresh water swimming pools, Jacuzzi, tennis<br />

courts, private beach, water sports and recreational areas for all<br />

tastes and age groups. The highlight is our mini club for our<br />

young friends from 4 to 12 years of age that offers stimulating<br />

activities, competitions and games.<br />


CHAPTER 1<br />





KRITSA<br />


LATO<br />




C H A P T E R 1<br />

Ayios Nikolaos<br />

An engraving<br />

representing the<br />

Venetian castle of<br />

Ayios Nikolaos:<br />

today nothing<br />

remains of this<br />

fortress<br />

The excavations of<br />

the ancient town in<br />

the city<br />

It is hard to imagine that a century and<br />

a half ago Ayios Nikolaos - one of Crete's<br />

richest and liveliest cities - was, as an old<br />

document attests, only a tiny village of just<br />

95 souls. Ayios Nikolaos, capital of the<br />

Prefecture of Lasithi, has the appearance of<br />

a relatively new city, but its history is very<br />

ancient, even if the evidence of its turbulent<br />

past is now buried under modern buildings.<br />

Thanks to its splendid position<br />

overlooking the gulf of Mirambelo (or as the<br />

Venetian has it, Mirabello or "beautiful view")<br />

the site was chosen by the ancient Dorians<br />

(ninth to seventh centuries B.C.) for the port<br />

of Lato, an important fortified settlement<br />

between the mountains near Kritsa. The city<br />

was then called Lato pros Kamara and was<br />

famous for its safe harbour. One of the<br />

wonders of the place was considered to be<br />

the small lake of Voulismeni - today linked<br />

to the sea by a narrow canal and surrounded<br />

by restaurants and cafes - a lake of dark and<br />

unfathomable waters, also known as<br />


Xepatomeni (bottomless), sacred to Athena<br />

and Artemis who, as the legend goes,<br />

bathed their divine bodies here.<br />

The city declined after the Roman<br />

conquest but acquired new importance<br />

during the Byzantine period, when it<br />

became the seat of the bishopric of Kamara:<br />

of that era there remains the little church of<br />

Ayios Nikolaos of the tenth or eleventh<br />

century, with rare frescoes from the<br />

iconoclast period when the ecclesiastical<br />

authorities forbad the physical<br />

representation of sacred images.<br />

At the beginning of the thirteenth<br />

century the Genoese and Venetians fought<br />

for possession of the coast and initially the<br />

Genoese, led by the gentleman-pirate Enrico<br />

Pescatore, prevailed. Pescatore erected the<br />

castle of Mirambelo, promptly destroyed by<br />

the Venetians to whom the island of Crete<br />

was assigned by the treaty of Adrianoupoli<br />

in 1204.<br />

Hurriedly reconstructed, the castle was<br />

briefly occupied by the Turks in 1645, then<br />

The small church of<br />

Ayios Nikolaos<br />

dating from the<br />

tenth or eleventh<br />

century<br />

Lake Voulismeni<br />


C H A P T E R 1<br />

A medieval<br />

archer from the<br />

region of Sfakia:<br />

during the<br />

nineteenth<br />

century many<br />

sfakiotes arrived<br />

in Ayios Nikolaos<br />

taken back by the Venetians who, however,<br />

decided to destroy it once more themselves<br />

for the sake of not leaving it in Turkish<br />

hands: not one stone remains of the<br />

celebrated fort atop the highest<br />

hill of Ayios Nikolaos.<br />

The city was entirely<br />

abandoned when, during the<br />

second half of the nineteenth<br />

century, groups of exiled<br />

sfakiotes arrived from the<br />

mountains of western Crete,<br />

and the place slowly began to<br />

come to life again. From that<br />

moment onwards the reborn<br />

city would be called Ayios<br />

Nikolaos, taking its name from<br />

the little ninth-century<br />

Byzantine church which was the<br />

only surviving testimony to<br />

have resisted all the turbulence<br />

of this history. Every 6th<br />

December there is a great feast<br />

dedicated to St. Nicholas,<br />

patron saint of fishermen.<br />

One must is a visit to the city's<br />

Archaeological Museum which possesses<br />

beautiful finds from the past forty years of<br />

excavations in eastern Crete: ceramics, gold,<br />

idols (among which there are a large number<br />

of votive offerings from the Minoan peak<br />

sanctuaries), sarcophagi and glass.<br />




Skull with a wreath of gold leaves<br />

from the Roman cemetery at<br />

Potamos, first century A.D. and<br />

Late Minoan clay sarcophagi or<br />

larnakes<br />

Late Minoan<br />

female<br />

worshipper<br />

from the<br />

cemetery at<br />

Myrsini<br />

Pottery dating<br />

from the Late<br />

Minoan period<br />

Clay vessel<br />

from the<br />

fourteenth<br />

century B.C.<br />

found in the<br />

Palace of Malia<br />

and<br />

Daedalic<br />

figurines from<br />

the eighth and<br />

seventh<br />

centuries B.C.

