Saturday, April 14, 2007

Traditional Wedding (Video and Photo)

Cretan People and Customs

The true Cretan people are among the tallest in Europe, which can be seen in the isolated mountain areas where the population has remained unchanged by outside influence. Cretans are a proud and independent people and their behaviour reflects their long history and their struggles against occupying forces.

Many traditions are preserved in the villages of Crete, especially in the more isolated ones. Among them are the Cretan wedding and the Cretan baptism. Both are special celebrations that may continue for several days. In the west of Crete they are characterized by the "rizitika tragoudia", which are very old songs, some of Byzantine origin. Dancing, eating, drinking, and shooting guns into the air, are all part of the celebrations.

Grape-gathering, wine-making and tsikoudia-making are activities enjoyed in the autumn every year. Wine-making involves crushing the grapes in special stone constructions called "patitiria". This is done by several people taking turns, walking or running in place on top of the grapes. While recovering from their exercise or waiting for their turn, the people consume food and wine. Tsikoudia is a strong local drink made from the remains in the patitiria, after most of the grape juice has been removed. This is allowed to ferment and then is distilled. Traditional methods and machinery are still used. The licensed owner of the still will often take time off his regular work to fulfil his function as village distiller in the autumn. Very often this still has been in his family for generations. People who come to make their tsikoudia often bring food to barbecue on the fire and the fresh tsikoudia is sampled copiously.

