Discover The Unknown Crete


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This book tells of the beauty of eastern Crete, of the Prefecture of Lasithi, with its mountain ranges, vast plateaus, fertile valleys, arid plains, magnificent beaches and its ancient memories. To discover the authentic Crete one must travel slowly, drawn by curiosity not only to the great archaeological sites and monuments, but also to the landscape and the sky, the houses and the rocks, because on Crete everything is myth, legend and history: the mountains, the grottoes, the gorges, the trees, the stones and even the scent of the shrubs in bloom.

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Discover The Unknown Crete

  1. 1. The G. & A. Mamidakis Foundation, has for two decades now made ongoing efforts to present to the public major cultural events, always directly related to Tourism. Taking as our point of departure our native island of Crete, a crossroads of cultures from East and West, we have sought to propose seminal exhibitions of Greek and international Contemporary Art for art lovers. Perhaps unique for the 48 sculptures on display in its gardens, the MINOS BEACH ART HOTEL boasts of a substantial collection of works by leading Greek and international artists. Continuing our cultural activities today, we have established, illustrated, documented and explored untrodden paths of Eastern Crete in a tasty 144-page catalogue titled: Awake your Senses Discover the unknown Crete Eastern Crete - book one We trust that the publication of these practical catalogues, which also provide information about other unknown destinations-monasteries, archaeological sites-will enable modern-day travellers to experience another side of Crete, the authentic, unexplored inland regions of the island, just like the international travellers who discovered and recorded the charms of our land in the 17th and 18th centuries. Gina Mamidakis President G. & A. Mamidakis Foundation
  2. 2. JUDITH LANGE MARIA STEFOSSI awake your senses DISCOVER THE UNKNOWN CRETE Eastern Crete - Book One Publication of this book has been made possible thanks to Gina Mamidakis, President of the G.& A. Foundation and bluegr Mamidakis Hotels group, and long-time patron of culture and the arts. The book is dedicated to those ever-curious travellers who wish to learn more of the beautiful region of eastern Crete. © copyright text and photographs by Judith Lange - Maria Stefossi © copyright edition by the G.& A. Foundation and bluegr Mamidakis hotels group. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the authors.
  3. 3. Crete is the island of which Homer sang, "Along the wine- dark sea, by water ringed, there lies a land both fair and fertile", a mysterious and magical land, source of the myths of the Greek world. Zeus, king of the gods of the ancient Greeks, was born in a grotto here, and it was here too that he died and came back to life. This book tells of the beauty of eastern Crete, of the Prefecture of Lasithi, with its mountain ranges, vast plateaus, fertile valleys, arid plains, magnificent beaches and its ancient memories. To discover the authentic Crete one must travel slowly, drawn by curiosity not only to the great archaeological sites and monuments, but also to the landscape and the sky, the houses and the rocks, because on Crete everything is myth, legend and history: the mountains, the grottoes, the gorges, the trees, the stones and even the scent of the shrubs in bloom. 4 5
  4. 4. MINOS BEACH art hotel MINOS BEACH art hotel You can awaken your senses at Minos Beach Art hotel, with its unique artistic environment of 45 works of Greek and foreign artists. A local and international culinary choice of traditional Cretan cuisine and unique gourmet tastes for exquisite dining in our restaurants or enjoy an array of thirst-quenching cocktails in Escape in style our two bars. Experience the wonder of Cretan luxury with aromatic gardens and distinctive architecture. Located on the waterfront in the magical area of Ayios Nikolaos, in the eastern part of Crete, the town centre is a mere ten minute An abundance of walk away. recreational activities and leisure facilities will Set within a serene landscape and unique environs thus ensuring ensure fun and an unforgettable experience in one of the 129 beautifully and entertainment spaciously appointed bungalows. All are equipped with balconies throughout your stay or private terrace with unique views of the azure sea and in an environment of extensive gardens, air-condition, direct dial telephone, mini bar, tranquillity and luxury. TV, in room safe, hairdryer and bathroom. Our Executive and Presidential suites are spacious and offer a private swimming pool. 6 7
  5. 5. CANDIA PARK VILLAGE CANDIA PARK VILLAGE Experience a world of fun and recreation Candia Park Village is an ideal place for families and couples of all ages. Modelled on a traditional Cretan village, all 222 apartments are spaciously equipped and offer a magnificent waterfront location overlooking the turquoise waters of Mirabello Bay. Set in the environs of a traditional Cretan Village with extensive gardens, the clock square, the Greek coffee house, all add to the charm of this picturesque village of traditional hospitality. The Candia Park Village is a complete holiday village making it the ideal place for relaxation and amusement. Facilities include sea water and fresh water swimming pools, Jacuzzi, tennis courts, private beach, water sports and recreational areas for all tastes and age groups. The highlight is our mini club for our young friends from 4 to 12 years of age that offers stimulating activities, competitions and games. All apartments are spacious of 40 m2 and 60 m2 offering private balconies or terrace. Each can accommodate from 2 to 6 persons and are fully equipped with airconditioning, bathroom, direct dial telephone and a kitchenette to prepare afternoon coffee or tea or perhaps a light meal. A variety of restaurants with a wide choice of a la carte items, sunny bars for thirst-quenching drinks and light snacks provide a unique ambience with panoramic views of Mirabello bay. A mini market is available. 8 9