C H A P T E R 1<br />

Kritsa and Panayia y Kera<br />

Kritsa stretches out like a white lizard<br />

above a sea of olive trees at the mouth of a<br />

dark gorge beneath the mountain heights of<br />

the Dikti that surround two high plains, the<br />

immense Lasithi plateau and the more<br />

modest Katharo plateau.<br />

The white village<br />

of Kritsa above a<br />

green valley of<br />

olive trees<br />

Kritsa, with its narrow alleyways, the low<br />

houses jumbled one over another, its very<br />

colourful traditional costumes, its numerous<br />

kafeneion and taverns, seems the archetypal<br />

"Cretan village", even if the definition<br />

"village" seems reductive for this fairly large,<br />

extended country town. It is so very "Cretan"<br />

that in 1957 the American film director Jules<br />

Dassin chose Kritsa and its inhabitants for<br />

the setting of the film He, who must die<br />

based on Nikos Kazantzakis' famous novel<br />

The Greek Passion which told a modern<br />

version of the passion of Christ. Every year<br />

on Good Friday there is a sumptuous<br />

procession through Kritsa during which the<br />

epitaphios, a catafalque covered with<br />

flowers, is carried through the town, amidst<br />

prayers, laments and song.<br />

However, before arriving at Kritsa one<br />

should pay a visit to one of the most<br />

beautiful and important Byzantine churches<br />

on Crete: the Panayia y Kera (the Madon-<br />


Among the narrow<br />

alleyways of Kritsa<br />

na of the Creation) dating from the<br />

thirteenth or fourteenth century, with three<br />

naves and an unusual three-pointed facade,<br />

surrounded by tall cypresses.<br />

The arrangement of the<br />

paintings that cover each of<br />

the internal walls observes the<br />

rigid hierarchy required in that<br />

period: first God and the<br />

angels, then the life of Jesus<br />

and Mary, followed by<br />

representations of Paradise and the Last<br />

Judgement, biblical stories, saints and,<br />

finally, images of men known for their faith.<br />

The saturated colours (the dark red of ripe<br />

pomegranates, the green of the leaves of<br />

ancient olive trees, the ochre and dark<br />

brown of the earth) and the close-packed<br />

sequence of images, each different, each<br />

powerful and vigorous, immersed in the<br />

semi-darkness, rather dizzy the viewer, and<br />

this was, perhaps, precisely what the artist<br />

intended.<br />

The Byzantine<br />

church of Panayia y<br />

Kera with its<br />

beautiful frescoes<br />


C H A P T E R 1<br />

Lato<br />

Lato, once an<br />

important Dorian<br />

city-state, amidst<br />

a beautiful<br />

mountainous<br />

landscape<br />

These small<br />

daedalic figurines<br />

are typical of the<br />

Doric style of<br />

sculpture that<br />

flourished during<br />

the eighth and<br />

seventh centuries<br />

B.C.<br />

As everywhere in Greece, on Crete the<br />

sacred and the profane live side-by-side, and<br />

if on one hand churches and monasteries<br />

record the profound religiousness of the<br />

population, numerous ancient ruins evoke<br />

the foreign powers, wars and conflicts that<br />

have tormented the island over the<br />

centuries. Some kilometres before arriving at<br />

Kritsa a turning off the main road leads to<br />

Lato, one of the island's best-preserved<br />

ancient cities, enclosed between two hills<br />

below Mount Thylakas. The city-state, which<br />

took its name from the goddess Leto,<br />

mother of Apollo and Artemis, was founded<br />

in the eighth century B.C. by Dorians hailing<br />

from the Greek mainland, who invaded<br />

Crete in around 1000 B.C., chasing the native<br />

inhabitants from their lands: they spoke a<br />

dialect similar to Greek and proclaimed<br />

themselves descendents of the offspring of<br />

Hercules. Strengthened by their absolute<br />

authority over the island after the fall of the<br />

Minoan and Mycenaean kingdoms, they<br />


made new laws, minted coins with the<br />

effigies of Artemis and Hermes and imposed<br />

a new social order on the population of the<br />

area.<br />

Lato was born as a fortified city<br />

stretching across six terraces with a double<br />

acropolis, a vast agora and a prytaneion,<br />

which functioned as administrative centre<br />

and banqueting hall for the guests of<br />

honour who dined here sitting on the stone<br />

benches of the hestiatorion. A monumental<br />

stairway marks the entrance to the<br />

prytaneion, while another, not far from a<br />

large temple (perhaps dedicated to Apollo)<br />

has been identified as the "theatre space".<br />

The city flourished up until the Hellenistic<br />

period and the ancient writers affirm that<br />

this was the birthplace of Niarchos, valorous<br />

general and friend of Alexander the Great.<br />

A careful observation of the structure and<br />

the materials that form the buildings, the<br />

roads and the doors is worthwhile: the<br />

ancient system of construction has been<br />

handed down through the centuries, and<br />

some of the same architectural details can<br />

still be seen in the old stone-built country<br />

houses dotted among the mountains<br />

around Kritsa.<br />

With its strong<br />

walls and<br />

monumental<br />

buildings, Lato<br />

is the bestpreserved<br />

of the<br />

Cretan cities of<br />

the Doric/ Classical<br />

period<br />


C H A P T E R 1<br />

The Katharo Plateau<br />

Less well-known, smaller and more hidden<br />

than Lasithi, the plateau of Katharo is<br />

reached via a road (all curves) that begins at<br />

the crest of the town of Kritsa. Climbing up<br />

amidst silver-grey rocks that glitter in the<br />

sunlight in contrast with the red soil, and<br />

among low tough-leaved shrubs that form<br />

anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures<br />

like little sculptures, one has the sensation of<br />

travelling through an archaic land, fixed and<br />

solid, as though it were petrified. The few<br />

trees have dark hat-shaped crowns that give<br />

shade to the roots and offer relief to sheep<br />

and goats in search of some cool.<br />

A dark grotto on<br />

the way to the<br />

Katharo plateau<br />

Halfway along the route towards the<br />

plateau (where there is a magnificent view<br />

across the gulf of Mirambelo) a small road<br />

sign indicates the existence of a grotto<br />

which is to be found about three-hundred<br />

metres further along the slope, not difficult<br />

to reach. The triangular mouth of the grotto<br />

allows a glimpse of a steep descent through<br />

two galleries into the dark bowels of the<br />

earth amid grey and pink-ochre striped<br />

rocks.<br />

Continuing along the road and looking<br />

attentively towards the hills, one notes the<br />

mitates - now in ruins and camouflaged in<br />

the landscape, but with a very interesting<br />

architectural structure: these are the<br />


small stone houses of the shepherds and<br />

peasants who took refuge here during the<br />

months of mountain pasture. Almost always<br />

rectangular in form - but also, at times,<br />

circular like the tholos (beehive) tombs - the<br />

building of the mitates involved choosing<br />

with care the individual stones, evaluating<br />

the shape and dimensions in order to lay<br />

them expertly one on top of another until a<br />

perfect wall was formed through which<br />

there filtered neither sun, nor wind nor rain.<br />

At the centre of the single room a robust<br />

tree trunk with a forked top functions as a<br />

column, holding up the roof of branches and<br />

canes, whilst the entrance is marked by two<br />

vertical pilasters surmounted by a stone slab,<br />

a modest version of the monumental portals<br />

of the ancient cities or of megalithic houses.<br />

Now abandoned and used only<br />

sporadically, the mitates contain small signs<br />

of an austere life: a blackened hearth, the<br />

occasional cooking pot with a hole in it,<br />

frayed ropes for tying up the animals, or<br />

troughs cut into the stone. Observing these<br />

lifeless houses it is natural to wonder how<br />

much longer they will resist sun, wind and<br />

rain before crumbling definitively.<br />

The remains of<br />

old stone houses<br />

or mitates are<br />

part of the<br />

landscape as<br />

much as the<br />

rocky hills and<br />

withered trees<br />


C H A P T E R 1<br />

Every season<br />

has its own<br />

colours at the<br />

Kataharo<br />

plateau: green<br />

fields in<br />

springtime,<br />

yellow earth in<br />

summer<br />

Curve after curve, between oaks and<br />

carobs with their tormented outlines that<br />

seem born from the rock, the mountain<br />

suddenly opens out offering a spectacular<br />

view over the entire Katharo plateau,<br />

surrounded by the bare mountains of the<br />

Dikti. Fields cultivated with grain and<br />

vegetables, fruit trees (in particular pears,<br />

apples, figs and pomegranates) and great<br />

stretches of meadows for pasture, few<br />

houses, few men and the odd little white<br />

church form a unified and compact pattern.<br />

The plateau, which in springtime is full of<br />

flowers and green grasses, in summer is<br />

coloured yellow with stubble and the<br />

ploughed soil that becomes as fine and<br />

dusty as face-powder. Katharo is the summer<br />

reserve of the people of Kritsa and at given<br />

periods all the flocks of sheep in the zone<br />

converge here for shearing: imagine the<br />

sound produced by the bleating of<br />

thousands of animals echoing through<br />

the mountains!<br />


From Katharo a stony trail (to follow<br />

only in a robust car or on foot) climbs back<br />

down towards the coast in the direction of<br />

Kroustas, initially crossing through desolate<br />

landscapes with strange cumuli of dark<br />

green stones that glitter in the sunlight like<br />

shards of glass. The road follows the course<br />

of an underground river, dry on the surface,<br />

which creates little oases of green amidst the<br />

stones. Along the highest pass there opens<br />

up extraordinary scenery: the simultaneous<br />

vista of the northern coast of Crete looking<br />

towards Europe and of the southern coast<br />

that looks towards Africa at the point at<br />

which the island is narrowest, on one side<br />

the gulf of Mirambelo and on the other the<br />

Libyan Sea. A panorama from which one<br />

understands the wonders of Cretan<br />

geography.<br />

From this point one can continue east<br />

along a road that is asphalted only in parts<br />

towards Kroustas and Kritsa or to Istron on<br />

the coast. Near Kritsa we encounter the<br />

church of Ayios Ioannis Theologos with<br />

three apses and very beautiful iconostasis<br />

while near Kroustas one can visit the small<br />

white church of Ayios Ioannis, decorated<br />

with rare paintings dating from 1347, with<br />

images of severe saints and fathers of the<br />

church.<br />

Ayios Ioannis<br />

and Ayios<br />

Ioannis<br />

Theologos: two<br />

churches with<br />

interesting<br />

frescoes and old<br />

icons<br />


C H A P T E R 1<br />

The Lasithi Plateau<br />

"Situated above the mountain summits,<br />

flat and very beautiful, and an almost<br />

miraculous work of nature," this is how<br />

a Venetian document of 1600 describes the<br />

Lasithi plateau. The plain appears like an<br />

immense shell, not unlike a spent crater,<br />

amid the mountain crags of the Dikti, at<br />

a height of around 850 metres: patterned<br />

with the rigid and regular geometries of the<br />

fields, its divisions recall the city plan of<br />

ancient Miletus. Here there grow fruit trees<br />

of every kind, vegetables, potatoes, grain<br />

and walnuts, and in the spring millions of<br />

poppies blossom creating a red carpet that<br />

stretches out between the mountains.<br />

Isolated houses, small villages and the<br />

monasteries of Vidianis and Kroustalenias<br />

crown the plateau which, although<br />

remaining essentially agricultural, has given<br />

over to an intense tourism.<br />

Monastery Vidianis<br />

and Monastery<br />

Kroustalenia:<br />

places of worship<br />


Not many years ago,<br />

when the place was<br />

still only accessible<br />

on mule-back,<br />

around 10,000<br />

windmills ornate<br />

with white canvas<br />

sails pumped up the<br />

water that served for<br />

the crops, but now<br />

very few remain.<br />


C H A P T E R 1<br />

The grotto of<br />

Trapeza was a<br />

site of cult<br />

activity up to<br />

the Early<br />

Minoan period<br />

Once an inaccessible region, the<br />

plateau has been inhabited since the<br />

Neolithic period, around 7,000 years ago,<br />

as testified by the bone fragments and tools<br />

discovered in the grotto of Trapeza, which<br />

remained sacred for the Minoans, as a<br />

dwelling place of the gods of the<br />

underworld. Because of its protected<br />

position amid the mountains, Lasithi<br />

became a place of refuge for the native<br />

populations from the period of the Dorian<br />

invasions to the Venetian and Turkish<br />

occupations, and even during the Second<br />

World War. For fear of the rebel groups, in<br />

1263 the Venetians deported all the<br />

inhabitants of the plateau down towards the<br />

valley, prohibiting any form of cultivation<br />

for 200 years. Without its fruits, this fertile<br />

land suffered terrible famine and in the mid<br />

1400 s it was decided to repopulate the<br />

plain, which in the meantime had become a<br />

swampland requiring large-scale<br />

reclamation. During the Turkish dominion<br />

too, Lasithi was continuously besieged, but<br />

never completely taken.<br />

There are numerous grottos and<br />

caverns in the rocky walls around the plain,<br />

ideal hiding places from the most ancient<br />

of times. The most famous cave is Psychro<br />

or Diktaion Antron which contends with<br />