Places of natural beauty in Chania

If the prefecture of Chania were to be characterized, perhaps the most appropriate appellation would be the "Prefecture of the Gorges" since dozens of gorges traverse the mountainous regions of Chania. Indisputably, Samaria gorge is of unparalleled beauty as well as the most renowned.
It is 16 km in length and its width ranges from 3.5 to 150 metres, with vertical cliffs which may reach a sheer 500 metres in height. In order to traverse it one needs approximately 5 to 6 hours and the gorge is open from May to October. It is a national park inside which one will find rare types of Cretan flora from the cypress and the pine tree to the dittany and the wildflower, while it is also the natural habitat of the wild goat or the Kri Kri.
Also impressive are the layered and tectonic rock formations of limestone which are discernible on its slopes.
The gorge of Agia Irene in Selino is 7.5km in length, at its most narrow points it reaches 10 metres while the height of its perpendicular walls is 500 metres. Its most distinguishable feature is its lush vegetation.
The gorge of Imbrou in Sfakia is one of the most imposing, narrow and deep gorges of Crete. Its length is 7km and its width is 2 metres in some places with the height of some perpendicular walls reaching 300 metres.
Its sides, which are 30 - 40 metres in height in some places, converge to leave a narrow opening of 2 - 3 metres giving the impression of a tunnel. The gorge of Topolia is magnificent and wild, unique due to its fantastic echo. It is 1500 metres in length with perpendicular walls that reach up to 300 metres and they boast many cave - like concavities, while its width fluctuates from 5 - 50 metres. There exist many other smaller but less well-known gorges whose beauty is comparable to that of the larger ones such as the gorge of Tripiti, Klados, Eligia around Samaria, Aradena, Katre, Asfendou, Agios Nektarios and Kallikrati in Sfakia, Theriso, which is close to Chania (the only one which can be crossed by car), Rokka and Polyrhenia in Kisamos, Boriana in Karanou and Dyctamos in Keramia, the only one which goes from west to east.
If the appellation "Prefecture of the Gorges" is not considered justifiable then perhaps the "Prefecture of the Caves" is more appropriate as it has more than 1500 land and sea caves. A very prominent one is the cave of the Elefantos, close to Plaka in Apokoronas, which has an underwater entrance and has only partially been explored up to date.
Apart from the white and red stalactites, it has become renowned worldwide for its 4 specimens of unique elephant (Elephas Chaniensis) and many of dwarf deer that lived tens of thousands of years ago. The cave of Sfakia, close to the village Asfendou, is of great historical interest since it hides rock paintings from ancient times.
Then there is the cave -precipice of "Tzani" in Omalos with a length of 2,500 metres and the group of precipices in the White mountains with the most important being the 1208 - meter deep precipice of Gorgouthakas, the largest of the Balkans, with springs, waterfalls and rivers inside.
The cave of the Bear or of The Virgin Mary Arkoudiotissa, close to the monastery of Gouverneto in Akrotiri, with the stalagmite which resembles a bear, the reservoir with the "holy water" - a result of a drip - and the small church which is dedicated to the Ypapanti are also worth a visit. So is that of Agios Ioannis the Hermit in the monastery of Gouverneto. One should also not miss out on: that of Agia Sophia in Topolia, with the church of the same name, with its 20 - metre high dome and its 70 - metre diameter whose surface is primarily covered by stalagmites, that of Agios Ioannis the Hermit in the Cave of Kisamos with the church of the same name which has large dimensions and a miracle - working stalactite and stalagmite, the Demonospilios in the slope of the gorge of Samaria in Gigilos, and many other smaller ones like that of Skourachlada in Keremia, of Samonas, of Kournas, and of Melidoni.
These karstic shapes are only one side of the coin however. The prefecture of Chania which overlooks the sea has endless beaches to offer in its 350 km of shores to satiate even the most demanding palate: from the isolated, pristine beaches to the organized cosmopolitan ones.
The beaches of Nea Chora, Chrysi Akti, Agioi Apostoloi, Agia Marina, Platanias, Gerani, Maleme, Kolympari, Kisamos, Paleochora, Fragokastalo, Kalives, Almirida, Georgioupolis and Kavros are organized and capable of offering visitors a wide variety of services, facilities and conveniences. Less crowded and more unspoilt beaches, with clean sand and crystal clear blue waters can be found by nature lovers if they distance themselves from the touristic centers.
In Phalasarna, the sandy beach which was voted the best in Europe in 2002, stretches for 3km and it can be combined with a hike to the ancient port.
Elafonisi, the small, low island (altitude 20 metres) is connected to the shore through a shallow isthmus with a depth of 0.60- 0.90 metres and a length of about 800 metres, the so called Perasma. That is where the common grave of the Austrian crew of "Imperetrice" which sunk in 1907 stands. In the neighbouring Kedrodasos one can enjoy the combination of sandy beaches and lush cedar forests.
In Sougia, its magnificent pebbly shore, its coastal caves and its pristine waters will hold you spellbound. Balo has an exotic lagoon, a sandy white beach and shallow waters to offer. A dip in Tigani, the small island- akrotiri, can be combined with a visit to the Venetian fortress of the island Imeri Gramvousa. The small, pebbly beach in Menies, next to the archaeological site of the ancient temple of Diktynna, is ideal for hiking and a haven of peace.
Finally, a place of singular beauty is considered to be that of Madara, or the infertile and barren peaks of the White Mountains. At an altitude of more than 1000 metres, it presents an absolute challenge for the hiker. It has rocky landscapes, with very little, low, bushy vegetation, quite a few wildflowers and a view that will leave you speechless.
Also unique for the island is the lake of Kournas, next to the village of the same name, close to the border of the prefecture of Rethymno.
It is at an altitude of 20 metres above the surface of the sea and has a circumference of 3.5 km with its deepest point being 23 metres. Osiers and Myrtle trees envelope the lake and the precipitous mountains that surround it are mirrored in its calm waters creating the illusion that it is deeper than it actually is. It is this phenomenon that is responsible for the legend that it is "bottomless".