  7. 7. C H A P T E R 1 Ayios Nikolaos Xepatomeni (bottomless), sacred to Athena and Artemis who, as the legend goes, bathed their divine bodies here. The city declined after the Roman conquest but acquired new importance during the Byzantine period, when it became the seat of the bishopric of Kamara: of that era there remains the little church of Ayios Nikolaos of the tenth or eleventh century, with rare frescoes from the iconoclast period when the ecclesiastical authorities forbad the physical representation of sacred images. At the beginning of the thirteenth century the Genoese and Venetians fought for possession of the coast and initially the Genoese, led by the gentleman-pirate Enrico Pescatore, prevailed. Pescatore erected the The small church of An engraving It is hard to imagine that a century and castle of Mirambelo, promptly destroyed by the Venetians to whom the island of Crete Ayios Nikolaos dating from the representing the a half ago Ayios Nikolaos - one of Crete's was assigned by the treaty of Adrianoupoli tenth or eleventh Venetian castle of richest and liveliest cities - was, as an old century Ayios Nikolaos: in 1204. today nothing document attests, only a tiny village of just Hurriedly reconstructed, the castle was remains of this 95 souls. Ayios Nikolaos, capital of the briefly occupied by the Turks in 1645, then fortress Prefecture of Lasithi, has the appearance of Lake Voulismeni a relatively new city, but its history is very ancient, even if the evidence of its turbulent past is now buried under modern buildings. Thanks to its splendid position overlooking the gulf of Mirambelo (or as the Venetian has it, Mirabello or "beautiful view") the site was chosen by the ancient Dorians (ninth to seventh centuries B.C.) for the port of Lato, an important fortified settlement between the mountains near Kritsa. The city was then called Lato pros Kamara and was famous for its safe harbour. One of the wonders of the place was considered to be the small lake of Voulismeni - today linked to the sea by a narrow canal and surrounded The excavations of the ancient town in by restaurants and cafes - a lake of dark and the city unfathomable waters, also known as 12 13
  8. 8. C H A P T E R 1 ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM OF AYIOS NIKOLAOS Skull with a wreath of gold leaves taken back by the Venetians who, however, from the Roman cemetery at decided to destroy it once more themselves Potamos, first century A.D. and Late Minoan clay sarcophagi or for the sake of not leaving it in Turkish larnakes hands: not one stone remains of the celebrated fort atop the highest hill of Ayios Nikolaos. The city was entirely abandoned when, during the second half of the nineteenth Late Minoan century, groups of exiled female sfakiotes arrived from the worshipper from the mountains of western Crete, cemetery at and the place slowly began to Myrsini come to life again. From that moment onwards the reborn city would be called Ayios Nikolaos, taking its name from the little ninth-century Byzantine church which was the only surviving testimony to Pottery dating have resisted all the turbulence from the Late of this history. Every 6th Minoan period December there is a great feast dedicated to St. Nicholas, A medieval patron saint of fishermen. Clay vessel archer from the One must is a visit to the city's from the region of Sfakia: fourteenth during the Archaeological Museum which possesses century B.C. nineteenth beautiful finds from the past forty years of found in the century many excavations in eastern Crete: ceramics, gold, Palace of Malia sfakiotes arrived and in Ayios Nikolaos idols (among which there are a large number Daedalic of votive offerings from the Minoan peak figurines from sanctuaries), sarcophagi and glass. the eighth and seventh centuries B.C. 14
  9. 9. C H A P T E R 1 Kritsa and Panayia y Kera Among the narrow alleyways of Kritsa Kritsaastretches outtrees aatwhitemouth of a like lizard above sea of olive the dark gorge beneath the mountain heights of the Dikti that surround two high plains, the immense Lasithi plateau and the more na of the Creation) dating from the modest Katharo plateau. thirteenth or fourteenth century, with three naves and an unusual three-pointed facade, surrounded by tall cypresses. The arrangement of the paintings that cover each of the internal walls observes the rigid hierarchy required in that period: first God and the angels, then the life of Jesus and Mary, followed by representations of Paradise and the Last Judgement, biblical stories, saints and, finally, images of men known for their faith. Kritsa, with its narrow alleyways, the low The saturated colours (the dark red of ripe houses jumbled one over another, its very pomegranates, the green of the leaves of colourful traditional costumes, its numerous ancient olive trees, the ochre and dark kafeneion and taverns, seems the archetypal brown of the earth) and the close-packed "Cretan village", even if the definition sequence of images, each different, each "village" seems reductive for this fairly large, powerful and vigorous, immersed in the The Byzantine extended country town. It is so very "Cretan" church of Panayia y semi-darkness, rather dizzy the viewer, and that in 1957 the American film director Jules Kera with its The white village this was, perhaps, precisely what the artist beautiful frescoes Dassin chose Kritsa and its inhabitants for of Kritsa above a intended. green valley of the setting of the film He, who must die olive trees based on Nikos Kazantzakis' famous novel The Greek Passion which told a modern version of the passion of Christ. Every year on Good Friday there is a sumptuous procession through Kritsa during which the epitaphios, a catafalque covered with flowers, is carried through the town, amidst prayers, laments and song. However, before arriving at Kritsa one should pay a visit to one of the most beautiful and important Byzantine churches on Crete: the Panayia y Kera (the Madon- 16 17