another grotto (that on Mount Ida in<br />


The Diktaion<br />

Antron of<br />

Psychro is<br />

believed to have<br />

been the<br />

birthplace of<br />

Zeus<br />

western Crete) the honour of being the<br />

birthplace of the Greeks on supreme god,<br />

Zeus. In Hesiod's Theogony we read that<br />

Cronus, king of the Titans and husband of his<br />

own sister Rhea, devoured his children<br />

(among whom Demeter, Hades, Poseidon,<br />

Hestia and Hera) because a prophecy had<br />

foretold that one of them would dethrone<br />

him. At the birth of Zeus, Rhea tricked<br />

Cronus, having him swallow a rock wrapped<br />

in swaddling bands in the place of the child,<br />

and immediately afterwards she escaped<br />

with the newborn into the grotto of Psychro.<br />

Fed on the honey of the bees and the milk of<br />

the goat Amalthea and defended by the<br />

warlike Kouretes who beat their shields hard<br />

to cover the sound of the infant's cries, Zeus<br />

was saved. Once grown, he killed his cruel<br />

father (not before having forced him to<br />

vomit up his siblings), taking on the role of<br />

chief divinity in the Greek pantheon.<br />

In 1900, to explore the immense cavern,<br />

as dark and humid as maternal placenta,<br />

filled with stalactites and stalagmites of the<br />

most varied forms and colours, the English<br />

archaeologist David Hogarth even had to<br />

use dynamite to make a route for himself<br />

through the narrow underground<br />

passageways: there he found idols, ceramics,<br />

cult objects, gold and ivory, seals and jewels,<br />

altars for sacrifices and a niche that was<br />

identified as the "crib of Zeus".<br />

For many centuries<br />

the grotto of<br />

Psychro was a place<br />

of worship, from<br />

the Middle Minoan<br />

period to Roman<br />

times, and rich<br />

votive offerings<br />

have been found by<br />

the archaeologists<br />


C H A P T E R 1<br />

The Diktaion Antron was also a sacred site<br />

for King Minos of Knossos, who every nine<br />

years descended into the cavern to receive<br />

laws directly from Zeus.<br />

All around the plateau, amid low<br />

vegetation and scented bushes of broom<br />

and thyme there are to be found small<br />

villages, some inhabited, others abandoned,<br />

lying beneath the slope of the mountains<br />

like birds' nests. An excursion on the Dikti,<br />

starting from the village of Katofigi, leaves<br />

one breathless: lunar landscapes of silver<br />

rocks, isolated trees with majestic crowns<br />

and rough, stony outcrops alternate with<br />

steppe-like terrain and low<br />

vegetation from which<br />

sheepfolds spring up. At times<br />

one's way is barred by fencing<br />

and gates tied shut with knotted<br />

ropes to keep in the livestock:<br />

they can be opened on the<br />

condition that one is scrupulous<br />

in closing them again to prevent<br />

the animals from wandering.<br />


Karphi<br />

One particular attraction is an enormous<br />

rocky mass that rises above Lasithi to an<br />

altitude of 1,100 metres, visible from far off.<br />

The place came to be called Karphi (nail) for<br />

its strange cylindrical shape. Below the<br />

ragged peaks of the mountain there is<br />

hidden a Late Minoan settlement completely<br />

camouflaged amid the stone and inhabited<br />

from 1150 to 1000 B.C. by the last groups of<br />

Minoans - also known as Eteocretans (true<br />

Cretans) - in flight from the Dorian invaders.<br />

The city, which could hold up to 3500<br />

inhabitants, was regular in plan like Gournia,<br />

with the houses built one up against another<br />

Because of its<br />

particular shape,<br />

this mountain is<br />

called karphi,<br />

meaning nail<br />

and with steep streets and flights of steps<br />

among the rocky terracing. Explored<br />

between 1937 and 1939 by the<br />

archaeologist J. D. S. Pendlebury, the site has<br />

yielded numerous cult objects (female idols<br />

with raised arms, bull horns, bird heads,<br />

rhytons) which testify to the survival of<br />

Minoan culture and religion even after the<br />

fall of the palace kingdoms.<br />

The Eteocretan city<br />

was built on the<br />

slope of the giant<br />

"nail"<br />


CHAPTER 2<br />



OLOUS<br />


DREROS<br />

KARYDI<br />

FOURNI<br />



MALIA<br />


C H A P T E R 2<br />

The austerity of stone and<br />

the splendours of Malia<br />

On Crete there are apparently-forgotten<br />

lands, ignored by the normal tourist guides,<br />

but which nevertheless possess a particular<br />

beauty, "quieter" and hard to define. One of<br />

these is the silent and almost uninhabited<br />

hinterland above Ayios Nikolaos, Neapoli<br />

and Malia, in complete contrast with the<br />

overcrowded beaches that stretch out in<br />

front of Spinalonga. Following this itinerary,<br />

it is a good idea to travel without a precise<br />

destination, losing oneself in the hilly<br />

landscape, among small, partly-abandoned<br />

villages, mills and tumble-down houses,<br />

monasteries and white churches. The very<br />

stones of this place recall dramatic and<br />

painful stories, stories of sieges and of<br />

conquests, of the battle against hunger and<br />

illnesses of a population in continual revolt<br />

against foreign invaders - Dorians, Romans,<br />

Saracens, Venetians and Turks.<br />



C H A P T E R 2<br />

Spinalonga<br />

Linked to the mainland by a narrow<br />

isthmus, the Spinalonga peninsula<br />

extends as far as a small rocky islet, it too<br />

called Spinalonga. A natural harbour suitable<br />

for small boats, Spinalonga has been known<br />

since the time of the Minoans, and legend<br />

has it that Daedalus, the brilliant architect of<br />

Knossos, created for the inhabitants a very<br />

beautiful statue of Britomartis (the Cretan<br />

Artemis - protectress of hunters and<br />

fishermen). Documents from the fourth<br />

century B.C. attest to the existence of a city,<br />

Olous was a citystate<br />

in Classical<br />

Greek times and<br />

later became an<br />

important Christian<br />

cult centre. Of the<br />

Basilica there<br />

remains only the<br />

floor with its black<br />

and white mosaic<br />

decoration<br />

Olous, which controlled the maritime traffic<br />

of ships coming from Rhodes and Cyprus<br />

and which honoured herself in the fight<br />

against the pirates who infested that stretch<br />

of coast. In the ninth century Olous was<br />

occupied by the Saracens, but not long<br />

afterwards the entire city crumbled thanks<br />

to a terrible earthquake which was followed<br />

by the sinking of the isthmus. There are few<br />

traces of Olous still visible on the surface:<br />

most of the city was swallowed by the<br />

waters. On the partly-swampy terrain the<br />

foundations of an early Christian basilica of<br />

the seventh century with precious mosaic<br />

paving, with floral and geometric motifs,<br />

dolphins and inscriptions in Greek have<br />

been discovered.<br />


The history of the island of Spinalonga<br />

is equally dramatic, famous for the imposing<br />

Venetian fort which was erected in 1579 and<br />

considered unassailable because equipped<br />

with one of the most powerful batteries of<br />

cannon in all<br />

Crete. Not even<br />

the Turks could<br />

succeed in taking<br />

it. Only during the<br />

first half of the<br />

eighteenth<br />

century, by which<br />

time Venice had<br />

lost all authority over Crete, did the Turks<br />

take possession of the little island which<br />

then became a smugglers' haunt. In 1903,<br />

after Greece's liberation from foreign<br />

dominion, Spinalonga was transformed into<br />

a leper colony, and the bastions, the<br />

storerooms and the military barracks were<br />

occupied by hundreds of sufferers and their<br />

families until 1953 when the sanatorium was<br />

closed and the island with its imposing walls<br />

and towers became a tourist attraction.<br />

Climbing up the hills behind Elounda one<br />

has a magnificent view across the red roofs<br />

of the villages of Epano Elounda and Pines,<br />

across the olive trees and the low stone<br />

walls, as far as the bay with its peninsula and<br />

the little rock of Spinalonga.<br />

The island of<br />

Spinalonga was<br />

fortified by the<br />

Venetians in 1579<br />

and was handed<br />

over to the<br />

Ottomans only in<br />

1715 - the last of<br />

Venice's territories<br />

on Crete<br />


C H A P T E R 2<br />

Stone as art<br />

Far from the<br />

beaches a<br />

completely<br />

different world<br />

appears with stony<br />

fields and old<br />

abandoned houses.<br />

After the seaside resort of Plaka<br />

we can abandon the beautiful<br />

beaches to search out the quiet of<br />

the hills, the villages and the great<br />

empty spaces where nature has reappropriated<br />

the land. Many people<br />

have abandoned living here, be it<br />

for poverty and hunger, be it for<br />

lack of natural resources or lack of<br />

work. Where once there grew<br />

immense fields of corn and where<br />

olive trees were cultivated with<br />

their small green fruit, to be<br />

savoured with a few drops of lemon<br />

juice and raki, now there often remain only<br />

stony outcrops and the outlines of<br />

windmills that have fallen in on themselves:<br />

they seem spectres, from the past, of a hard<br />

and laborious life, pierced by the lances of<br />

an invisible Cretan Don Quixote doing battle<br />

with time and nature. Great halo-like marks<br />

appear alongside the windmills, like magical<br />

circles from an archaic ritual; these are level<br />

circles of stone raised slightly higher than<br />

the surrounding terrain that served for the<br />

threshing of the grain with mules or oxen.<br />

Between Kato and Epano Loumas the<br />

mills are made of an ochre-coloured stone,<br />

with the remains of steps that follow the<br />

curve of the roofless circular buildings:<br />


the sail-arms are broken, the giant wheels<br />

are mute and the cogs rusty. Apart from the<br />

windmills there also survives the occasional<br />

old olive-mill, its huge rooms crowned with<br />

arches and the remains of antique<br />

machinery. Those restorations that have<br />

taken place regard only a few mills close to<br />

the areas frequented by tourists, while the<br />

others are all destined for slow destruction.<br />

In serried ranks like soldiers in arms,<br />

atop a hill there appear the mills of<br />

Marnelides near Lakonia, with traces of<br />

plaster and well-bolted doors because they<br />

are still used by the farmers as storerooms.<br />

Along the road between Petros and Dreros,<br />

two stone giants<br />

protrude among spiny<br />

thistles: they are<br />

monumental mills, fairly<br />

well-preserved, each<br />

with an external<br />

staircase, a doorway<br />

framed with white<br />

blocks of stone and a<br />

small window. The<br />

facade is convex, the<br />

stones are perfectly smooth and the overall<br />

aspect is one of robustness, but peering<br />

inside one notes only a pile of stones, iron<br />

and burnt wooden beams.<br />

Giant windmills are<br />

the silent guardians<br />

of this wild and<br />

archaic landscape<br />


C H A P T E R 2<br />

Statues from the<br />

Roman era, when<br />

Dreros was still a<br />

living city, are<br />

conserved in the<br />

Museum of Neapoli<br />

Similarly, ancient Dreros, a Dorian city<br />

of the eighth century B.C. that survived into<br />

the Roman era, is nothing but a mass<br />

of stones and low walls dotted amidst thick<br />

vegetation. One arrives at the site of Dreros<br />

via a path between two hills in an<br />

atmospheric landscape, but it takes a lot<br />

of imagination to believe that here there<br />

once rose up an important archaic city with<br />

grand buildings, a vast agora and an<br />

important seventh-century B.C. temple<br />

dedicated to Apollo Delphinios, of whom<br />

a bronze effigy has been discovered<br />

together with two statues representing<br />

Artemis and Leto.<br />

Stone walls<br />

crossing the hills<br />

and small, fertile<br />

plains: signs of<br />

the farmers' toil<br />

Wandering<br />

among<br />

streets and<br />

paths traced<br />

out by grey<br />

stone walls<br />

that snake<br />

up and<br />

down the<br />

hills, one<br />

encounters<br />

numerous<br />

villages: the<br />

white<br />

Fourni full<br />

of flowers<br />

that seem to<br />


grow out of the very mortar of the houses,<br />

or Dories, also white, with its beautiful<br />

church of Ayios Konstatinos, and also<br />

Karydi which has the charm of an authentic<br />

rural village with beautiful stone walling to<br />

protect the vegetable gardens and the sown<br />

fields from the herds of livestock.<br />

The villages are<br />

white and full of<br />

flowers<br />


C H A P T E R 2<br />

Not far from the main square of Karydi,<br />

climbing in the direction of the windmills,<br />

we find the ruins of the monastery of<br />

Chardemutsa, constructed like a fort in a<br />

perfect mixture of Venetian and traditional<br />

Cretan styles, with a great paved courtyard,<br />

a vestibule with pointed arches and large<br />

rooms containing old liturgical objects.<br />

The ruins of<br />

monasteries like<br />

Chardemutsa or<br />

Perambela testify<br />

to the religious<br />

devotion of the<br />

population, and<br />

the noble<br />

architecture<br />

continues to<br />

remind us of the<br />

richness of<br />

monastic life<br />


Many villages have<br />

been completely<br />

abandoned, like, for<br />

example, Hondrovolaki,<br />

which overlooks<br />

a gorge not far from<br />

Valtos: roofless houses,<br />

black doorways that<br />

look like toothless<br />

mouths, empty window<br />

casements like blind eyes and streets<br />

through which stray dogs run, are all that<br />

remains of a village which survives only in<br />