Cretan diet – Mediterranean Diet

Crete has one of the oldest and most tasty gastronomic traditions in the world, a tradition of tastes, aromas, ingredients and skills which begin from the prehistoric years and continue until today.
In the international scientific community there is ever increasing discussion in search of the ideal diet for promoting the health. Among these searches more and more there is a discussion about the famous Mediterranean diet and its superiority in relation to other gastronomic traditions. In 1994 the World Health Organization, the School of Public Health of Harvard, and the Health Organization “Oldways” presented the so called Pyramid of the Mediterranean diet demonstrating scientifically that the diet of the peoples of the Mediterranean, rich in vegetables, pulses, fruits, cereals and with basic source of fats being the olive oil, constitutes to the preservation of good health and long life.
The Cretan diet constitutes the recent years the subject of study, since the majority of studies demonstrates that the Cretan cuisine is the most characteristic and qualitatively high example of the Mediterranean diet. It has been shown that the inhabitants of Crete have the lowest indicators of mortality and the lowest, on a global scale, mortality from cardio-vascular illnesses and cancers.
What however is the secret of the Cretan diet? The answer is that the Cretans are raised with the products of the earth, that is they eat abundant greens and vegetables, pulses and fruit, season their food with the greens and plants of the mountains of the island, such as thyme and basil, while nearly always the food is accompanied by wine from the local vines and outstandingly tasty bread, which traditionally is made with yeast.
Another characteristic of the Cretan table is the variety of dishes, where no one monopolizes the taste but all together constitute a tasty whole.
The most important however element is the oil, which for the Cretans and for all the peoples of the Mediterranean, constitutes the basic source of fats.
Oil constitutes the base of the Cretan and Hellenic diet, and is used in the majority of plates replacing butter or other forms of oil which are used in other areas of the world. The nutritional value of the oil is great whereas it constitutes the strongest antioxidant of nature, that is protecting the organism from the oxidization and the development of free radicals which cause serious illnesses.
Crete with its Mediterranean climate and good formation of its ground allows to the olive tree not only to flourish everywhere, both in plains and in mountainous areas, but also to give to the oil the best possible quality, with low acidity and wonderful aroma. The fact that the Cretans live more and have the lowest indicators in the appearance of illnesses seems to be certainly connected with the fact that they are the largest consumers of oil world-wide.
It is certain that the great health and long life of the Cretans is owed to the traditional diet. A diet to which it is worth turning our attention and following.

Moving to and living on Crete

After spending some time on Crete, discovering the beauty of the island as well as the hospitality of the Cretans and of course because of the mild climate you have decided to spend your time now on Crete. Either to enjoy your retirement, either to spend only some months here and the other time in your home country or because you really want to change your whole life and get a part of the Cretan community.
Nevermind which reasons you have, you are welcome as guest and of course you should know certain things. Maybe this section will help you to make your life more easy.
The first step of course is finding a new home in the right location, then moving to Crete, getting a residence permit, finding work on Crete and then start to enjoy your life.

List of useful documents to bring with you

* Your valid ID card and/or your valid passport
* ID card and/or passports for all your family members who accompany you, or any equivalent provisional certificate (if appropriate)
* Visa for the members of your family who are third-country nationals, if required
* Extract from policy records (some public bodies for which you would like to work could require this document)
* Birth certificate(s)
* Evidence of the status of your family members or your dependants (normally a document issued by the competent authority of the country of origin, testifying that they are dependent on you or that they live under your roof in such a country)
* Any legal documents describing your personal situation (marriage act, civil judgement, evidence that you have completed your military service, etc…)
* A student card and a valid subscription to a European university if you wish to be recognised as a student
* All original diplomas you have obtained in your country of origin or in another country (for study or work purposes)
* All professional certificates attesting to your professional qualifications
* Original working contracts establishing your professional experiences (activity and duration) including if relevant the contract under which you are currently working or are going to work
* The European Health Insurance Card and/or the relevant E-forms which facilitate the continuity of your social protection in another EU country; the same for each family member
* Necessary documents certifying your rights (period of work and social security cover, entitlement to social security benefits)
* Recent medical certificate or any personal medical record (to ease the work of a foreign doctor), if appropriate
* Your most recent bank statements to easily establish your financial conditions, if appropriate
* Your driving licence
* Technical specifications of the vehicle(s) you are bringing with you
* Evidence of payment of VAT in the country where you bought your car, if appropriate

Friday, April 13, 2007

History of the town of Chania

The town of Chania is built, according to archaeological searches, on the ruins of a big ancient town. The up to now evidence leads us to the ancient Kydonia that, according to Diodoros Sikeliotes, was founded by Minos and was one of the three big towns of Crete. Its name is read KY-DO-NI-JA on a Knossos tablet of Linear B Scripture.