  10. 10. C H A P T E R 1 made new laws, minted coins with the Lato effigies of Artemis and Hermes and imposed a new social order on the population of the Lato, once an area. important Dorian Lato was born as a fortified city city-state, amidst a beautiful stretching across six terraces with a double mountainous acropolis, a vast agora and a prytaneion, landscape which functioned as administrative centre and banqueting hall for the guests of honour who dined here sitting on the stone benches of the hestiatorion. A monumental stairway marks the entrance to the prytaneion, while another, not far from a large temple (perhaps dedicated to Apollo) has been identified as the "theatre space". The city flourished up until the Hellenistic period and the ancient writers affirm that this was the birthplace of Niarchos, valorous general and friend of Alexander the Great. As everywhere in Greece, side-by-side, and on Crete the A careful observation of the structure and the materials that form the buildings, the sacred and the profane live if on one hand churches and monasteries roads and the doors is worthwhile: the With its strong walls and record the profound religiousness of the ancient system of construction has been monumental population, numerous ancient ruins evoke handed down through the centuries, and buildings, Lato the foreign powers, wars and conflicts that some of the same architectural details can is the best- preserved of the have tormented the island over the still be seen in the old stone-built country Cretan cities of centuries. Some kilometres before arriving at houses dotted among the mountains the Doric/ Clas- Kritsa a turning off the main road leads to around Kritsa. sical period Lato, one of the island's best-preserved ancient cities, enclosed between two hills below Mount Thylakas. The city-state, which took its name from the goddess Leto, mother of Apollo and Artemis, was founded in the eighth century B.C. by Dorians hailing These small daedalic figurines from the Greek mainland, who invaded are typical of the Crete in around 1000 B.C., chasing the native Doric style of inhabitants from their lands: they spoke a sculpture that flourished during dialect similar to Greek and proclaimed the eighth and themselves descendents of the offspring of seventh centuries Hercules. Strengthened by their absolute B.C. authority over the island after the fall of the Minoan and Mycenaean kingdoms, they 18 19
  11. 11. C H A P T E R 1 The Katharo Plateau L ess well-known, smaller and more hidden than Lasithi, the plateau of Katharo is reached via a road (all curves) that begins at the crest of the town of Kritsa. Climbing up amidst silver-grey rocks that glitter in the sunlight in contrast with the red soil, and among low tough-leaved shrubs that form anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures like little sculptures, one has the sensation of travelling through an archaic land, fixed and solid, as though it were petrified. The few trees have dark hat-shaped crowns that give small stone houses of the shepherds and The remains of old stone houses shade to the roots and offer relief to sheep peasants who took refuge here during the or mitates are and goats in search of some cool. months of mountain pasture. Almost always part of the rectangular in form - but also, at times, landscape as much as the circular like the tholos (beehive) tombs - the rocky hills and building of the mitates involved choosing withered trees with care the individual stones, evaluating the shape and dimensions in order to lay them expertly one on top of another until a perfect wall was formed through which there filtered neither sun, nor wind nor rain. At the centre of the single room a robust tree trunk with a forked top functions as a column, holding up the roof of branches and Halfway along the route towards the canes, whilst the entrance is marked by two plateau (where there is a magnificent view vertical pilasters surmounted by a stone slab, across the gulf of Mirambelo) a small road a modest version of the monumental portals sign indicates the existence of a grotto of the ancient cities or of megalithic houses. which is to be found about three-hundred Now abandoned and used only metres further along the slope, not difficult sporadically, the mitates contain small signs to reach. The triangular mouth of the grotto of an austere life: a blackened hearth, the allows a glimpse of a steep descent through occasional cooking pot with a hole in it, two galleries into the dark bowels of the frayed ropes for tying up the animals, or earth amid grey and pink-ochre striped troughs cut into the stone. Observing these rocks. lifeless houses it is natural to wonder how Continuing along the road and looking much longer they will resist sun, wind and A dark grotto on the way to the attentively towards the hills, one notes the rain before crumbling definitively. Katharo plateau mitates - now in ruins and camouflaged in the landscape, but with a very interesting architectural structure: these are the 20 21