the memory of inhabitants who will never<br />

return. Just as no one will ever again inhabit<br />

the beautiful compound of a rural villa close<br />

by the village of Ayios Georgios: built of wellcut<br />

dry stone, with various rooms on several<br />

floors with arches, stone steps, oven and<br />

fireplaces and with a spectacular view of<br />

the coast, the house must have belonged<br />

to a fairly well-off family. The large grounds<br />

were terraced almost right down to the sea<br />

and almonds and olive trees still grow there<br />

from which no one gathers the fruit. From<br />

above one sees the ragged coastline with<br />

few isolated houses, the monastery of Ayios<br />

Andreas and the cave church of Ayios<br />

Antonios: it is a strange scenery of ochre,<br />

pink and black rocks, corroded by the wind<br />

and by the tides which render difficult both<br />

landing and embarkation.<br />

Some farm houses<br />

were very big and<br />

inhabited by large<br />

family clans. This<br />

kind of rural<br />

complex was<br />

entirely selfsufficient<br />

and could<br />

provide food,<br />

water, tools and<br />

clothes for<br />

everybody<br />


46<br />

C H A P T E R 2

Aretiou Monastery<br />

The religious heart of this little-frequented<br />

territory is the sixteenth-century Aretiou<br />

Monastery (or Monastery of the Holy<br />

Trinity) articulated in various buildings<br />

around an ample courtyard with the<br />

katholikon, the monks' church, which still<br />

contains some precious seventeenthcentury<br />

icons. The founder, Marcos<br />

Papadopoulos, gathered around him many<br />

of the famous artists and intellectuals of the<br />

period, and on his death in 1603 he left<br />

generous donations to the monastery asking<br />

that they be used to continue his charitable<br />

work for the poor, but also to support those<br />

artists of holy images who were worthy and<br />

talented, as was Kosmas Vartzagis, known as<br />

"the Master of Areti". Surrounded by high<br />

walls, the monastery defended itself well<br />

against the continual attacks by the<br />

Ottomans, and survived. Nowadays Aretiou<br />

Monastery is the most important monastic<br />

complex on the Gulf of Mirambelo and is the<br />

destination for many pilgrims and travellers<br />

in search of tranquillity and reflection.<br />

Aretiou<br />

Monastery<br />

is a fortified<br />

monastery and<br />

survived the<br />

Turkish occupation<br />

with no<br />

great damage<br />


C H A P T E R 2<br />

The Cave of Milatos<br />

The grotto of<br />

Milatos is formed<br />

of a series of<br />

caverns and<br />

corridors stretching<br />

several miles<br />

Next page:<br />

Turning one's<br />

gaze towards the<br />

mountains, one<br />

notes a low hill<br />

with the white<br />

church of Ayios<br />

Elias: this was the<br />

peak sanctuary<br />

of Malia, in which<br />

the votive<br />

offerings to the<br />

gods were<br />

deposited<br />

Journeying towards the coast one arrives<br />

at the village of Milatos built not far from the<br />

ruins of the ancient Militos (or Miletus),<br />

already inhabited in the Late Minoan period<br />

and mentioned by Homer, Strabo and<br />

Pausanias. Myth tells that the local ruler,<br />

Pindareos, stole Zeus's favourite dog and<br />

gave it to Tantalus. For this impudence<br />

Pindareos and his wife were cruelly<br />

punished by the gods and condemned to<br />

death, while their daughters became slaves<br />

of the Furies. In the third century B.C. Miletus<br />

was destroyed by the inhabitants of<br />

Lyttos: only a few stones and some<br />

tombs carved out of the rock remain<br />

visible.<br />

Even more terrible is the story<br />

of the cave of Milatos, site of a<br />

ferocious massacre at the hands of<br />

the Ottomans. In the February of<br />

1823 around 3600 inhabitants of<br />

the area, men, women and children,<br />

rebels, priests and ordinary citizens, took<br />

refuge in the deep cavern of Milatos to<br />

escape the cruelties of General Hassan<br />

Pasha. Betrayed by a Turkish townsman, the<br />

cave was besieged for a long period and<br />

many died of hunger and thirst. Deceived by<br />

the Turks' false promise that in the case of<br />

surrender they would spare women and<br />

children, the men left the cavern, but to the<br />

cry of "death to the infidels" the massacre of<br />

the fugitives began. Every last one of them<br />

was killed. In a large space inside the grotto<br />

a catafalque has been laid out with<br />

commemorative stones and a small cave<br />

church dedicated to St. Thomas where each<br />

year the martyrs of Milatos are<br />

commemorated.<br />



C H A P T E R 2<br />

Malia<br />

Golden bee<br />

pendant from<br />

the Chryssolakos<br />

cemetery at Malia<br />

Right on the border between the<br />

Prefectures of Lasithi and Heraklion the vast<br />

archaeological area of Malia stretches out,<br />

with its grand Minoan palace, second only<br />

to Knossos and Phaestos. Tradition has it<br />

that Malia was the residence of Sarpedon,<br />

the younger brother of Minos and<br />

Rhadamanthus, all born of the union of Zeus<br />

and Europa.<br />

Stone kernos for<br />

ritual offerings at<br />

the Palace of Malia<br />

The most ancient part of the palace<br />

dates back to the Middle Minoan period<br />

(circa 2000 B.C.) but of that era there remain<br />

few traces because the site was destroyed by<br />

a violent earthquake and completely rebuilt<br />

in around 1650 B.C.. Smaller than Knossos<br />

and Phaestos, but for this no less interesting<br />

in its structure and functions - religious,<br />

political and economic - the palace complex<br />

ceased to "live" in 1450 B.C. after a<br />

devastating fire. The site was discovered<br />

in 1915 by the Greek archaeologist Joseph<br />

Hadjidakis, while from the 1950s onwards<br />

the excavations have continued with the<br />

French Archaeological School of Athens<br />

under the direction of Henri van Effenterre.<br />

Opening off the great Central Court,<br />

with an altar set into the paving, there are<br />

a series of rooms essential to court life<br />


of the Minoans: the Throne Room with stairs<br />

that lead to the upper floor, the banqueting<br />

chamber and the crypt, a monumental<br />

stairway with beside it a kernos (a circular<br />

table with a central hollow and with 34<br />

smaller bowls along the edge for the ritual<br />

offering of the first fruits), the archive and<br />

a vast portico held up by columns alternated<br />

with pilasters which gave access to the great<br />

palace storerooms.<br />

Other courtyards and numerous<br />

corridors lead to the wing reserved for<br />

habitation, to the guest apartments and<br />

to the<br />

artisans'<br />

workshops.<br />

Almost all of<br />

the spaces are<br />

paved with<br />

the typical<br />

local stone, a<br />

bluish<br />

limestone,<br />

and a<br />

sandstone<br />

known as<br />

ammouda.<br />

The necropolis, also known as<br />

Chryssolakos ("the gold mine") for the great<br />

quantity of gold objects discovered in the<br />

tombs, is to be found down by the sea and<br />

is laid out like the palace of the living with<br />

rooms and porticos. The excavations at Malia<br />

have rendered up a vast quantity of splendid<br />

objects, jewels and ceramics dating from<br />

the First Palace period to the Second Palace<br />

period, among which are a sceptre in the<br />

form of a leopard, some very fine jewellery<br />

such as the pendant with two bees and<br />

a gold pommel from a sword-hilt embossed<br />

with the figure of a vaulting acrobat,<br />

preserved in the museums of Heraklion and<br />

Ayios Nikolaos.<br />

Directly beyond<br />

the entrance one<br />

can make out the<br />

huge circular<br />

storerooms,<br />

called kouloures,<br />

which held the<br />

reserves of grain<br />

for the<br />

population that<br />

inhabited the<br />

various quarters<br />

around the Palace<br />


C H A P T E R 2<br />

Tales of Neapoli<br />

and surroundings<br />

The small Museum<br />

of Neapoli contains<br />

an important<br />

collection of statues<br />

from Classical and<br />

Roman times<br />

The fountain in<br />

Houmeriakos was<br />

built during the<br />

long Turkish<br />

occupation of<br />

Crete<br />

Travelling back towards Ayios Nikolaos<br />

and passing through a deep gorge crowned<br />

by the Monastery of Ayios Georgios Selinari,<br />

one arrives at Neapoli, a lively agricultural<br />

town beneath the mountain of Mavro Dasos<br />

which has a beautiful little museum with<br />

finds from the excavations of Dreros and<br />

statues from the Roman era. In 1340 at Kares,<br />

the oldest part of Neapoli, a certain Petros<br />

Philargi was born, a young man of great<br />

intelligence who was sent to study in Paris<br />

and in Oxford in order to follow a career in<br />

the priesthood. He became archbishop of<br />

Milan and then cardinal, and finally, at the<br />

time of the schism in the Western Church<br />

(which saw the curia of Rome in opposition<br />

to that of Avignon) Petrus Philatri was made<br />

Pope, taking the name of Alexander V: he<br />

held the position for only a year, from 1409<br />

to 1410 and died poisoned by his<br />

adversaries.<br />

A few kilometres from Neapoli, in the<br />

little village of Houmeriakos there remain<br />

some traces of Venetian influence, among<br />

which a little villa with<br />

an attractive ashlarwork<br />

doorway, which<br />

the Cretans call a<br />

Roman door. The town<br />

chronicles recount<br />

that in this house there<br />

once lived a Turk<br />

called Hussein who<br />

having fallen for the<br />

daughter of the local<br />

priest, kidnapped her with the intention of<br />

making her his lover. But at nightfall the<br />

maiden strangled the pasha, let herself<br />

down from the window disguised as a<br />


man, joined the<br />

rebels and fled to<br />

the plain of Lasithi.<br />

Her true identity<br />

was revealed when<br />

the swipe of a<br />

sword slashed<br />

open her clothes,<br />

but she continued<br />

to fight until her<br />

death. The<br />

monument<br />

commemorating<br />

this Cretan "Joan<br />

of Arc" is to be found at the entrance to the<br />

town of Kritsa.<br />

The so-called<br />

"Roman door"<br />

and white steps<br />

at Houmeriakos<br />

Again travelling on from Neapoli,<br />

climbing up in the direction of the Lasithi<br />

plateau, one can visit Kremaston<br />

Monastery, sited on a rocky ridge (hence its<br />

name which means "suspended"), which is<br />

inhabited by a community of monks.<br />

Founded in 1593 and built like a small fort,<br />

the monastery has been rebuilt several<br />

times, and in the twentieth century opened<br />

a school for children and ceded its<br />

agricultural lands to the Agricultural<br />

Commission which turned them into a<br />

model farm.<br />

The monastery<br />

of Kremaston was<br />

recently restored<br />


CHAPTER 3<br />












C H A P T E R 3<br />

Where nature is king<br />

Near Istron the<br />

waters of the gulf<br />

of Mirambelo are<br />

a deep turquoise<br />

in contrast with<br />

the grey rocks,<br />

the evergreen<br />

trees and the<br />

rock-plants in<br />

bloom<br />

Between Istron and Ierapetra the island<br />

of Crete narrows like a bottleneck and<br />

stretches a mere 16 kilometres between<br />

the gulf of Mirambelo and the Libyan sea.<br />

The trip will take us through the villages of<br />

the Thryptis and Orno mountains as far as<br />

the gates of Sitia. Here nature reigns, barely<br />

grazed by the hand of man: centuries-old<br />

olive trees, wild figs, shady plane trees,<br />

flower-filled fields, arid open spaces, deep<br />

gorges, small torrents and multicoloured<br />

rocks.<br />



C H A P T E R 3<br />

From Gournia to Ierapetra<br />

Orthodox<br />

monasteries<br />

are always<br />

hidden<br />

away in silent<br />

places far from<br />

the crowds<br />

A short deviation from the main coastal<br />

road leads us towards the Monastery of<br />

Faneromeni, clinging to the mountain top.<br />

The road meanders amid bushes of thyme<br />

and sage as far as the little cave church of<br />

the monastery which houses a precious icon<br />

of the "Death of the Virgin", believed to have<br />

miraculous powers. Legend tells of a<br />

shepherd who had lost his way during the<br />

night, but was drawn to a light in the<br />

darkness: it came from the holy icon and, in<br />

thanks to the Virgin who had helped him<br />

find his way once more, the first church of<br />

Faneromeni was erected on the site.<br />

Gournia, the<br />

"Minoan Pompei"<br />

Back on the main road, the ancient city<br />

of Gournia appears, luminous, on a low hill,<br />

like a map open to the skies: one can clearly<br />

see the walls of the houses, the streets and<br />

the courtyards, so much so that it is known<br />

as the "Minoan Pompei". Already inhabited<br />

in the Early- and Middle-Minoan era, the<br />

ruins that we see today belong largely to the<br />

Late Minoan era (circa 1600 B.C.) and to the<br />

period of the arrival of the Mycenaeans who<br />

erected a sanctuary here. The inhabitants of<br />

Gournia were artisans, merchants and<br />

fishermen, but they too wanted to erect a<br />

palace and a theatre space of their own<br />

modelled on Knossos, naturally much<br />

inferior in scale.<br />


In the Middle<br />

Minoan period<br />

Gournia had its own<br />

local governor who<br />

resided in a palace<br />

high on the hill<br />

The several-floored houses and the<br />

shops, which face onto the lanes, the steps<br />

and around the marketplace, form a<br />

compact urban weave where the walls back<br />

one onto the other and often share roofs.<br />

The excavations between 1901 and 1904 by<br />

the American archaeologist<br />

Harriet Boyd-Hawes, have<br />

yielded up many brightlycoloured<br />