The Kasteli Hill, east of the port, owing to the fact that it was adjacent to the sea, was an ideal position for prehistorical settlements. Architectural remains that have survived and used to belong to big buildings comes from the early Minoan period (1900 – 2200 B.C.). The settlements developed and evolved into an important center in the first middle-minoan period (2000 – 1580 B.C.), whereupon a Minoan colony was founded, beyond the Kasteli Hill. In 1450 B.C. it was destroyed by a big fire. With the Greek – Swedish excavations, that began in 1967, were found buildings of this period with many rooms, several had floors paved with flagstones, second storey and monumental entrances looking on narrow streets. About 100 clay tablets with symbols of the Minoan Linear A Scripture, which have been found, indicate possible existence of a palace. After the catastrophe of 1450 B.C., the town was rebuilt and continued to exist until the end of the Minoan years (1100 B.C.) not without intermittent minor catastrophes.

In the post-minoan III period (1400 – 1100 B.C.) the town reaches very high prosperity. Its products are reknown in Knossos, in Eastern Crete, in Thera, even in Cyprus. Its cemetery expands considerably all around the settlement. Grave jars, subterranean vaulted graves carved in rock were discovered daily on the eastern, northeastern section of the modern city.

During the first centuries of the 1st millennium e.e., in the geometric and archaic years, architectural remains have not been found till now, only abundant ceramics, that indicates that the town continued its life even during that period. Part of a frieze, now in the museum of Chania, depicts the façade of a temple with the statue of the Goddess surrounded by archers. Very few finds suggest the existence of the town during the classical period (5th – 4th century B.C.). However this period must have been an era of prosperity for the area, according to the testimonies of ancient writers. The famous sculptor Krissilas, Phidias pupil, comes from Kydonia of the classical period. As far as the Hellenistic period is concerned (end of the 4th century B.C. – 69 B.C.) there is enough evidence about the flourishing of the town.

Houses with mosaic floors have been found in several parts of the town, that by the time had expanded until beyond the hill of Kasteli. Remarkable graves with rich finds of this period have survived. In 69 B.C., the Romans declared war against Kydonia, and sent Consul Cointus Concillius Metellus to seize it. The people of Kydonia, under the leadership of Lasthenes and Pavares, fought the Romans heroically, but eventually they were defeated. The town continued its life, and flourished during the Roman period. The town of Kydonia continued to flourish and in the early Byzantine period starts 324 – 823 A.D. as well.

Christianity was spreading from the 1st century, and Kydonia was chosen as “Seat of Bishop” it is often mentioned in Records of Councils and Ecclesiastical “Minutes” till the 9th century A.D. As from that period we have very few archaeological indications, which are confined to a few tomb inscriptions from the church of St. John and from the area of today’s orphanage, indicating that they were extended cemeteries of the town.

The period 821 – 961 A.D. is a dark period for Kydonia. The town falls into the hands of the Arabs after a siege. Historical sources of this period are not very clear and the archaeological indications have not been located at all. From the Legend (biography of Saints) of St Nicholas the Confessor (abbot of the monastery Stoudiou and well-known apologist of icons) who comes from Kydonia we learn that his fatherland was rich and prosperous and the memory of its glorious past is indelible. The events of the Arab attack are described in dark colours. The Arabs are ousted by the Byzantines in 961 A.D., but the town maintains its strategic significance. The Byzantines build a fortress that rests in many parts on the ancient walls, with the building materials of ancient Kydonia.