  12. 12. C H A P T E R 1 Every season Curve after curve, between oaks and From Katharo a stony trail (to follow has its own carobs with their tormented outlines that only in a robust car or on foot) climbs back colours at the Kataharo seem born from the rock, the mountain down towards the coast in the direction of plateau: green suddenly opens out offering a spectacular Kroustas, initially crossing through desolate fields in view over the entire Katharo plateau, landscapes with strange cumuli of dark springtime, yellow earth in surrounded by the bare mountains of the green stones that glitter in the sunlight like summer Dikti. Fields cultivated with grain and shards of glass. The road follows the course vegetables, fruit trees (in particular pears, of an underground river, dry on the surface, apples, figs and pomegranates) and great which creates little oases of green amidst the stretches of meadows for pasture, few stones. Along the highest pass there opens houses, few men and the odd little white up extraordinary scenery: the simultaneous church form a unified and compact pattern. vista of the northern coast of Crete looking The plateau, which in springtime is full of towards Europe and of the southern coast flowers and green grasses, in summer is that looks towards Africa at the point at coloured yellow with stubble and the which the island is narrowest, on one side ploughed soil that becomes as fine and the gulf of Mirambelo and on the other the dusty as face-powder. Katharo is the summer Libyan Sea. A panorama from which one reserve of the people of Kritsa and at given understands the wonders of Cretan periods all the flocks of sheep in the zone geography. converge here for shearing: imagine the From this point one can continue east sound produced by the bleating of along a road that is asphalted only in parts thousands of animals echoing through towards Kroustas and Kritsa or to Istron on the mountains! the coast. Near Kritsa we encounter the church of Ayios Ioannis Theologos with Ayios Ioannis three apses and very beautiful iconostasis and Ayios while near Kroustas one can visit the small Ioannis Theologos: two white church of Ayios Ioannis, decorated churches with with rare paintings dating from 1347, with interesting images of severe saints and fathers of the frescoes and old icons church. 22 23
  13. 13. C H A P T E R 1 The Lasithi Plateau S " ituated above the mountain summits, flat and very beautiful, and an almost miraculous work of nature," this is how a Venetian document of 1600 describes the Lasithi plateau. The plain appears like an immense shell, not unlike a spent crater, amid the mountain crags of the Dikti, at a height of around 850 metres: patterned with the rigid and regular geometries of the fields, its divisions recall the city plan of ancient Miletus. Here there grow fruit trees of every kind, vegetables, potatoes, grain and walnuts, and in the spring millions of poppies blossom creating a red carpet that stretches out between the mountains. Isolated houses, small villages and the monasteries of Vidianis and Kroustalenias crown the plateau which, although Not many years ago, when the place was remaining essentially agricultural, has given still only accessible over to an intense tourism. on mule-back, around 10,000 windmills ornate with white canvas sails pumped up the water that served for Monastery Vidianis the crops, but now and Monastery very few remain. Kroustalenia: places of worship 26 27
  14. 14. C H A P T E R 1 Once an inaccessible region, the plateau has been inhabited since the The Diktaion Neolithic period, around 7,000 years ago, Antron of as testified by the bone fragments and tools Psychro is discovered in the grotto of Trapeza, which believed to have been the remained sacred for the Minoans, as a birthplace of dwelling place of the gods of the Zeus underworld. Because of its protected position amid the mountains, Lasithi became a place of refuge for the native The grotto of populations from the period of the Dorian Trapeza was a invasions to the Venetian and Turkish site of cult activity up to occupations, and even during the Second western Crete) the honour of being the the Early World War. For fear of the rebel groups, in birthplace of the Greeks on supreme god, Minoan period 1263 the Venetians deported all the Zeus. In Hesiod's Theogony we read that inhabitants of the plateau down towards the Cronus, king of the Titans and husband of his valley, prohibiting any form of cultivation own sister Rhea, devoured his children for 200 years. Without its fruits, this fertile (among whom Demeter, Hades, Poseidon, land suffered terrible famine and in the mid Hestia and Hera) because a prophecy had 1400 s it was decided to repopulate the foretold that one of them would dethrone plain, which in the meantime had become a him. At the birth of Zeus, Rhea tricked swampland requiring large-scale Cronus, having him swallow a rock wrapped reclamation. During the Turkish dominion in swaddling bands in the place of the child, too, Lasithi was continuously besieged, but and immediately afterwards she escaped never completely taken. with the newborn into the grotto of Psychro. Fed on the honey of the bees and the milk of For many centuries the grotto of the goat Amalthea and defended by the Psychro was a place warlike Kouretes who beat their shields hard of worship, from to cover the sound of the infant's cries, Zeus the Middle Minoan period to Roman was saved. Once grown, he killed his cruel times, and rich father (not before having forced him to votive offerings vomit up his siblings), taking on the role of have been found by the archaeologists chief divinity in the Greek pantheon. In 1900, to explore the immense cavern, as dark and humid as maternal placenta, filled with stalactites and stalagmites of the most varied forms and colours, the English archaeologist David Hogarth even had to There are numerous grottos and use dynamite to make a route for himself caverns in the rocky walls around the plain, through the narrow underground ideal hiding places from the most ancient passageways: there he found idols, ceramics, of times. The most famous cave is Psychro cult objects, gold and ivory, seals and jewels, or Diktaion Antron which contends with altars for sacrifices and a niche that was another grotto (that on Mount Ida in identified as the "crib of Zeus". 28 29