ceramics with<br />

marine motifs and various<br />

everyday objects like mortars,<br />

millstones and jars for oil and<br />

for wine. Continuing on<br />

towards Ierapetra one can see<br />

the remains of the Proto-Minoan settlement<br />

of Vasiliki, almost directly opposite the<br />

clean break made by the Ha gorge which<br />

looks as though it had been cut open<br />

At the foot of<br />

the Ha gorge<br />

archaeologists<br />

have discovered<br />

remains of an<br />

ancient settlement<br />


C H A P T E R 3<br />

The inner walls<br />

of the houses<br />

of Vasiliki were<br />

originally<br />

plastered and<br />

painted red<br />

by a giant's sword. Vasiliki too, lying in the<br />

shade of wind-bent olive trees, retains the<br />

perfect outline of the city layout and is<br />

famous for the discovery of a great quantity<br />

of "flame-mottled" pottery with decorations<br />

in red and black, known as Vasiliki Ware. The<br />

corners of the small complex are orientated<br />

towards the four points of the compass, as<br />

was the practice in the constructions of Asia<br />

Minor: the settlement was destroyed.<br />

The town of Episkopi, midway along<br />

our route, has ancient origins as is testified<br />

by the sarcophagi found by pure chance<br />

whilst road works were being done near<br />

the double church of Ayios Georgios and<br />

Ayios Haralambos. The church dates back to<br />

the seventh or eighth century and is<br />

characterised by the double facades<br />


with one triangular pediment and one<br />

arched, and by an unusual brick dome with<br />

many niches that were once frescoed.<br />

Ierapetra, the ancient Hierapytna,<br />

is the largest port-town on the southern<br />

coast of Crete. It grew to be an important<br />

centre in the Graeco-Roman era when it was<br />

furnished with temples, baths, an<br />

amphitheatre and two theatres, porticos<br />

and an aqueduct, of which, however, there<br />

remains no trace. In the thirteenth century<br />

the Venetians built an imposing castle with<br />

battlements and ramparts. The Turks also<br />

embellished Ierapetra with mosques and<br />

fountains and there are corners of the city<br />

that retain a decidedly oriental aspect.<br />

The Venetian and<br />

Ottoman ruins are<br />

the most attractive<br />

monuments in<br />

Ierapetra, while<br />

nothing has<br />

survived from the<br />

Minoan, Greek or<br />

Roman periods<br />

On 26 th June 1798 the city had an<br />

illustrious guest in the person of Napoleon<br />

Bonaparte who, returning from the Egyptian<br />

campaign, spent a night here in a small<br />

house (now known as spiti tu Napoleonta or<br />

Napoleon’s House) not far from the church<br />

of Afendi Christou.<br />

Ierapetra has a fine Archaeological<br />

Museum with glass cabinets brimming with<br />

Minoan finds, ceramics, painted sarcophagi<br />

and statues dating from the Classical,<br />

Hellenistic and Roman eras.<br />


64<br />

C H A P T E R 3

Kavousi and the<br />

Thryptis and Orno mountains<br />

The road to Kavousi begins with a sea of<br />

dark olive trees. Here one can admire the<br />

oldest olive tree in Crete: how many years<br />

or centuries old it is no one knows, but its<br />

immense trunk, rough and scarred with<br />

hardened swellings like the body of a<br />

prehistoric animal, gives the impression<br />

that this tree/monument has seen more<br />

things than we humans are capable of<br />

imagining. Its branches were used to weave<br />

the crowns for the Athens Olympics in 2004.<br />

On the mountain that overlooks the<br />

village of Kavousi one can make out the<br />

foundations of two archaic settlements from<br />

the Early Bronze Age: a hilltop encampment<br />

and a settlement built around a rocky terrace<br />

with a view across the sea. Following the<br />

Dorian invasion the Eteocretans chose the<br />

sites on which to build their villages with<br />

care: fairly inaccessible, but with an ample<br />

vista that allowed them to control passing<br />

traffic without been seen. Hidden among<br />

luxuriant bushes of yellow-gold broom and<br />

wild sage there are numerous tholos tombs<br />

in which arms, jewellery and armour of the<br />

Geometric period have been found.<br />

The circular tombs<br />

of Kavousi are<br />

partly hidden by<br />

flowering bushes<br />


C H A P T E R 3<br />

From ancient Kavousi one can continue<br />

along rough roads (to be braved in a fourwheel-drive)<br />

that wind through the<br />

Thryptis and Orno mountains. One has to<br />

be a lover of wild and archaic landscapes to<br />

appreciate this itinerary which takes us<br />

through bare mountains, passes hazardously<br />

above deep ravines and where the only<br />

signs of life are the birdsong and the<br />

bleating of the goats. Once up in the<br />

Thryptis mountains it is a good idea to make<br />

a excursion on foot as far as the Ha gorge<br />

among perfumed bushes and silvery rocks.<br />

The bare<br />

mountainside<br />

is the reign of<br />

sheep and<br />

goats<br />

The Orno mountains<br />

are formed of many<br />

rocky cones with dark,<br />

solitary trees, where<br />

the white road passes<br />

through a valley with<br />

isolated cultivated<br />

fields, figs, pome -<br />

granates and even<br />

vines which grow at a<br />

surprisingly high<br />

altitude. A single small<br />

village of just a few<br />

houses, Bembonas,<br />

offers the chance for<br />


The best way to<br />

discover the beauty<br />

of this countryside<br />

is by travelling<br />

slowly and<br />

whenever possible<br />

on foot<br />

a rest at the little kafeneion which is frequented<br />

by the farmers and shepherds of the area.<br />

Having arrived at Chryssopighi the road<br />

is asphalted once again: further ahead on the<br />

right one comes to the pretty village of Orino<br />

with its myrtle bushes and their white<br />

headily-perfumed flowers, while on the<br />

slopes of the Orno one arrives at Dafni and<br />

Skordillo amid great groves of olives. At that<br />

point a geological peculiarity has created<br />

bright white rocks of limestone and chalk that<br />

thrust up from the dark earth like sharp<br />

blades and calcified bones. In the fissures<br />

there grow anemones and cyclamens that<br />

bring to mind certain details, painted with<br />

brush-tip, in medieval miniatures.<br />


C H A P T E R 3<br />

The stones of history<br />

Beyond the tiny hamlet of Riza there lies<br />

the village of Achladia and venturing along<br />

the little roads among olives groves,<br />

orchards and vineyards, one can go in search<br />

of a Minoan villa and a tholos tomb, wellhidden<br />

by the trees. The perfectly preserved<br />

tholos in all probability dates back to 1300<br />

B.C., to the Mycenaean period. A long<br />

dromos, a ramp faced with large dressed<br />

stones, runs down towards a doorway<br />

formed of great monolithic blocks which<br />

leads into a dark chamber roofed with a<br />

dome formed of horizontal courses of stone<br />

[corbelling]. The burial chamber has a false<br />

door which perhaps served to allow<br />

communication between the world of the<br />

dead and that of the living.<br />

The tholos<br />

tomb at<br />

Achladia is the<br />

best preserved<br />

in eastern Crete<br />

Rendered almost invisible by the olive<br />

grove that grows above it, the Minoan villa<br />

at Achladia is a large rural construction with<br />

various rooms built around an expansive<br />

courtyard with a kiln for producing ceramics.<br />

Of the villa there remain only the foundations,<br />

which do however give a good idea of how<br />

Minoan country life was organised.<br />


Decidedly more interesting is the<br />

ancient Minoan complex of Hamezi, dating<br />

back to 2000 B.C., which occupies the entire<br />

crest of a bare hill called Souvloti Mouri<br />

("pointed hill"). Built of a rosy stone, and in a<br />

strange elliptical form (the only one of its kind<br />

on Crete) it was long believed to be a peak<br />

sanctuary,<br />

but was more<br />

probably a<br />

rural villa<br />

housing<br />

several<br />

families who<br />

found<br />

themselves<br />

forced to<br />

adapt the<br />

shape of the<br />

house to that<br />

of the hillside<br />

terrain. The<br />

rooms are<br />

arranged in<br />

a circle around a deep cistern which served<br />

to collect rainwater because the hill has no<br />

springs or wells.<br />

The view from the<br />

top of the hill of<br />

Hamezi looks over<br />

large olive groves<br />

and vineyards right<br />

down to the sea's<br />

edge<br />


C H A P T E R 3<br />

Nowadays the<br />

traditional<br />

handicrafts of<br />

Crete are to be<br />

found only in<br />

the Folklore<br />

Museum<br />

In the modern village of Hamezi there<br />

is an interesting Folklore Museum with<br />

traditional agricultural instruments and<br />

craftsmens' tools, costumes, furnishings and<br />

finely embroidered cloths shown in various<br />

rooms which recreate the atmosphere of<br />

a real peasant home of the past.<br />

Basket-shaped<br />

vase with<br />

double axes -<br />

the symbol of<br />

Minoan<br />

religion and<br />

power - from<br />

the island of<br />

Psira<br />


Psira and Mochlos<br />

Turning back onto the main road towards<br />

Ayios Nikolaon one meanders through the<br />

mountains as far as a panoramic<br />

promontory, after the village of Mirsini, from<br />

which there can be seen two small islands,<br />

Mochlos and Psira, and also a huge gypsum<br />

quarry which over time has taken on the<br />

appearance of a pyramid.<br />

It was once possible<br />

to reach the small<br />

island of Mochlos<br />

on foot, walking<br />

along the isthmus<br />

Mochlos emerges from the water for<br />

only 45 metres, and once formed part of the<br />

mainland, but during the Roman era the<br />

waves began to climb and submerged the<br />

isthmus. Mochlos is one of the most ancient<br />

settlements on Crete, and in its rock tombs,<br />

where the local rulers were buried, there<br />

have been found rich grave-goods: gold<br />

jewellery in filigree, silver cups, alabaster<br />

vases and objects in faience.<br />

Gold diadem from<br />

Early Minoan<br />

period, found at<br />

Mochlos<br />


C H A P T E R 3<br />

The bold, dark<br />

profile of the<br />

rocky island of<br />

Psira<br />

The gypsum<br />

quarry once<br />

ruined the<br />

coastline but<br />

now seems part<br />

of the natural<br />

landscape<br />

Psira is larger and further from the<br />

coast and was inhabited from the time of<br />

the Minoans until the Byzantine era. It had<br />

an important port with the houses built<br />

amphitheatre-style around it and was well<br />

sheltered from the winds. Psira controlled<br />

the rich maritime trade between Crete and<br />

the East and the inhabitants must have been<br />

very wealthy merchants: their houses were<br />

frescoed and decorated with reliefs of very<br />

fine workmanship, worthy of a royal palace.<br />



CHAPTER 4<br />



SITIA<br />

PETRAS<br />



ZOU<br />


ETIA<br />

VOILA<br />




C H A P T E R 4<br />

The Venetian castle<br />

of Sitia in an old<br />

engraving. Today<br />

the fortress, known<br />

as kazarma and<br />

which was<br />

destroyed by the<br />

Ottomans, has been<br />

partially restored.<br />

The Venetian<br />

influence in<br />

architecture and<br />

arts is still to be felt<br />

in many places<br />

around Sitia<br />

Starting out from Sitia (the city which has<br />

lent its name to the whole region, in that<br />

Lasithi is simply a distortion of the Venetian<br />

"La Sitia"), our journey takes us into the most<br />

hidden lands of the Eteocretans, the "true<br />

Cretans", who, after the destruction of the<br />

Minoan palaces, preserved the customs, the<br />

language and the religion of the Minoans for<br />

many centuries. Following the end of the<br />

ancient world it was, however, the Venetians<br />

who left a strong imprint on the region, and<br />

their traces can be found in the cities, the<br />

small villages and the ruins dotted about<br />

the territory. In a document of the era, the<br />

Venetians describe the population of Sitia<br />

as "peaceable and respectful of the laws<br />

and lovers of feasts".<br />

The Turkish presence was also strong,<br />

governing the region with an iron fist, and<br />

the occupiers were guilty of innumerable<br />

massacres many of which were the work of<br />

Khaireddin Barbarossa, a pirate in the pay<br />

of the Ottomans.<br />



C H A P T E R 4<br />

Sitia from Minoan times<br />

to Venetian dominion<br />

Clear, light waters<br />

and a wide horizon<br />

characterize the<br />

bay of Sitia<br />

Like a white amphitheatre, Sitia hugs the<br />

bay with its port from which the ships that<br />

sail towards the islands of the Dodecanese<br />

leave. In ancient times the port was called<br />

Eteia and belonged to the city of Pressos<br />

(Praisos), a settlement on the hills inland that<br />

remained important from Minoan times to<br />

the Hellenistic period.<br />

Later the Romans were to occupy Sitia as<br />

an eastern Cretan outpost: the remains of<br />

a large fish tank date back to this period,<br />

whilst all traces of the earlier civilisations<br />

were destroyed by the continual incursions<br />

of pirates and by the numerous earthquakes<br />

that have plagued the area.<br />

80<br />

Before the ninth century an important<br />

diocese was founded in Sitia, to then be<br />

devastated shortly after by the Saracens.<br />

For this reason it was decided to transfer<br />

the bishopric to Episkopi, less exposed to<br />

raids and pillaging. On the Byzantine ruins<br />

the Genoese Enrico Pescatore built a fortress<br />

which the Venetians took possession of in<br />

1280, and which became, together with<br />

Hania, Rethymnon and Heraklion, one of<br />

Crete's most powerful strongholds.