The town however begins to decline. From this period, only a few parts of the walls in Kasteli survive. In the first half of the 13th century, the Venetians endeavour to establish their sovereignity in the area of Chania. After the siege of Constantinople by the Latins (1204 A.D.), Crete is ceded to Bonifatio Marques Momferato, from whom the Venetians bought the island. Bonifatio did not have time to seize Crete before its sale to the Venetians, because the Genovian Count of Malta, Erico Piscatori, rushed and seized Chania and fortified the Acropolis of Kydonia. After the purchase by the Venetians, the latter characterized Piscatori as a pirate and after a tenacious war they exhiled him from the island. The possession, however, of the island by the Venetians did not occur immediately, but only after hard fights against the indigenous population, particularly in the borough of Chania.

The borough of Chania was divided into 90 “Cavaleries”, that were given to the Venetian colonists, with the specific obligation to rebuild the town of Chania. It is they who repair the walls of Kasteli, and organize the planning of the town within its boundaries. The public buildings develop along the central road Corso (today’s Kanevaro Street) that crosses Kasteli. Chania develops into the second twon of the “Kingdom of Crete” and is the Seat of “Rector” and latin Bishop. The town and its port becomes the center of a wealthy agricultural area with economical and political connections with Venice. In the middle of the 16th century, the town is fortified once more, an operation that was based on designs by the Veronese mechanic Michele Sammichelli, with contemporary walls and trence. The fortification was enhanced with fortresses on the islets Thodorou, Souda and Gramvussa. Within the new boundaries, the new town-planning network develops, that remains until today.

Big public buildings were erected – temples, storerooms, shipyards – a lot of which are still remaining. The architectural character of Chania is mainly Western, with predominant the element of Venetian mannerism and some Flemish influences. Quite a few of the buildings of that period are maintained with many subsequent alterations. In August 1645, the Turks seized Chania and the town was declared as the Seat of the Turkish pasha, while an Orthodox bishop of Kydonia was settled in, with the temple of St Anargiri as his Seat. The Catholic churches are turned into mosques while new mosques are also built. The conquerors are strongly influenced by the local architectural tradition, adding only certain functional and artistic elements.
The town maintains the same structure, while the buildings assume some oriental character (wooden kiosks, wooden walls, tiled roofs, latticed windows, wide range of colours and cavities). In 1821, before the start of revolution, the population of Chania came to 10.600 inhabitants, 8.000 of them were Turks and 2.600 Christians, while in 1881 – last official census of the inhabitants of Crete during the Turkish domination – Chania had 13.812 inhabitants. 9.469 of them were Turks, 3.477 Christian Orthodox, 159 Catholics, 5 Protestants, 4 Armenians and 485 Jews. The town of Chania was divided into 9 neighbourhoods, that constituted electoral sections.

The neighbourhood of Tophana, of Yousouf Pasha, of Arab Tzamissi of Kasteli of Moussa Pasha, of Agha Djejire Kolou, Houghiar Tzamissi (Splantzia), Koum Kapissi and Topalti. Since the siege of Chania (1645) till 1830 Crete was governed by three Pashas, whose headquarters were in Chania, Rethymnon and Heraklion. From 1830 during Giritli Mustapha Pasha’s administration and till the end of the Turkish occupation, Crete was governed by a General Administrator (Vali) whose seat was in Chania. From 1645 till 1830, Chania had been governed by 196 Pashas. From 1830 and until the end of 1897, Chania and the whole of Crete had been governed by 37 Pashas and only 7 of them were Christians. Chania became officially the capital of Crete in 1849. In the middle of the 19th century, Chania became the headquarters of Administration, and after the revolution of 1847 the capital of the autonomous Cretan State.