  15. 15. C H A P T E R 1 Karphi Onemass that rises aboveisLasithi to an particular attraction an enormous rocky altitude of 1,100 metres, visible from far off. The place came to be called Karphi (nail) for its strange cylindrical shape. Below the ragged peaks of the mountain there is hidden a Late Minoan settlement completely camouflaged amid the stone and inhabited from 1150 to 1000 B.C. by the last groups of Minoans - also known as Eteocretans (true Because of its Cretans) - in flight from the Dorian invaders. particular shape, this mountain is The city, which could hold up to 3500 called karphi, inhabitants, was regular in plan like Gournia, meaning nail with the houses built one up against another The Diktaion Antron was also a sacred site for King Minos of Knossos, who every nine years descended into the cavern to receive laws directly from Zeus. All around the plateau, amid low vegetation and scented bushes of broom and thyme there are to be found small villages, some inhabited, others abandoned, lying beneath the slope of the mountains like birds' nests. An excursion on the Dikti, starting from the village of Katofigi, leaves one breathless: lunar landscapes of silver and with steep streets and flights of steps rocks, isolated trees with majestic crowns among the rocky terracing. Explored and rough, stony outcrops alternate with between 1937 and 1939 by the steppe-like terrain and low archaeologist J. D. S. Pendlebury, the site has vegetation from which yielded numerous cult objects (female idols sheepfolds spring up. At times with raised arms, bull horns, bird heads, one's way is barred by fencing rhytons) which testify to the survival of and gates tied shut with knotted Minoan culture and religion even after the ropes to keep in the livestock: fall of the palace kingdoms. they can be opened on the The Eteocretan city condition that one is scrupulous was built on the slope of the giant in closing them again to prevent "nail" the animals from wandering. 30 31
  17. 17. C H A P T E R 2 The austerity of stone and the splendours of Malia O n Crete there are apparently-forgotten lands, ignored by the normal tourist guides, but which nevertheless possess a particular beauty, "quieter" and hard to define. One of these is the silent and almost uninhabited hinterland above Ayios Nikolaos, Neapoli and Malia, in complete contrast with the overcrowded beaches that stretch out in front of Spinalonga. Following this itinerary, it is a good idea to travel without a precise destination, losing oneself in the hilly landscape, among small, partly-abandoned villages, mills and tumble-down houses, monasteries and white churches. The very stones of this place recall dramatic and painful stories, stories of sieges and of conquests, of the battle against hunger and illnesses of a population in continual revolt against foreign invaders - Dorians, Romans, Saracens, Venetians and Turks. 36 37
  18. 18. C H A P T E R 2 Spinalonga L inked to the mainland by a narrow isthmus, the Spinalonga peninsula extends as far as a small rocky islet, it too called Spinalonga. A natural harbour suitable for small boats, Spinalonga has been known since the time of the Minoans, and legend has it that Daedalus, the brilliant architect of Knossos, created for the inhabitants a very beautiful statue of Britomartis (the Cretan The history of the island of Spinalonga Artemis - protectress of hunters and is equally dramatic, famous for the imposing fishermen). Documents from the fourth Venetian fort which was erected in 1579 and century B.C. attest to the existence of a city, considered unassailable because equipped with one of the most powerful batteries of cannon in all Crete. Not even the Turks could succeed in taking it. Only during the first half of the eighteenth century, by which time Venice had lost all authority over Crete, did the Turks take possession of the little island which Olous was a city- Olous, which controlled the maritime traffic then became a smugglers' haunt. In 1903, state in Classical of ships coming from Rhodes and Cyprus after Greece's liberation from foreign Greek times and later became an and which honoured herself in the fight dominion, Spinalonga was transformed into important Christian against the pirates who infested that stretch a leper colony, and the bastions, the cult centre. Of the of coast. In the ninth century Olous was storerooms and the military barracks were Basilica there remains only the occupied by the Saracens, but not long occupied by hundreds of sufferers and their floor with its black afterwards the entire city crumbled thanks families until 1953 when the sanatorium was and white mosaic The island of to a terrible earthquake which was followed closed and the island with its imposing walls decoration Spinalonga was by the sinking of the isthmus. There are few and towers became a tourist attraction. fortified by the traces of Olous still visible on the surface: Climbing up the hills behind Elounda one Venetians in 1579 most of the city was swallowed by the has a magnificent view across the red roofs and was handed over to the waters. On the partly-swampy terrain the of the villages of Epano Elounda and Pines, Ottomans only in foundations of an early Christian basilica of across the olive trees and the low stone 1715 - the last of the seventh century with precious mosaic walls, as far as the bay with its peninsula and Venice's territories on Crete paving, with floral and geometric motifs, the little rock of Spinalonga. dolphins and inscriptions in Greek have been discovered. 38 39