The Venetian Castle<br />

overlooking the<br />

town of Sitia<br />

For many centuries Sitia remained one<br />

of the most important fiefs of the aristocratic<br />

families of the Venetian Republic. The<br />

fortress (commonly known as Kazarma) was<br />

destroyed along with the rest of the city in<br />

1538 by the pirate Khaireddin Barbarossa,<br />

but immediately rebuilt by the Venetians,<br />

although it was then captured by the Turks<br />

at the end of the eighteenth century. The<br />

signs left by the devastation that Barbarossa<br />

wreaked can still be seen in the little fireblackened<br />

church of the monastery of<br />

Faneromeni, few kilometres distant from<br />

Sitia, built above a gorge of white rock and<br />

visible from the sea, therefore easy prey for<br />

the foreign hordes who landed on the coast.<br />

In the period between the end of Venetian<br />

rule and the imminent occupation by the<br />

Turks, one of the island's most famous<br />

writers, Vincenzo Cornaro (or Vincente<br />

Kornaros), was born in Sitia, possibly of<br />

noble Venetian origins or a Cretan aristocrat<br />

who adopted an Italian name as was the<br />

A small hamlet<br />

was built near the<br />

monastery of<br />

Faneromeni<br />


C H A P T E R 4<br />

Archaeological Museum<br />

of Sitia<br />

The Minoan<br />

"prince" in gold<br />

and ivory from<br />

Palaekastro is one<br />

of the most<br />

precious finds to<br />

have come out of<br />

eastern Crete<br />

The Museum's rich collection<br />

includes pottery, clay figurines,<br />

votive offerings, tablets with<br />

Minoan inscriptions, tools,<br />

jewellery and fragments of<br />

murals<br />


fashion at the time. His epic chivalric poem<br />

"Erotokritos" (he who is tormented by Eros)<br />

is composed of 1680 verses and tells, in<br />

flowery language, of the heroic battle<br />

between princes and warriors for the hand<br />

of the Princess Aretusa, who after terrible<br />

misadventures comes to marry the<br />

protagonist Erotokritos. The romance unites<br />

myth, legend, magic, passion, adventure,<br />

proverbs and folk wisdom and today the old<br />

folk still know the verses by heart, and sing<br />

them as they did in the past.<br />

With the Ottoman occupation the city<br />

fell into ruin until 1870, when an illuminated<br />

Turk, Avni Pasha, drew up the new city plan<br />

and had it rebuilt, in spite of the outbreaks<br />

of rebellion that hinted at the imminent<br />

demise of the Sultans' dominion. Following<br />

the liberation and independence of the<br />

island, Sitia was gradually repopulated and<br />

became the lively and beautiful town,<br />

oriental in character, with narrow streets,<br />

cafes, taverns and open-air markets, that it<br />

is today. One should not miss out on a visit<br />

to the Folklore Museum and above all the<br />

Archaeological Museum which houses<br />

important finds from the Minoan civilisation<br />

- including many votive<br />

offerings from the<br />

nearby peak<br />

sanctuaries and a<br />

splendid Minoan<br />

"prince" in gold and<br />

ivory found at<br />

Palaekastro, along with<br />

numerous daedalic<br />

figurines in the<br />

Egyptian style and<br />

objects from the Greek<br />

and Roman periods.<br />

This engraving<br />

from 1651 shows<br />

the town of Sitia at<br />

the time of the<br />

famous poet<br />

Vincenzo Cornaro,<br />

author of the epic<br />

"Erotokritos"<br />

Daedalic figurines<br />

were very common<br />

in Doric time<br />


A white-rock<br />

gorge leads to a<br />

stony beach and<br />

the monastery of<br />

Faneromeni, with<br />

its dark<br />

katholikon, the<br />

monks' Byzantine<br />

church with<br />

beautiful icons<br />

and frescocovered<br />


C H A P T E R 4<br />

Traces of the ancients<br />

around Sitia<br />

The double axe<br />

symbol is found<br />

engraved on<br />

stone and clay<br />

vessels<br />

wherever the<br />

Minoans<br />

founded a<br />

settlement<br />

An inscription on a Minoan tablet bears<br />

the word "se-to-i-ja", the most ancient name<br />

given to the city of Sitia, used right up to our<br />

own times. Its precise location is not known,<br />

but some scholars believe that it may have<br />

lain on the hill at Petras, where Minoan<br />

constructions with enormous blocks of<br />

dressed stone have been discovered. Petras<br />

is also cited by Plato in the Protagoras where<br />

he mentions it as the birthplace of Myson,<br />

one of the Seven Sages of ancient Greece.<br />

Other Minoan ruins have been found at the<br />

gates of Sitia, along the edge of the road<br />

that leads towards the Libyan sea: they are<br />

the remains of a Minoan villa dating from<br />

1600 B.C. with a series of rooms arranged<br />

across terraces, two well - preserved<br />

stairways and a crypt.<br />

Again near Sitia, to be found on a hill<br />

overlooking the sea is Tripytos, a large<br />

settlement with houses, workshops and<br />

storerooms built on the sandstone slope:<br />


Hellenistic-Roman period. Continuing along<br />

the road towards the east, after a few<br />

kilometres one comes to Ayia Photia, one<br />

of the largest<br />

Minoan<br />

necropolises<br />

on the island,<br />

with 252<br />

tombs, some<br />

cut into the<br />

rock, some in<br />

the form of<br />

tholoi. Next to the necropolis, on the crest of<br />

a low hill, a large fortified Minoan villa from<br />

the Middle Minoan period has been<br />

Sitia is surrounded<br />

by Minoan<br />

settlements, rural<br />

villas and<br />

cemeteries dating<br />

from the Middle<br />

Minoan period to<br />

the time when the<br />

Eteocretans took<br />

refuge in the<br />

mountain of<br />

eastern Crete<br />

uncovered with 37 rooms and two circular<br />

structures: even if the archaeological<br />

remains are little but outlines, the place has<br />

its own particular fascination, between the<br />

blue of the sea and rocks overrun with a<br />

blanket of succulents with bright purple<br />

flowers.<br />


C H A P T E R 4<br />

The Minoans from war and work<br />

to religion<br />

On the road that leads from Sitia to<br />

Makryyialos along the coast of the Libyan<br />

Sea we come across a series of settlements<br />

and sanctuaries of the later generations of<br />

Minoans and Eteocretans who, amid these<br />

hills, sought refuge from the Dorian invaders<br />

in around 1000 B.C.. These sites enable us to<br />

better-understand three of the fundamental<br />

aspects of Minoan culture: country life, town<br />

life and the religious cults.<br />

Minoan country<br />

villas like that of<br />

Zou were very<br />

important in the<br />

Eteocretan period,<br />

since they provided<br />

the population's<br />

sustenance<br />

Near Zou, famous for its springs which<br />

provided fresh water for all of the<br />

surrounding area as far as Sitia, a rural villa<br />

has been discovered dating back to around<br />

1600 B.C., built of dressed stone on a very<br />

steep slope on a sandy and fragile terrain<br />

that threatens to crumble. The house is<br />

composed of various rooms, workshops and<br />

a kiln for ceramics, and a large number of<br />

tools and agricultural instruments have been<br />

found there.<br />

Travelling south one can make out a<br />

small sandstone ridge in the middle of a<br />

dense grove of olives: this is the Minoan<br />


Even very small<br />

settlements were<br />

built in the form of<br />

miniature royal<br />

palaces<br />

settlement of Ayios Georgios which, in its<br />

form and structure, is more like a miniature<br />

Gournia than a simple country house. The<br />

entrance is marked by a steep staircase<br />

formed of monolithic blocks which leads to<br />

a myriad of small chambers with the massive<br />

walls of a fortress. From the foot of the hill<br />

the green countryside stretches out<br />

immersed in absolute silence, and it is easy<br />

to believe that the ancients who inhabited<br />

this place loved to surround themselves<br />

with beauty.<br />

More imposing in appearance is<br />

Pressos (Praisos), a Late Minoan city which<br />

was active up until the Roman period, with<br />

a triple acropolis built on a cone-shaped hill<br />

entirely surrounded by fortified walls: from<br />

afar the hill seems built up in a spiral, like<br />

old representations of the tower of Babel.<br />

Pressos lies exactly halfway between the two<br />

coasts and was of strategic importance,<br />

allowing control over the traffic of people<br />

and goods across a vast territory. In the<br />

Greek era it was the most powerful city-state<br />

of eastern Crete, together with Itanos<br />


C H A P T E R 4<br />

The dominion<br />

of the powerful<br />

Pressos<br />

extended over<br />

the whole<br />

region of Sitia,<br />

and a treaty<br />

was even made<br />

with the distant<br />

Itanos in order<br />

to avoid<br />

surrender to<br />

the rival city of<br />

Hierapytna<br />

Every Minoan<br />

settlement had its<br />

own mountain-top<br />

sanctuary:<br />

the sanctuary of<br />

Pressos lay on the<br />

peak of Prinias<br />

with which it was<br />

linked by friendship,<br />

and Hierapytna<br />

(Ierapetra), the<br />

eternal rival,<br />

especially as far as<br />

the lucrative trade in<br />

purple dye which was<br />

extracted from a<br />

particular species<br />

of mollusc which<br />

abounded in the<br />

coastal waters was<br />

concerned.<br />

Pressos venerated<br />

Zeus Dikteo and<br />

practiced a strange cult, that of the "sacred<br />

pig", as a result of which the populace was<br />

forbidden to eat pork. Governed by a<br />

democratic aristocracy, Pressos was an<br />

extremely wealthy city that minted coins<br />

with the effigies of Apollo, Hercules, Zeus<br />

and Demeter. In the buildings from the<br />

Greek/Hellenistic period, in the sanctuary<br />

and in the tombs, precious finds have been<br />

made: terracotta figures, painted lions,<br />

helmets, shields and pectorals in bronze and<br />

two Athenian amphorae of the sixth century<br />

B.C. which probably belonged to a local<br />

athlete who had won prizes at the<br />

Panathenian Games.<br />

When Ierapetra openly declared war on<br />

Pressos, the inhabitants turned for<br />

protection to the allied city of Itanos and<br />

also to Ptolemy Philimetor, ruler of Egypt<br />


with whom they had commercial dealings,<br />

but, despite their repeated appeals for help,<br />

in 146 B.C. Ierapetra succeeded in destroying<br />

the city. In decline and no longer<br />

independent, in 58 B.C. Pressos was<br />

occupied by the Romans who partially<br />

rebuilt the city. However it had, lost all its<br />

power.<br />

The Minoans and Eteocretans of these<br />

lands chose a "holy mountain" to take their<br />

votive offerings to the gods. The most<br />

imposing of these peak sanctuaries is found<br />

on the mountain of Prinias, which is very<br />

difficult to scale because defended by a very<br />

steep wall of jagged rocks on its western<br />

face and by a<br />

deep gorge on<br />

the east. In the<br />

past shepherds,<br />

farmers and<br />

townsfolk<br />

climbed as far as<br />

the summit<br />

carrying offerings<br />

of figurines and<br />

objects in<br />

terracotta, bronze<br />

and gold which<br />

were deposited in<br />

a sacred enclosure or hidden in the cracks<br />

between the rocks.<br />

The mountain-top sanctuaries were not<br />

always situated on the highest mountain<br />

peaks. Even low hills which were unusual in<br />

form or simply emerged from flat terrain<br />

could function as holy mountains for the<br />

population: for example the little mount<br />

Katrinia at Piskokephala, nowadays<br />

cultivated with olive groves and vineyards,<br />

and the low ridge of Alia, crowned with<br />

a small white church between Sykia and<br />

Papagianades, where many votive offerings<br />

have been found (now exhibited in the<br />

museums of Sitia and Ayios Nikolaos).<br />

At Prinias in<br />

particular there<br />

a large number of<br />

horned scarabs in<br />

clay have been<br />

found, the rinoceros<br />

orytes commonly<br />

known as<br />

"rhinoceros scarab"<br />

and believed, in the<br />

"household" cults,<br />

to be talismanic.<br />


C H A P T E R 4<br />

The Venetian feudal<br />

territories<br />

As we wander among the roads that lead<br />

from Sitia to the Libyan sea, history moves<br />

forward in great bounds because in an area<br />

of only a few kilometres we find ourselves<br />

immersed in Minoan remains and then<br />

immediately afterwards in the feudal<br />

possessions of the Venetians.<br />

Kato Episkopi is the village to which,<br />

in the eleventh century, the bishopric of Sitia<br />

was transferred to escape the devastations<br />

wreaked by the Saracens. The three-naved<br />

church of the Ayioi Apostoloi with its cupola<br />

that recalls Islamic architecture, was noted<br />

by Venetian sources for a peculiarity: it had<br />

Under Venetian<br />

rule Kato and<br />

Epano Episkopi<br />

were seats of<br />

the Catholic<br />

bishopric, but in<br />

the churches<br />

both Orthodox<br />

and Catholic<br />

rites were<br />

celebrated<br />

two altars, one dedicated to the Latin rite<br />

and one to the Greek, and often the liturgies<br />

of the respective priests were celebrated<br />

simultaneously. Another beautiful old<br />

church, Panayia, is to be found at Epano<br />

Episkopi and is worth a visit.<br />

A small sign indicates the road to Forte<br />

castle, which is recognisable from far off<br />

thanks to its stern outline above a rocky spur<br />

rising up in front of the Orno mountain<br />

range. The road winds through cultivated<br />

fields and sweet-scented meadows with<br />


eautiful panoramas, as far as the ruins of<br />

the castle which was once property of the<br />

Genoese and later recovered by the<br />

Venetians who called it Monforte. Climbing<br />

to the crest one has a splendid view over the<br />

easternmost part of Crete as far as the<br />

Libyan sea. In the sixteenth century the<br />

fortress was abandoned and fell into ruin for<br />

lack of care. Later the site became a refuge<br />

for the peoples persecuted by the Ottomans<br />

and it is said that up to 3000 people could<br />

take shelter within its walls.<br />

To visit some of the most important<br />

lands of the noble families of Venice one<br />

must push on through narrow roads<br />

between vineyards and orchards in the<br />

direction of Ziros. One of the most<br />

fascinating sites is Etia, property of the<br />

powerful Venetian De Mezzo family, who<br />

built their residence here in the sixteenth<br />

century, a large palace, well-conserved and<br />

restored, with two churches alongside it,<br />

Ayia Ekaterina and Ayios Ioannis. Atop the<br />

main door is the family crest of two<br />

mermaids, while inside it opens onto a large<br />

hall with barrel-vaulting and a stairway<br />

which once led to the now non-existent<br />

upper floor.<br />

Castles, churches<br />

and palaces testify<br />

to the power of<br />

Venetian rule which<br />

lasted for over four<br />

centuries<br />


The palace at Etia<br />

with its two small<br />

churches has<br />

been carefully<br />

restored and is<br />

now listed as a<br />

national<br />

monument<br />

The mansion house at<br />

Etia is one of the most<br />

representative<br />

examples of Venetian<br />

architecture in<br />

eastern Crete. There<br />

was originally a<br />

second floor but the<br />

building fell in at the<br />

beginning of the<br />

nineteenth century

Continuing on towards Armeni and<br />

Handras (two agricultural villages famous<br />

for their wine and the production of<br />

sultanas, which are left to dry on great<br />

sheets stretched out in the sun), one arrives<br />

at Voila, another important Venetian feudal<br />

estate belonging to the Zeno family who,<br />

following the Turkish conquest, converted<br />

to Islam: their sons became fanatical<br />

janissaries, transforming the Italian surname<br />

into Tzin-Ali. Of the Venetian/Turkish village<br />

there remains the imposing tower of the<br />

palace/fortress with crests and relief<br />

sculptures carved on the entrances.<br />

The fertile valley<br />

near Armeni e<br />

Handras was once<br />

Venetian territory,<br />

but after the feud of<br />

Voila was ruled by a<br />

Turkish-Venetian<br />

janissary<br />

Alongside the palace we can see the<br />

ruins of the church of Ayios Panteleimonas<br />

and some stone houses with blackened<br />

ovens and fireplaces that attest to their<br />

sporadic use by shepherds and local farmers.<br />

Coming back down past scattered rocks and<br />

boulders, one arrives at a beautiful fountain<br />

in the Turkish style with an enclosed garden.<br />

Overhead is the church of Ayios Georgios<br />

which houses the tomb of the Cretan<br />


C H A P T E R 4<br />

Salomons, the family which<br />

was to give Greece one of<br />

her famous theologians,<br />

Jacopo, and the poet<br />

Diorisi.<br />

Another village,<br />

Katelionas (which would<br />

be almost camouflaged<br />

among the rocks were it<br />

not for two white churches<br />

that shine in the sunlight) contains traces<br />

of the Venetian presence of the sixteenth<br />

century, when it was a large town with a<br />

population of thousands. The Ottomans<br />

forced the residents to convert to Islam or<br />

risk expulsion. Katelionas slowly emptied<br />

and was never repopulated.<br />


Returning towards Armeni, where on<br />

the crest of the hill the blades of a wind farm<br />

spin dizzyingly, on the plain below one can<br />

make out the ruins of the monastery of Ayia<br />

Sofia, of which there remain some Venetianera<br />

rooms surmounted by wide arches and<br />

blocks from columns and capitals. Used for<br />

a short time as a school during the Turkish<br />

occupation, but ever since with neither<br />

students nor vocation, the grey stone<br />

monastery has fallen into total abandon.<br />

Ruins and small<br />

churches are<br />