By then, the town assumes a multinational character with the presence of Foreign Leagues, a fact with many consequences on the economical, social and cultural life. The architectural style changes according to the models of the West; houses and mansions are built inside the walls as well as outside, on the outskirts of the town. A creative spirit spreads from Chania to the whole of Crete, laying foundations of order, security and prosperity. A clamorous crowd of Turkish Cretans, Orthodox indigenous Cretans, Beduins, Jews and Europeans was giving Chania a special colour. The Cretan people however never stopped wishing and fighting for the unification of Crete with Greece. The yearning dream came true on the 1st December 1913 in the presence of King Constantine and the leader of the revolution of Therisso (1905) Eleftherios Venizelos.

During the Second World War violent battles took place on the outskirts of the town till the final fall of Chania, after a siege of 10 days. Chania gets bombed and the old town is completely destroyed. During the years of the occupation a strong resistence was organized against the conquerors, and this fact has made Chania one of the centers of organized resistance in Greece.

Archaeological walk in Chania

The medieval town of Hania was given its final character by the Venetian conquerors in 1252, and was preserved after the seizure of Hania by the Turks in 1669.
Alter the , where it was mentioned that the Venetian colonists had the obligation to rebuild the town, they completed and repaired the already existing wall of Kasteli and in its interior they created the first core of the town based on Western building models. They marked out the official road, Corso, (today's Kanevaro Street), that crossed Kasteli from east to west, dividing it into two parts. They built the Cathedral (Duomo) of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, the palace of the Rector and the mansions of the Venetian feudalists. Across Corso they marked out other smaller roads parallel to each other, where they build their houses. The walls of Kasteli had four gates. The two central ones, on the western and eastern edge of Corso, were totally destroyed by bombing during the Second World War (1941). As for the two other smaller gates, one of them was on the southern part where Katre street is today and the other one on the northern part where there are the steps next to the building that houses the Polytechnic of Crete. With the development of commerce and navigation the town spreads out beyond the walls of Kasteli.

For security reasons the construction of wider walls is decided; it began in 1538 by the architect Michele Sammichelli. With the new walls, that were constructed in order to encompass the wider town, the walls of Kasteli became completely redundant and, as result of this, its towers were turned into dwellings, whilst on its middle towers the foundations of a great other dwellings were laid. What is more, its external part was covered in a great part by other buildings, something that today obstructs us from seeing the form of the inner wall in all its perimeter. The new walls were given a square shape and each one of its four corners were fortified by a bastion (baloardo); on the northwestern corner the San Salvatore or Gritti bastion was built, on the southwestern corner the bastion of San Dimitri or Sciavo, on the northeastern corner the bastion of Sabbionara or Mocenigo. The bastions of Sabbionara (on the southern part) or Santa Lucia (on the western) and San Dimitri (on the eastern part) were fortified from the outside with parotids (orrechioni). In the middle of the southern part (left as one enters the Municipal Market) a platform was constructed and was named the bastion Retimiota or de San Giovanni or della Misericordia. In its interior, on the East and West, two low squares were formed.

Towards the interior of the bastion, as much as towards other parts of the middle towers, 8 small bastions of large (cavalier) or small (cavalierotti) shape were placed. The wall had three gates: the Rethimnon gate (porta Retimiota) on the southern middle tower, west of the platform, the gate Sabbionara (the gate of sand in Nikiforos Fokas Street) on the eastern middle tower, and the auxiliary gate of San Salvatore (entrance from Theotokopoulos Street), that opened on to the corresponding bastion. Externally, on the periphery of the walls, a trench was dug and a resistance counterwall was constructed (contrascarpa) in order to hold the soil together. Only in the bastion of Sabbionara there was no trench, as it went as far as the sea. After the Venetians were defeated by the Turks, in 1645, the cracks that were caused during the siege were repaired. The cracks had been made in the bastion of San Dimitri and in the gate of Sabbionara through which the Turks entered the town. This gate was reconstructed, its dimensions were changed and it was named Koum Kapi.