  19. 19. C H A P T E R 2 Stone as art the sail-arms are broken, the giant wheels are mute and the cogs rusty. Apart from the windmills there also survives the occasional Acan the seaside resort of Plaka fter old olive-mill, its huge rooms crowned with arches and the remains of antique we abandon the beautiful beaches to search out the quiet of machinery. Those restorations that have the hills, the villages and the great taken place regard only a few mills close to empty spaces where nature has re- the areas frequented by tourists, while the appropriated the land. Many people others are all destined for slow destruction. have abandoned living here, be it for poverty and hunger, be it for lack of natural resources or lack of work. Where once there grew immense fields of corn and where olive trees were cultivated with their small green fruit, to be savoured with a few drops of lemon Far from the juice and raki, now there often remain only beaches a stony outcrops and the outlines of completely windmills that have fallen in on themselves: different world appears with stony they seem spectres, from the past, of a hard fields and old and laborious life, pierced by the lances of abandoned houses. an invisible Cretan Don Quixote doing battle with time and nature. Great halo-like marks In serried ranks like soldiers in arms, Giant windmills are appear alongside the windmills, like magical atop a hill there appear the mills of the silent guardians circles from an archaic ritual; these are level Marnelides near Lakonia, with traces of of this wild and archaic landscape circles of stone raised slightly higher than plaster and well-bolted doors because they the surrounding terrain that served for the are still used by the farmers as storerooms. threshing of the grain with mules or oxen. Along the road between Petros and Dreros, Between Kato and Epano Loumas the two stone giants mills are made of an ochre-coloured stone, protrude among spiny with the remains of steps that follow the thistles: they are curve of the roofless circular buildings: monumental mills, fairly well-preserved, each with an external staircase, a doorway framed with white blocks of stone and a small window. The facade is convex, the stones are perfectly smooth and the overall aspect is one of robustness, but peering inside one notes only a pile of stones, iron and burnt wooden beams. 40 41
  20. 20. C H A P T E R 2 Similarly, ancient Dreros, a Dorian city of the eighth century B.C. that survived into the Roman era, is nothing but a mass of stones and low walls dotted amidst thick vegetation. One arrives at the site of Dreros via a path between two hills in an atmospheric landscape, but it takes a lot of imagination to believe that here there once rose up an important archaic city with grand buildings, a vast agora and an grow out of the very mortar of the houses, important seventh-century B.C. temple or Dories, also white, with its beautiful Statues from the Roman era, when dedicated to Apollo Delphinios, of whom church of Ayios Konstatinos, and also Dreros was still a a bronze effigy has been discovered Karydi which has the charm of an authentic living city, are rural village with beautiful stone walling to conserved in the together with two statues representing Museum of Neapoli Artemis and Leto. protect the vegetable gardens and the sown fields from the herds of livestock. Wandering among streets and Stone walls paths traced crossing the hills and small, fertile out by grey plains: signs of stone walls the farmers' toil that snake up and down the hills, one encounters The villages are numerous white and full of villages: the flowers white Fourni full of flowers that seem to 42 43
  21. 21. C H A P T E R 2 Many villages have been completely abandoned, like, for example, Hondro- volaki, which overlooks a gorge not far from Valtos: roofless houses, black doorways that look like toothless mouths, empty window Not far from the main square of Karydi, climbing in the direction of the windmills, we find the ruins of the monastery of Chardemutsa, constructed like a fort in a perfect mixture of Venetian and traditional Cretan styles, with a great paved courtyard, a vestibule with pointed arches and large rooms containing old liturgical objects. The ruins of monasteries like casements like blind eyes and streets Chardemutsa or through which stray dogs run, are all that Perambela testify to the religious remains of a village which survives only in devotion of the the memory of inhabitants who will never population, and return. Just as no one will ever again inhabit the noble architecture the beautiful compound of a rural villa close continues to by the village of Ayios Georgios: built of well- remind us of the cut dry stone, with various rooms on several richness of monastic life floors with arches, stone steps, oven and fireplaces and with a spectacular view of the coast, the house must have belonged to a fairly well-off family. The large grounds were terraced almost right down to the sea Some farm houses were very big and and almonds and olive trees still grow there inhabited by large from which no one gathers the fruit. From family clans. This above one sees the ragged coastline with kind of rural complex was few isolated houses, the monastery of Ayios entirely self- Andreas and the cave church of Ayios sufficient and could Antonios: it is a strange scenery of ochre, provide food, water, tools and pink and black rocks, corroded by the wind clothes for and by the tides which render difficult both everybody landing and embarkation. 44 45
  22. 22. C H A P T E R 2 Aretiou Monastery T he religious heart of this little-frequented territory is the sixteenth-century Aretiou Monastery (or Monastery of the Holy Trinity) articulated in various buildings around an ample courtyard with the katholikon, the monks' church, which still contains some precious seventeenth- century icons. The founder, Marcos Papadopoulos, gathered around him many of the famous artists and intellectuals of the period, and on his death in 1603 he left Aretiou generous donations to the monastery asking Monastery is a fortified that they be used to continue his charitable monastery and work for the poor, but also to support those survived the artists of holy images who were worthy and Turkish occupa- tion with no talented, as was Kosmas Vartzagis, known as great damage "the Master of Areti". Surrounded by high walls, the monastery defended itself well against the continual attacks by the Ottomans, and survived. Nowadays Aretiou Monastery is the most important monastic complex on the Gulf of Mirambelo and is the destination for many pilgrims and travellers in search of tranquillity and reflection. 46 47
