Saturday, May 19, 2007

Samaria Gorge

The Samariá Gorge is a national park in the island of Crete, one of the major tourist attractions of the island.

The gorge is in the prefecture of Chania in the South West of Crete. It was created by a small river running between the White Mountains (Lefká Óri) and Mount Volakias. There are a number of other gorges in the White Mountains. The gorge is 18 km long and is the second longest in Europe. The most famous part of the gorge is the section known as the 'Iron Gates', where the sides of the gorge close to about 4 meters in and reach up to 500 meters high. The northern entrance to the gorge is 1,250 m above sea level. It descends practically to sea level, opening out a couple of kilometres above the village of Agia Roumeli.

The gorge became a national park in 1962, particularly as a refuge for the rare Kri-kri (Cretan goat), which is largely restricted to the park and a small island just off the shore of Agia Marina. There are several other endemic species in the gorge and surrounding area, as well as many other species of flower, bird, etc.

The village of Samariá lies just inside the gorge. It was finally abandoned by the last remaining inhabitants in 1962 to make way for the park. The village and the gorge take their name from the village's ancient church Óssia María (St Mary).

One of the "musts" for a tourist to the island is to complete the walk down the gorge from the Omalos plateau to Agia Roumeli on the Libyan Sea, at which point tourists sail to the nearby village of Hora Sfakion and catch a coach back to Chania. The walk takes between four and seven hours and can be strenuous, especially in high summer.