The Rethymniotiki gate was also repaired and was named Kale-Kapissi. What finally determined the decision of the Venetians to build the port of Hania was the capture of the town by the Venetian navy in 1293. This construction went through various stages, it lasted approximately 300 years, and consisted of the deepening of the gulf, of the breakwater, the Lighthouse and the strong guardhouses in the arm of the Lighthouse. The increasing Turkish threat had as a consequence the reinforcement of the Venetian navy and construction of shipyards (they began their building in 1526 and took their final form in 1599) for the maintainance of the section of the navy that remained in the harbour of Hania. The northern part of the shipyards was open to the sea, whilst the southern part was closed and had a small door, two rectangular windows and a rotund one. They communicated between them with archways. On the south, the communication of the town with the area of the shipyards was a Venetian gateway that was destroyed in the middle of our century. During the Turkish occupation they were neglected and started to decay.

Out of the 17 shipyards today only 7 are actually standing, that, with various additions (the closing of the northern part, adapted mid walls) were adapted to contemporary uses. Beginning our stroll from the northwestern part of the harbour we come to the fortress Firka. The area was used as residence of the Venetian as well as for barracks. During the Turkish occupation, it operated as barracks and prisons. On the 1st of December 1913, the Greek flag was raised in celebration of the unification of Crete with Greece. Up to the civil war it had been used as a prison. Going up Angelou Street we come across big Venetian buildings (about that we don't have sufficient information).

At the beginning of Theotokopoulou Street the temple of San Salvatore is still erect. It is the monastery of Franciscans monks in the homonymous western bastion. The arrangement of the monastery follows the western models with the square courtyard of the cells and the passage way on the southern part of the church. The temple is small in size with a sharp perpendicular vault and two adjacent chapels with crossvaults on the northwestern side. The altar of the temple with a large arch occupies the eastern part. From the wing of the cells the eastern part is preserved with quite a few subsequent added parts and probably the western part is too. Continuing along Theotokopoulou Street we can see a lot of Venetian mansions with typical Oriental configurations from the times of the Turkish occupation (wooden balconies, latticed windows).

The neighbourhood today is called Tophanas. This name has prevailed since the times of the Turkish domination, because the Turks kept their cannons there. In the late years of the Turkish domination, the prosperous Christians families lived in Tophana. The Consulates of the Great Powers were also there. It had been the neighbourhood of Christian aristocrats and therefor inaccessible to the Turks. Following the way towards the east in Zambeliou Street, we see everywhere along the road houses with characteristic Venetian fronts. From these facades there have been left a few features of the superb Venetian gateway. More characteristic examples are the mansion of Renier with very few features left while the gateway, which bcart the mansion, date 1608 and the inscription (namely the sweet father had done a lot and studied. He had sweated and suffered, let perpetual respite give him joy), has survived.

Also inside the gate the private chapel of Renier survives almost intact. This temple is of Latin typology, The original temple must have been of the 15th century with the altar turned northwards, the entrance westwards and the window eastwards. During the alterations that were made in the 17th century, on the northern part the altar was abolished and the entrance was created with some intervention on the southern part for the construction of a new altar. The building is small in size, but it has very beautiful decorative architectural features, like embossed mouldings on the semicylindrical vault of purely decorative character. Another characteristic front is that of a Venetian mansion with an invalled inscription mention (i.e., no one is poor when his soul is big). The same inscription is decorated with illegible insignia.

In Zambeliou and Skoufon Street there used to be a church of St John Theologos. In the days of the Turkish occupation it was converted into a mosque. Today there is only a fountain. Also in Zambeliou and Portou Street there is a Turkish haman. In the small streets behind Zambeliou Street the area is called Jewish, because Jews used to live there since the period of the Venetians. The Venetians had taken strong measures against the ]ews who were obliged to live only in a neighbourhood especially for them. The central road is today's Kondylaki Street and here there are houses of famous Jews. In the place of todays tavern <> there used to be a Synagogue that has lately been destroyed by fire. The front and the big internal walls are still up.