  23. 23. C H A P T E R 2 The Cave of Milatos J ourneying towards the coast one arrives at the village of Milatos built not far from the ruins of the ancient Militos (or Miletus), already inhabited in the Late Minoan period and mentioned by Homer, Strabo and Pausanias. Myth tells that the local ruler, Pindareos, stole Zeus's favourite dog and The grotto of gave it to Tantalus. For this impudence Milatos is formed Pindareos and his wife were cruelly of a series of punished by the gods and condemned to caverns and corridors stretching death, while their daughters became slaves several miles of the Furies. In the third century B.C. Miletus was destroyed by the inhabitants of Lyttos: only a few stones and some tombs carved out of the rock remain visible. Even more terrible is the story of the cave of Milatos, site of a ferocious massacre at the hands of the Ottomans. In the February of 1823 around 3600 inhabitants of the area, men, women and children, rebels, priests and ordinary citizens, took refuge in the deep cavern of Milatos to escape the cruelties of General Hassan Pasha. Betrayed by a Turkish townsman, the cave was besieged for a long period and Next page: many died of hunger and thirst. Deceived by Turning one's the Turks' false promise that in the case of gaze towards the surrender they would spare women and mountains, one notes a low hill children, the men left the cavern, but to the with the white cry of "death to the infidels" the massacre of church of Ayios the fugitives began. Every last one of them Elias: this was the peak sanctuary was killed. In a large space inside the grotto of Malia, in which a catafalque has been laid out with the votive commemorative stones and a small cave offerings to the gods were church dedicated to St. Thomas where each deposited year the martyrs of Milatos are commemorated. 48 49
  24. 24. C H A P T E R 2 of the Minoans: the Throne Room with stairs Malia that lead to the upper floor, the banqueting chamber and the crypt, a monumental R ight on the border between the stairway with beside it a kernos (a circular table with a central hollow and with 34 Prefectures of Lasithi and Heraklion the vast smaller bowls along the edge for the ritual archaeological area of Malia stretches out, offering of the first fruits), the archive and Golden bee with its grand Minoan palace, second only a vast portico held up by columns alternated pendant from to Knossos and Phaestos. Tradition has it with pilasters which gave access to the great the Chryssolakos that Malia was the residence of Sarpedon, palace storerooms. cemetery at Malia the younger brother of Minos and Other courtyards and numerous Rhadamanthus, all born of the union of Zeus corridors lead to the wing reserved for and Europa. habitation, to the guest apartments and to the artisans' workshops. Almost all of the spaces are paved with the typical local stone, a bluish limestone, and a sandstone The most ancient part of the palace known as dates back to the Middle Minoan period ammouda. Directly beyond the entrance one (circa 2000 B.C.) but of that era there remain The necropolis, also known as can make out the few traces because the site was destroyed by Chryssolakos ("the gold mine") for the great huge circular a violent earthquake and completely rebuilt quantity of gold objects discovered in the storerooms, called kouloures, in around 1650 B.C.. Smaller than Knossos tombs, is to be found down by the sea and which held the and Phaestos, but for this no less interesting is laid out like the palace of the living with reserves of grain in its structure and functions - religious, rooms and porticos. The excavations at Malia for the population that political and economic - the palace complex have rendered up a vast quantity of splendid inhabited the ceased to "live" in 1450 B.C. after a objects, jewels and ceramics dating from various quarters devastating fire. The site was discovered the First Palace period to the Second Palace around the Palace Stone kernos for in 1915 by the Greek archaeologist Joseph period, among which are a sceptre in the ritual offerings at Hadjidakis, while from the 1950s onwards form of a leopard, some very fine jewellery the Palace of Malia the excavations have continued with the such as the pendant with two bees and French Archaeological School of Athens a gold pommel from a sword-hilt embossed under the direction of Henri van Effenterre. with the figure of a vaulting acrobat, Opening off the great Central Court, preserved in the museums of Heraklion and with an altar set into the paving, there are Ayios Nikolaos. a series of rooms essential to court life 50 51
  25. 25. C H A P T E R 2 Tales of Neapoli man, joined the rebels and fled to and surroundings the plain of Lasithi. Her true identity Travelling back towards Ayios Nikolaos was revealed when the swipe of a and passing through a deep gorge crowned by the Monastery of Ayios Georgios Selinari, sword slashed one arrives at Neapoli, a lively agricultural open her clothes, town beneath the mountain of Mavro Dasos but she continued which has a beautiful little museum with to fight until her finds from the excavations of Dreros and death. The The so-called statues from the Roman era. In 1340 at Kares, monument "Roman door" the oldest part of Neapoli, a certain Petros commemorating and white steps at Houmeriakos Philargi was born, a young man of great this Cretan "Joan intelligence who was sent to study in Paris of Arc" is to be found at the entrance to the and in Oxford in order to follow a career in town of Kritsa. the priesthood. He became archbishop of Milan and then cardinal, and finally, at the time of the schism in the Western Church (which saw the curia of Rome in opposition to that of Avignon) Petrus Philatri was made The small Museum Pope, taking the name of Alexander V: he of Neapoli contains held the position for only a year, from 1409 an important collection of statues to 1410 and died poisoned by his from Classical and adversaries. Roman times A few kilometres from Neapoli, in the little village of Houmeriakos there remain some traces of Venetian influence, among which a little villa with an