reminders of the<br />

past centuries,<br />

often troubled and<br />

rife with<br />

intolerance<br />

Lifting one's eyes up from the<br />

monastery to the high wall of rock that<br />

faces onto a narrow gorge, one can see two<br />

small cave churches dedicated to Ayio<br />

Pneuma. Both little churches are modest,<br />

dug into the rock, and their iconostases too<br />

are simple screens between the altar and the<br />

space reserved for the faithful, with a few<br />

icons of the saints, but it is worthwhile<br />

climbing up this far to sit on the stone<br />

benches and meditate, on the beauty of<br />

the nature here and of the sky amid the<br />

great silence.<br />


C H A P T E R 4<br />

In the silent villages<br />

Time seems to stop<br />

in the archaic and<br />

unsullied landscape<br />

around Perivolakia<br />

To better understand the spirit of this<br />

region we would suggest a visit to the<br />

villages that tourism has forgotten, like<br />

Perivolakia and Drongari, set into a<br />

landscape both wild and sensual and<br />

approachable via a narrow path along the<br />

gorge that lies halfway down the slope<br />

beneath the little churches of Ayio Pneuma.<br />

Where the gorge ends one encounters a<br />

small plateau with thistles and thorny<br />

bushes amid farmhouses, all deserted, save<br />

one which appears to be inhabited by<br />

someone fairly eccentric who has decorated<br />

the house with odds and ends that vary from<br />

old pieces of iron to ox-horns and empty tin<br />

cans. The place is called Epano Perivolakia<br />

and was abandoned after a terrible<br />

earthquake.<br />

98<br />

Further down, settled among the olive<br />

trees, Kato Perivolakia appears, a group of<br />

low white houses with flat roofs and<br />

terracotta chimney pots. In Venetian times it<br />

was a rich agricultural village, but now the<br />

life in its streets seems to have stopped still<br />

and the few remaining inhabitants gaze

in wonder at the rare visitors who come this<br />

far. Yet more desolate is the old stone<br />

hamlet on a ridge at the beginning of the<br />

Perivolakia gorge, which descends between<br />

great boulders and open tree trunks towards<br />

Kapsa Monastery on the southern coast. The<br />

site has the rough beauty of a fortified<br />

village and it is with amazement that one<br />

notices that behind those impenetrable<br />

walls some homes have been rebuilt with<br />

tiny gardens in which there grow almonds<br />

and pomegranates.<br />

Continuing along a dirt road in the<br />

direction of Apidia one can visit the ruins<br />

of the medieval village of Drongari, which<br />

emerges amid hay fields and olive trees with<br />

its grey stones that once formed homes,<br />

shops, stables and storehouses. Over the last<br />

few years it has all but completely fallen in,<br />

Great silence and<br />

the scent of wild<br />

flowers are this<br />

spot's only riches<br />

but one can still make out arched doorways<br />

and rooms with stairs, niches and stone<br />

seats. On the platform that marks the<br />

entrance to the ruins, a bare white church<br />

has been erected with a wooden iconostasis<br />

with brightly-coloured paintings.<br />


C H A P T E R 4<br />

Along the coast of<br />

the Libyan sea<br />

From outside the<br />

church seems<br />

rather poor, but<br />

inside it boasts<br />

surprisingly<br />

beautiful frescoes<br />

and holy icons<br />

Back on the main road leading to the sea,<br />

the white town of Lithines comes into view,<br />

and merits a stop: it is a lively and well-kept<br />

place with restored houses, flower-filled<br />

gardens and labyrinthine streets. The site<br />

was know as far back as pre-Hellenistic<br />

times, but acquired real importance only in<br />

the Byzantine and Venetian eras when it<br />

took the name of the aristocratic Lithini<br />

family who, in 1591, built the church of Ayios<br />

Athanasios in the town square. Here was<br />

buried the Venetian patrician Gerolamo<br />

Vlasto, fighter for the freedom of Crete and<br />

refined man of letters. Of the small castle<br />

which was once to be found in the middle<br />

of the village there remain only a few<br />

fragments of reliefs which are now<br />

incorporated into the church.<br />



C H A P T E R 4<br />

The Venetian<br />

style of<br />

architecture<br />

and decoration<br />

continued to be<br />

adopted by<br />

local craftsmen<br />

even after<br />

Venetian rule<br />

ended<br />

Mysteriously dark, the church of<br />

Panayia Hodegetria ("the Virgin who shows<br />

the true path") is entirely frescoed.<br />

Blackened with smoke from the candles, it<br />

houses a precious icon of the Madonna from<br />

the fourteenth century:<br />

from the image there<br />

hang hundreds of silver<br />

ex votos - eyes, hands,<br />

feet, figures of men,<br />

women and children<br />

invoking mercy - held by<br />

fine chains so that they<br />

form a wide, tiered skirt<br />

of metal right down to<br />

the floor.<br />

The third church of Lithines is dedicated<br />

to the Ayia Triada and to Ayios Haralambos.<br />

It has two apses and dates back to 1886. Its<br />

beautiful portals with relief sculptures were<br />

probably salvaged from an older Venetian<br />

building.<br />

102<br />

After Lithines the road drops steeply<br />

towards the Libyan sea where we find the<br />

coastal village of Makryyialos with a small<br />

fishing port. Two ancient constructions have<br />

been found here, a Roman villa facing the<br />

sea and a Minoan villa on a flat area of land<br />

higher up, both hidden among the modern<br />


The Roman villa dates back to the first<br />

century A.D. and has a regular plan with a<br />

central courtyard surrounded by many<br />

rooms including small baths and a semicircular<br />

pool - possibly a fish pond. Judging<br />

from the precious pavement mosaics and<br />

the fragments of marble that decorated the<br />

walls, this was a luxury abode.<br />

The large Minoan villa belongs to the<br />

Second Palace period, it has a surrounding<br />

wall and is divided into numerous rooms<br />

with traces of cobbled flooring. The villa had<br />

strong links with the religious cults of the<br />

Minoans because inside there have been<br />

found stone altars, a chamber for ritual<br />

banquets and a magnificent seal on which<br />

there is inscribed a ship with a sanctuary<br />

floating on the waves, symbol of the sea<br />

gods.<br />

Turning instead towards the line of<br />

coast that leads eastwards, we encounter<br />

the fifteenth-century monastery of Kapsa,<br />

clinging to the high rocks and dedicated to<br />

St John the Baptist. In the mid 1800s the<br />

monastery became the property of the<br />

adventurer Yerontoyiannis, a decidedly<br />

controversial character: repenting of a life<br />

of dissolution he became a monk, dedicating<br />

himself to the poor, healing the sick and<br />

working miracles. Ever since Yerontoyiannis<br />

has been venerated as a saint and every 29 th<br />

August a great feast is dedicated to him at<br />

the monastery.<br />

The ancient<br />

settlements, villas<br />

and monasteries<br />

were rarely built on<br />

exposed stretches<br />

of coast because<br />

the population<br />

feared foreign<br />

invaders coming<br />

from the sea<br />


C H A P T E R 4<br />

The island of Koufonissi:<br />

a very special outing<br />

Murex shells are<br />

still to be found<br />

on the sandy<br />

beaches of the<br />

island of<br />

Koufonissi<br />

In the summer when the sea is calm, a<br />

passenger ferry sets out from the port of<br />

Makryyialos for the uninhabited island of<br />

Koufonissi (the ancient Lefki). White<br />

beaches, crystalline, turquoise waters and<br />

ancient remains make this island an<br />

uncontaminated little paradise, and<br />

exploring it on foot leaves one feeling as free<br />

as the birds that wheel between its sea and<br />

the sky. Koufonissi has not always been so<br />

silent: in the Graeco-Roman period the<br />

island had a flourishing industry producing<br />

the red-purple dye that is extracted from the<br />

muscles of the murex shellfish that are to be<br />

caught in the surrounding sea, a dye which<br />

was sold on at great price. The inhabitants of<br />

Koufonissi had commercial dealings with the<br />

city states of Hierapytna, Itanos and Pressos<br />

and also with Athens and Rome where use<br />

of the colour purple was reserved for the<br />

clothing of the aristocracy.<br />

A twelve-tiered Roman theatre of the<br />

fourth century A.D., a temple dedicated to<br />


Zeus, an aqueduct and the remains of a<br />

Roman villa with columns of porphyry and<br />

mosaic floors all attest to the wealth of the<br />

past. Koufonissi was inhabited up until the<br />

Byzantine era, as is demonstrated by the<br />

walls beside the sea. Sailing around the<br />

island, one notes graffiti on the rocks<br />

representing sailing-ships, smaller boats and<br />

holy images: they were scratched there by<br />

the shipwrecked and by sailors and pirates<br />

whom the wind had driven onto the rocks.<br />



CHAPTER 5<br />





ITANOS<br />


KARYDI<br />

ZAKROS<br />

ETIA<br />


C H A P T E R 5<br />

Mountain-top sanctuaries<br />

In the easternmost part of Crete we find<br />

the traces of one of the most important and<br />

mysterious religious manifestations of the<br />

Minoan Civilization: the rites of worship that<br />

took place on the mountain peaks. The peak<br />

sanctuaries originated in the Middle<br />

Minoan period, around 2000 B.C., and<br />

remained functional up to the time of the<br />

Eteocretans. According to the Greek<br />

archaeologist Costis Davaras, in the area<br />

between Itanos and Goudouras alone there<br />

are concentrated a full nine sacred<br />

mountains, the best-known of which are<br />

Petsofas and Modi above Palaekastro,<br />

Traostalos and Vigla on the road to Zakros,<br />

Kalamaki near Itanos, and Prinias and<br />

Piskokephalo which are found just outside<br />

Sitia.<br />

110<br />

Our knowledge of<br />

Minoan religion is<br />

still very limited.<br />

The finds from<br />

peak-sanctuaries,<br />

caves, domestic<br />

shrines and tombs<br />

seem to indicate<br />

that the natural<br />

world played an<br />

important part in<br />

magical<br />

ceremonies<br />

The traveller notes nothing in<br />

particular, if not the mountain peaks with<br />

irregular rock formations which contrast<br />

with the surrounding landscape and catch<br />

the eye: a conical summit, jagged boulders,<br />

rings of rock or majestic ridges. Many of<br />

these sanctuaries did not even have a sacred<br />

enclosure (only on the mountain of Petsofas<br />

do the walls of a temenos remain), and for<br />

this reason scholars believe that the devout<br />

made their way to the mountain tops simply<br />

to pray close to the sky, where the gods


C H A P T E R 5<br />

The peak<br />

sanctuary on<br />

Mount Petsofas<br />

is one of the few<br />

sacred sites<br />

with remains of<br />

a shrine<br />

A quantity of<br />

clay scarabs<br />

have been<br />

found at the<br />

peak sanctuary<br />

of Prinias<br />

could more easily manifest themselves. The<br />

mountain belonged to the gods, and to<br />

indicate the sacredness of the place was<br />

unnecessary.<br />

The Minoans brought precious<br />

offerings to the gods - objects in gold, ivory<br />

and bronze, or spontaneous gifts modelled<br />

in clay: domestic animals such as goats,<br />

oxen, bulls and sheep, but also birds, snakes,<br />

tortoises and insects and many figurines,<br />

both male and female, in the gesture of<br />

worship with both arms raised above the<br />

head or with a closed fist held to the<br />

forehead. They invoked the benevolence<br />

of the gods, for a good year, for an abundant<br />

harvest or for the healing of their physical<br />

ills: many feet, hands, arms, legs and little<br />

heads have been found in the crevasses<br />

between the rocks, along with miniature<br />

vases and objects of domestic and<br />

agricultural use.<br />

Votive<br />

offerings were<br />

hidden in<br />

fissures and<br />

cracks in the<br />

rocks<br />


Which deities were<br />

worshipped at the<br />

peak sanctuaries is<br />

still unknown, but<br />

sacred figures -<br />

especially female -<br />

are often<br />

identifiable<br />

engraved on seals<br />

or painted on<br />

pottery and clay<br />

sarcophagi<br />

For the Minoans nature was sacred and<br />

had no need of manipulation. Many plant<br />

symbols appear on their seals and in their<br />

painting: olive trees, fig trees, palms, oaks,<br />

pillars<br />

crowned with<br />

treetops,<br />

flowers, fruit<br />

and scattered<br />

leaves, and<br />

water was<br />

present too:<br />

the waves of<br />

the sea on<br />

which there<br />

sailed the<br />

boats with<br />

their sacrificial<br />

altars.<br />

Many of the<br />

discoveries made relating to these peak<br />

sanctuaries are owed to the French scholar,<br />

and tireless traveller, Paul Faure who, in the<br />

mid twentieth century scoured the<br />

mountains and grottos of Crete on foot in<br />

search of the traces of the civilian and<br />

religious life of the Minoans. Many<br />

archaeologists have used Faure's travel<br />

notes and books as the basis of in-depth<br />

studies of the sites that he indicated.<br />

Figurines in the<br />

shape of bulls were<br />

a symbol of<br />

strength,<br />

independence and<br />

fertility<br />

The reconstruction<br />

of the peak<br />

sanctuary of<br />

Petsofas<br />

includes a fairly<br />

large temenos<br />

built into the<br />

rocks<br />


At the Museum of<br />

Ayios Nikolaos all<br />

sorts of votive<br />

offerings from the<br />

peak sanctuaries<br />

are on show: small<br />

clay animals,<br />

pottery, and legs<br />

and arms, used to<br />

ask the gods for<br />

good health or a<br />

rich harvest<br />

The small clay<br />

figurines - both<br />

male and female -<br />

are in the typical<br />

worshiping pose<br />

of the Minoans

Archaeologists<br />

have also found<br />

bronze figurines<br />

and animals and<br />

objects in gold.<br />

The peak<br />

sanctuaries first<br />

appear in the<br />

Middle Minoan<br />

period and some<br />

remained in use up<br />

until the Late<br />

Minoan period<br />

The female<br />

figurines have<br />

elaborate<br />

hairstyles and<br />

wide skirts, while<br />

the male figures<br />

wear only the<br />

sacred knot and<br />

a dagger

C H A P T E R 5<br />

Travelling towards the<br />

“deserted city”<br />

From Sitia the road continues along the<br />

coast towards the easternmost point of<br />

Crete in a harsh, bare landscape, its few trees<br />

bent by the wind which blows angrily here.<br />

In the midst of this wild nature there rises<br />

the fortress-like monastery of Toplou, which<br />

takes its name from the Turkish word top,<br />

cannon, because the Venetians had<br />

equipped the complex with a powerful<br />

artillery. Dedicated to the Panayia Akrotiriani<br />

("the Virgin of the ridge"), the monastery was<br />

founded in the fourteenth century by the<br />

noble Venetian Cornaro family, but thanks<br />

to armed conflicts and earthquakes, Toplou<br />

Monastery has been damaged and rebuilt<br />

many times.<br />

Toplou<br />

Monastery is one<br />

of the most<br />

important<br />

monasteries on<br />

Crete, erected in<br />

the middle of a<br />

fertile plateau<br />

halfway to<br />

Palaekastro. In<br />

the past the<br />

monastery held<br />

land from Capo<br />

Sideros all the<br />

way to the south<br />

coast - mainly<br />

received as gifts<br />

from the rich and<br />

devoted families<br />

of Sitia<br />


Inside the monastery the monks have<br />

organised an interesting museum with<br />

antique engravings, illuminated<br />

manuscripts, historical documents and holy<br />

icons, an outstanding example of which is<br />

the work painted by the eighteenth-century<br />

artist Ioannis Kornaros when he was only<br />

twenty-five years old. The icon is inspired by<br />

the psalm "Lord, thou art great", and<br />

represents 61 biblical scenes (in particular,<br />

the creation) with hundreds of figures in the<br />

style of the miniaturists.<br />

The monastery's<br />

museum has a rich<br />

collection of<br />

ancient documents<br />

and icons: the most<br />

famous is the<br />

painting by Ioannis<br />

Kornaros<br />

The monastery of Toplou also possesses<br />

a precious stone tablet with Greek<br />

inscriptions dating from 146 B.C., this is the<br />

treaty between the city states of Itanos and<br />

Hierapytna concerning the ownership of<br />

and trading rights regarding the purple dye<br />

that was produced on the island of<br />

Koufonissi. The arbitrator in this dispute was<br />

the governor of the Roman city of Magnesia<br />

in Asia Minor where an identical copy of the<br />

ancient treaty has been found. The<br />

inscription was discovered in 1834 at Itanos<br />

by the British diplomat and traveller Robert<br />

Pashley, who brought it to Toplou where it<br />

was reused as an altar table and later walled<br />

into the facade of the chapel.<br />

The inscription on<br />

the stone tablet<br />

tells of the treaty<br />

made between the<br />

city states of Itanos<br />

and Hierapytna in<br />

the year 146 B.C.<br />


118<br />

C H A P T E R 5

The landscape appears increasingly<br />

parched and desolate as we continue along<br />

the road towards the bay of Grandes,<br />

passing semi-abandoned farmhouses, great<br />

swathes of shrubs toughened by the sun<br />

and the sea salt, enclosed pastures for the<br />

herds of long-haired goats, and fields<br />

cultivated with melons, grapes and bananas<br />

which belong to the monastic community<br />

of Toplou. On a promontory overhanging<br />

the sea one can make out the ruins of<br />

ancient Itanos, later called Erimoupolis,<br />

the deserted city. Legend tells that<br />

Itanos belonged to the Kouretes, the young<br />