attractive ashlar- Again travelling on from Neapoli, work doorway, which climbing up in the direction of the Lasithi The monastery the Cretans call a plateau, one can visit Kremaston of Kremaston was Roman door. The town Monastery, sited on a rocky ridge (hence its recently restored chronicles recount name which means "suspended"), which is that in this house there inhabited by a community of monks. once lived a Turk Founded in 1593 and built like a small fort, called Hussein who the monastery has been rebuilt several having fallen for the times, and in the twentieth century opened The fountain in daughter of the local a school for children and ceded its Houmeriakos was priest, kidnapped her with the intention of agricultural lands to the Agricultural built during the making her his lover. But at nightfall the long Turkish Commission which turned them into a occupation of maiden strangled the pasha, let herself model farm. Crete down from the window disguised as a 52 53
  27. 27. C H A P T E R 3 Where nature is king BCrete narrows like aIerapetra theand etween Istron and island of bottleneck Near Istron the stretches a mere 16 kilometres between waters of the gulf the gulf of Mirambelo and the Libyan sea. of Mirambelo are a deep turquoise The trip will take us through the villages of in contrast with the Thryptis and Orno mountains as far as the grey rocks, the gates of Sitia. Here nature reigns, barely the evergreen trees and the grazed by the hand of man: centuries-old rock-plants in olive trees, wild figs, shady plane trees, bloom flower-filled fields, arid open spaces, deep gorges, small torrents and multicoloured rocks. 58 59
  28. 28. C H A P T E R 3 From Gournia to Ierapetra A short deviation from the main coastal In the Middle Minoan period road leads us towards the Monastery of Gournia had its own Faneromeni, clinging to the mountain top. local governor who The road meanders amid bushes of thyme resided in a palace high on the hill and sage as far as the little cave church of the monastery which houses a precious icon of the "Death of the Virgin", believed to have Orthodox miraculous powers. Legend tells of a monasteries are always shepherd who had lost his way during the hidden night, but was drawn to a light in the The several-floored houses and the away in silent darkness: it came from the holy icon and, in shops, which face onto the lanes, the steps places far from thanks to the Virgin who had helped him and around the marketplace, form a the crowds find his way once more, the first church of compact urban weave where the walls back Faneromeni was erected on the site. one onto the other and often share roofs. The excavations between 1901 and 1904 by the American archaeologist Harriet Boyd-Hawes, have yielded up many brightly- coloured ceramics with marine motifs and various everyday objects like mortars, millstones and jars for oil and for wine. Continuing on towards Ierapetra one can see the remains of the Proto-Minoan settlement Back on the main road, the ancient city of Vasiliki, almost directly opposite the of Gournia appears, luminous, on a low hill, clean break made by the Ha gorge which like a map open to the skies: one can clearly looks as though it had been cut open see the walls of the houses, the streets and the courtyards, so much so that it is known as the "Minoan Pompei". Already inhabited in the Early- and Middle-Minoan era, the At the foot of the Ha gorge ruins that we see today belong largely to the archaeologists Late Minoan era (circa 1600 B.C.) and to the have discovered period of the arrival of the Mycenaeans who remains of an ancient settlement erected a sanctuary here. The inhabitants of Gournia were artisans, merchants and Gournia, the fishermen, but they too wanted to erect a "Minoan Pompei" palace and a theatre space of their own modelled on Knossos, naturally much inferior in scale. 60 61
  29. 29. C H A P T E R 3 with one triangular pediment and one arched, and by an unusual brick dome with many niches that were once frescoed. Ierapetra, the ancient Hierapytna, is the largest port-town on the southern coast of Crete. It grew to be an important centre in the Graeco-Roman era when it was furnished with temples, baths, an amphitheatre and two theatres, porticos and an aqueduct, of which, however, there remains no trace. In the thirteenth century the Venetians built an imposing castle with battlements and ramparts. The Turks also The inner walls by a giant's sword. Vasiliki too, lying in the of the houses embellished Ierapetra with mosques and shade of wind-bent olive trees, retains the of Vasiliki were fountains and there are corners of the city originally perfect outline of the city layout and is that retain a decidedly oriental aspect. plastered and famous for the discovery of a great quantity painted red of "flame-mottled" pottery with decorations in red and black, known as Vasiliki Ware. The corners of the small complex are orientated towards the four points of the compass, as The Venetian and Ottoman ruins are was the practice in the constructions of Asia the most attractive Minor: the settlement was destroyed. monuments in The town of Episkopi, midway along Ierapetra, while nothing has our route, has ancient origins as is testified survived from the by the sarcophagi found by pure chance Minoan, Greek or whilst road works were being done near Roman periods the double church of Ayios Georgios and Ayios Haralambos. The church dates back to the seventh or eighth century and is On 26th June 1798 the city had an characterised by the double facades illustrious guest in the person of Napoleon Bonaparte who, returning from the Egyptian campaign, spent a night here in a small house (now known as spiti tu Napoleonta or Napoleon’s House) not far from the church of Afendi Christou. Ierapetra has a fine Archaeological Museum with glass cabinets brimming with Minoan finds, ceramics, painted sarcophagi and statues dating from the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman eras. 62 63