warriors who danced and beat their arms<br />

hard on their shields to cover the noise of<br />

the whimpering baby Zeus, born in the<br />

grotto of Mount Dikti (or perhaps on Mount<br />

Ida).<br />

The ruins of<br />

Itanos - later<br />

called<br />

Erimoupolis, the<br />

deserted city -<br />

are spread wide<br />

over the coastal<br />

area, with traces<br />

of Minoan,<br />

Hellenistic and<br />

Roman<br />

constructions<br />

and also early<br />

Christian<br />

remains<br />

Inhabited by the Minoans and later<br />

becoming a Phoenician trading post, Itanos<br />

was considered one of the most powerful<br />

city states of the Graeco-Roman era, it held<br />

the right to mint coins and controlled the<br />

maritime trade between the Orient, Egypt<br />

and the Mediterranean. The only dangerous<br />

rival was Hierapytna which had<br />

demonstrated its bellicose intentions in<br />

destroying the city-state of Pressos, ally of<br />

Itanos. The relationship with Egypt was so<br />

strong that in the third century B.C. the<br />


C H A P T E R 5<br />

The Christian<br />

basilica has<br />

fallen into ruin,<br />

but contains the<br />

columns of the<br />

central nave,<br />

salvaged from<br />

Roman and<br />

Greek buildings<br />

populace could request the help of Ptolemy<br />

Philadelphos to bring down the aristocratic<br />

government that oppressed them.<br />

In the ninth century the city, already badly<br />

damaged by an<br />

earthquake, was razed to<br />

the ground by pirates and,<br />

after some attempts at<br />

rebuilding it, was<br />

definitively abandoned in<br />

the fifteenth century,<br />

becoming the "deserted<br />

city". At Itanos we can see<br />

the ruins of each of the<br />

city's periods of glory - the<br />

walls of the Greek houses,<br />

the Hellenistic fortifications, the Roman<br />

storerooms dug into the rock, the necropolis<br />

and the remains of a three-naved early<br />

Christian basilica constructed with materials<br />

salvaged from the older buildings.<br />

A stone's throw from Itanos, the famous<br />

sandy beach of Vai stretches out in the<br />

shade of a vast palm grove. Legend has it<br />

that it was the Saracens who brought the<br />

palm to this area: pitching their tents near<br />

the shoreline and living off dates, the dense<br />

palm grove is thought to have grown from<br />

the date-pits that they dropped there.<br />



C H A P T E R 5<br />

Palaekastro and the<br />

mountain villages<br />

Overlooking a<br />

natural harbour<br />

near the bay of<br />

Kouremenos, in<br />

the Middle<br />

Minoan period<br />

there flourished<br />

a town today<br />

called<br />

Roussolakos - the<br />

red hole -<br />

because of the<br />

area's purple soil<br />

122<br />

The immense arc of the bay of<br />

Kouremenos (where nowadays the<br />

students of a windsurfing school whisk past)<br />

was inhabited by an important Minoan<br />

community right from the dawn of that<br />

civilization. Among the olive groves of<br />

Palaekastro, in the area known as<br />

Roussolakos at the foot of Mount Petsofas<br />

(which watched over one of the most<br />

frequented peak sanctuaries of ancient<br />

times) a vast rosy-stoned Minoan settlement<br />

has been<br />

brought<br />

back to<br />

light. The<br />

real name<br />

of this city<br />

is not<br />

known, but<br />

we do<br />

know that later on the Greeks were to call it<br />

Heleia for its marshy terrain. Rectangular in<br />

plan with paved streets, steps and a dense<br />

weave of houses built one up against the<br />

other to form small districts, the city enjoyed<br />

great prestige in the Middle Minoan period.<br />

Following the natural disaster of around<br />

1450 B.C. which destroyed all the palaces<br />

and cities of Crete, Palaekastro also

crumbled and the few survivors withdrew<br />

to the promontory of Kastri overlooking<br />

the bay.<br />

The city came to life again during the<br />

Late Minoan period, and was still inhabited<br />

in the Greek era when a great sanctuary<br />

dedicated to Zeus was erected at some time<br />

during the eighth to sixth centuries B.C.<br />

When the archaeologists of the British school<br />

in Athens arrived, the temple appeared to<br />

have been completely demolished, and yet<br />

among its ruins it concealed some important<br />

archaeological remains including a frieze<br />

representing a chariot, and a terracotta lion,<br />

The peak<br />

sanctuaries of<br />

Petsofas and Modi,<br />

with their stark<br />

conical profiles,<br />

were sacred to the<br />

ancient population<br />

of Palaekastro and<br />

were places of<br />

worship up until<br />

the Roman period<br />

Every afternoon<br />

the fishing boats<br />

leave the small<br />

harbour of<br />

Palaekastro<br />

but above all here there was discovered a<br />

stele carved with the famous "Hymn to Zeus<br />

Kouros", to Zeus the youth, the perfect image<br />

of the idealized hero, sung by the Kouretes<br />

and by the men who worshipped the "divine<br />

Zeus, native of Crete".<br />


124<br />

C H A P T E R 5

Turning right just before the entrance<br />

to the modern village of Palaekastro, one<br />

can follow a dirt road which leads right to the<br />

base of the sacred mountain of Modi, the<br />

conical outline of which stands out against<br />

the sky from a long way off. To reach the<br />

summit, where the Minoans worshipped the<br />

gods of nature, and from which one enjoys<br />

a magnificent view over the whole of the<br />

eastern coast, one must pick one's way<br />

through rocks and brushwood, ideally<br />

following the winding goat tracks.<br />

From the sacred<br />

mountain of Modi a<br />

dirt track leads to<br />

small villages now<br />

partly abandoned,<br />

but with<br />

interesting<br />

traditional houses<br />

The route continues past a forest<br />

formed by the mills of a wind-farm and<br />

groups of houses with modest gardens that<br />

are swept by the perennial winds, as far as<br />

Mitato and Vrysidi, two tiny hamlets with<br />

few inhabitants. The soil takes on a rosy hue<br />

as the path reaches Karydi with its low,<br />


C H A P T E R 5<br />

A deep, dark<br />

hole marks the<br />

entrance to the<br />

large grotto of<br />

Peristeria<br />

situated<br />

between Karydi<br />

and Adravasti<br />

square houses (most of which are no longer<br />

inhabited) with doors and windows that bang<br />

with every gust of the wind - the only master<br />

in this ancient village. In the bare hills<br />

surrounding Karydi the deep grotto of<br />

Peristeria is to be found, opening its<br />

immense<br />

crater-like<br />

mouth<br />

amid the<br />

thistles. At<br />

this point<br />

the<br />

landscape<br />

becomes<br />

almost<br />

lunar,<br />

among<br />

pointed rocks that take on the form of<br />

animals or little stone monsters curled up<br />

between the bushes: venturing on foot over<br />

the uneven terrain, clambering over the<br />

ridges of the hills and looking down towards<br />

the dark precipices, the silence of this land<br />

becomes almost unbearable.<br />

The white<br />

village of<br />

Sitanos<br />


Turning back towards Karydi and<br />

following the road to Ziros, the snow-white<br />

village of Sitanos awaits us, built on the<br />

slope of hill with labyrinthine alleyways and<br />

flat roofs on which onions, figs and pulses<br />

are laid out to dry in the sun. Underground<br />

watercourses have rendered this strip of land<br />

more fertile and the landscape is softer here<br />

among vast fields, vineyards and isolated<br />

cypresses.<br />

The area around<br />

Sitanos and<br />

Armeni is<br />

famous for its<br />

grapes and good<br />

wine<br />


C H A P T E R 5<br />

Zakros and the Valley<br />

of the Dead<br />

From the top of<br />

the sacred peak<br />

of Traostalos<br />

you can see the<br />

grottoes that<br />

mark the<br />

entrance to the<br />

Hochlakies<br />

gorge<br />

As one leaves the village of Palaekastro a<br />

sign indicates the road for Zakros, one of the<br />

great Minoan palaces of Crete. The land<br />

between the two mountain chains that flank<br />

the valley is fertile and is cultivated by the<br />

farmers who live in the small traditional<br />

villages of the area. Just past the houses of<br />

Hochlakies a narrow gorge begins: the way<br />

is almost blocked by<br />

gigantic boulders<br />

and a dense<br />

vegetation, but at<br />

the end it opens<br />

suddenly onto a<br />

great marshy<br />

meadow with beds<br />

of reeds which are<br />

used for making<br />

matting and baskets.<br />

Further on, a lonely<br />

beach of round<br />

pebbles stretches<br />


out before an eternally calm sea sheltered<br />

by the cliffs on either side.<br />

Behind a little cemetery with a small<br />

white church that is level with the village of<br />

Azokeramos, the climb towards the Minoan<br />

peak sanctuary of Traostalos begins. The<br />

path of pink soil contrasts with the dark<br />

green bushes of thyme and sage, with their<br />

scented flowers that feed the bees whose<br />

honey has an intense and aromatic flavour.<br />

At the summit a group of lighter-coloured<br />

rocks marks out a natural sacred enclosure,<br />

and the terrain is scattered with tiny<br />

fragments of terracotta, chippings from the<br />

votive offerings of the Minoans.<br />

Once past the modern village of Zakros,<br />

a small clearing marks the beginning of the<br />

descent towards a deep gorge that runs out<br />

into the creek of Kato Zakros where<br />

the Minoan palace lies. Following<br />

the twisted path of the gorge past<br />

stones, pools of water and oleander<br />

bushes, on the rock walls one notes<br />

numerous caves cut into the stone:<br />

these are Minoan graves, rock<br />

tombs that have given the gorge<br />

its name of "Valley of Death".<br />


C H A P T E R 5<br />

The gorge known<br />

as the Valley of<br />

Death descends<br />

from the stoney<br />

heights of Kato<br />

Zakros as far as the<br />

Minoan palace by<br />

the sea<br />

The asphalted road<br />

drops rapidly down towards<br />

the bay of Kato Zakros, with<br />

fishing boats at anchor along<br />

the shore and a row of<br />

taverns that offer fresh fish.<br />

The ancient palace of Zakros,<br />

with its city that extends<br />

across terracing on the hill<br />

above, dates back to the<br />

Second Palace period from<br />

1600 to 1500 B.C. and was<br />

discovered by chance in 1901<br />

by the British archaeologist<br />

David Hogarth, while intense<br />

excavation was begun in<br />

1962 by Nikolaos Platon.<br />

Zakros's ancient masters lived<br />

opulently thanks to the<br />

flourishing maritime trade<br />

that arrived from Egypt, Syria, Cyprus and<br />

Asia Minor. Even though it was the smallest<br />

of Crete's four Minoan palaces, the Zakros<br />

residence had around 200 rooms, with<br />

banqueting halls, purificatory baths, shrines,<br />


the treasury, the megaron of the king and<br />

the megaron of the queen, and an immense<br />

archive-room in which hundreds of tablets<br />

inscribed with the Linear A script were found,<br />

still preserved in their boxes. In the various<br />

rooms more than two-hundred vases were<br />

discovered including real masterpieces<br />

such as a rhyton in rock crystal, as well as<br />

innumerable objects in bronze (axes, swords,<br />

knives, hammers and various forms of vessel),<br />

a very beautiful bull's head and many objects<br />

in ivory, faience and gold.<br />

The Minoan<br />

palace and town<br />

of Zakros<br />

possessed one<br />

of Crete's most<br />

important<br />

harbours and<br />

became the<br />

main gateway<br />

for trade with<br />

the Orient<br />


C H A P T E R 5<br />

The coast of the wild lilies<br />

The rough and<br />

stony land of<br />

easternmost Crete<br />

is still untouched<br />

by the modern<br />

construction<br />

industry and mass<br />

tourism<br />

Just after the village of Zakros, a turning<br />

beside the roadside remains of a Minoan<br />

country villa indicates the way to<br />

Xerokampos on the coast of the Libyan sea.<br />

Amid olive groves, winding gorges and high<br />

mountains, at last the coast comes into view,<br />

little-inhabited and with wide beaches of<br />

sand and pebbles. Immediately to the right<br />

just before arriving at the village of<br />

Xerokampos, one finds a small sandy bay<br />

with emerald-green water and one of the<br />

most beautiful beaches on Crete: right up to<br />

the water's edge there grow snow-white lilies<br />

and rare succulents that come into flower<br />

under the baking midsummer sun.<br />


Following the shoreline, one notes<br />

a solitary small, white church built over<br />

an ancient Minoan settlement called<br />

Ambelos. Reoccupied in the Hellenistic<br />

period, it was later conquered by the<br />

Romans. The cut of the stones has nothing<br />

of the monumental to it, but it is nonetheless<br />

interesting to observe the remains of the<br />

ancient site which probably belonged to<br />

the kings of Zakros. Ambelos had a peak<br />

sanctuary of its own on the promontory that<br />

looks out over the two little islands in the<br />

middle of the sea known as Kavali.<br />

The coast near<br />

Ambelos gives a<br />

good idea of what<br />

the island must<br />

have been like in<br />

ancient times<br />

Leaving<br />

Ambelos<br />

behind us,<br />

the landscape<br />

becomes everwilder<br />

and<br />

more arid<br />

while the sea<br />

glitters in the<br />

sunlight, inviting one to take continual dips<br />

in its refreshing waters. We would<br />

recommend a walk up to the far promontory<br />

of Xerokampos which offers a magnificent<br />

view over the entire coast as far as Koufonissi.<br />

In one wall of rock the wind and the saltwater<br />

have carved a giant face with a wide-open<br />

mouth: it could easily be the face of the<br />

gorgon Medusa,<br />

The sea cliffs have<br />

been eroded by<br />

water, wind and<br />

salt which have<br />

sculpted strange<br />

images into the<br />

rock<br />


C H A P T E R 5<br />

sculpted by nature, ready to defend the<br />

island. Nothing could be better than the<br />

dizzying climb along the snaking road that<br />

leads towards the few houses of the<br />

traditional hamlet of Hametoulo and,<br />

eventually, to Ziros, with its breathtaking<br />

panorama, for taking our leave of eastern<br />

Crete; wild, mysterious, secretive, austere<br />

and at the<br />

same time<br />

warm and<br />

hospitable,<br />

rich in<br />

magnificent<br />

monuments<br />

and jealous<br />

of her many<br />

hidden<br />

beauties.<br />





Chronology<br />

7000 B.C. Stone Age, arrival of the first settlers<br />

6500-2800 B.C. Neolithic Age and the beginning of the<br />

Bronze Age<br />

2800-2100 B.C. Arrival of the Minoans, pre-Palace period<br />

2100-2000 B.C. Beginning of the First Palace period<br />

2000-1700 B.C. Palace civilization, construction of the First<br />

Palaces<br />

1700 B.C. Destruction of the First Palaces by an<br />

earthquake<br />

1650-1500 B.C. Construction of the Second Palaces,<br />

Second Palace period<br />

1500-1450 B.C. Eruption of the volcano Thera and destruction<br />

of the Second Palaces<br />

1450-1200 B.C. Beginning of the post-Palace period,<br />

arrival of the Mycenaeans<br />

1200-1100 B.C. Beginning of the Iron Age<br />

1100-900 B.C. Invasion of the Dorians<br />

900-69 B.C. Geometric, Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic<br />

periods. Creation of the city states, extensive<br />

trade with the Near East and Egypt.<br />

69 B.C.-330 A.D. Roman conquest and the beginning<br />

of the Early Christian period<br />

330-830 A.D. First Byzantine period<br />

830-961 A.D. Invasion of the Arabs<br />

961-1204 A.D. Second Byzantine period<br />

1204-1669 A.D. Venetian dominion and the first stirrings<br />

of Cretan resistance<br />

1669-1898 A.D. Turkish occupation and very active<br />

Cretan resistance<br />

1898-1912 A.D. Liberation from Turkish occupation and<br />

creation of the Autonomous Cretan State<br />

under the protection of the European powers<br />

1913 A.D. Official union of Crete with Greece<br />


Glossary<br />

Acropolis -<br />

Ashlar-work -<br />

Ayios -Ayia<br />

Eteocretan -<br />

Dromos -<br />

Hestiatorion -<br />

Iconostasis -<br />

Kafeneion -<br />

Kastro -<br />

Katholikon -<br />

Kernos -<br />

Janissaries -<br />

Megaron -<br />

Mitate -<br />

Paleos -<br />

Panayia -<br />

ancient citadel<br />

square-hewn stone masonry or facing<br />

‘saint’ or ‘holy’<br />

'true Cretan', the last of the Minoan peoples<br />

in eastern Crete<br />

'street', the unroofed passage leading<br />

into a tholos tomb<br />

banqueting chamber in ancient buildings<br />

screen between the altar and the nave<br />

of the (Orthodox) church<br />

coffeehouse<br />

castle or fortified area<br />

church or chapel within a monastery<br />

vessel used for religious rituals<br />

young Ottoman soldiers, guards selected<br />

from Christian families and forced to<br />

convert to Islam<br />

the great hall of Minoan and Mycenaean<br />

palaces<br />

small stone house<br />

'old'<br />

the Virgin Mary<br />

Peak sanctuary - ancient mountain-top shrine<br />

Pithos - large storage jar<br />

Polis -<br />

town<br />

Prytaneion - council chamber<br />

Raki -<br />

strong alcoholic drink produced on Crete<br />

Rhyton - drinking horn, often in the form of an<br />

animal-head<br />

Spiti -<br />

house<br />

Temenos - sacred precinct<br />

Tholos - conical or beehive-shaped tomb<br />


TEXT<br />









JOHN O’ SHEA<br />



The authors<br />

Judith Lange is a journalist, photographer and painter,<br />

Maria Stefossi is a photographer, graphic artist and editor.<br />

Both are great travellers. They have published numerous books together,<br />

among the most recent of which are: Ancient Theatres, Ancient Stadia, Crete,<br />

Mani, Drama and Humble Beauty.<br />


www. bluegr.com

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