In Zambeliou and Halidon Street there is a two storey building with a row of three arrows, that is considered as the Venetian Loggia. The same building has been used as a military hospital by the Turks, as an admirality of the Foreign League during the period of the Cretan State, and later as the Town Hall. An inscription in Arabic letters can be seen. In Halidon Street, where today is the archaeological museum, there is a monastery built by Franciscan monks. It consists of the temple and two adjacent courtyards with all the four sides closes on the south of the church. On the northern side there was a penwall that surrounded the gardens of the monastery. The whole complex was sufficiently big 60 metres E.W. and 90 metres N.W. approximately. It is not yet known when the building of the monastery began, as there is no written evidence of the building; a section of the temple however has strong gothic influences of temple – construction, a fact that probably places it in the 14th century, while in 1595 the church and the belltower were completed, as we know from the description of doctor Onorio Belli in a letter he sent to Signer Alfonso Ragona in Venice after the big earthquake of 1596.

The church constists of a central temple, to the east are the chapels of the chorus, while on the west today's passage way constitutes modification of the original building in the years of the Turkish dominion. On the N.E. corner is the belltower, that has an independent entrance. The main temple is divided into three aisles. The middle one is raised oblong, whilst the northern and the southern ones have a semicylindrical roof. On the northern part of the main temple three chapels have been annexed, sheltered each by a quarter of sphere. From the cells survives the external eastern part that looks on Halidon Street -there is a row of shops today- quite altered however, owing to the subsequent interventions. On the southern part of the cells, there is a section of a building that can be identified as the dining-room of the monastery. During the time of Turkish dominion, it was converted into the mosque of T Yousouf Pasha. Only the balcony, on the northern side with the half-destroyed minaret, can be seen today. Opposite St Franciscus, it is said there used to be the convent of Santa Ciara with Franciscan nunns. Today it is all extinct. Opposite St Franciscus a Turkish hamam survives; today's steeple foundry also, barely a few metres to the south, is the Cathedral of Hania, Trimartiri, or the church of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary.

It was built in an area where used to be the soap factory of Mustapha Nily Pasha, that in its turn was built on the ruins of an ancient edifice. When Mustapha Nily Pasha became Prime minister of the Ottoman Empire, he donated his soap factory and another 100.000 curus for the erection of the church to the Christian community of Hania. And the son of Mustapha Pasha, Velis, who was the governor of Crete at the time, offered 30.000 curus. Many offers were also made by the Christian locals. It was inaugurated in 1857. It had three aisles consecrated to St Nicholas (the northern), to the Presentation of Virgin Mary (the central) and to three Hierarchs (the southern). During the firing of the Cristian neighborhood of Hania by the Turks in 1897, damages were caused also to the Trimartiri, the repair of which was made with the Tsar's money who also donated the church bell. By the sea, at the port, we can see the temple of Hassan Pasha with typical morphology of temples, with one big central dome and four smaller ones. On the southeastern corner there is the foundation of a minaret and in the interior, on the southeastern part, the Mihrarb (the holy stand).

The mansions of the Venetian relatives and the palace of the Rector were on the hill of Kasteli. At the end of Lithino Street, a complex of buildings under the name is identified as the palace of the Rector. Here we can see an ornamented gateway of renaissance style, leading to an internal courtyard surrounded by the buildings. Documents, from various eras of the Venetian Council as well as of the Rector of Hania, refer to the state of this building and the repairs that were made to it. The sole remnant of the <> complex is the internal courtyard, while we don't know if the gate of 1624, that, is quoted in the archives of the town, had been transferred from elsewhere. The Palazzo of the Venetian Rectors had been used also as the residence of the Pasha of Hania. On the Corso of Castelli (Kanevaro Street) used to be the Premarin mansion; this, according to an inscription, was built in 1598 by the architect Manoli Litina from Rethymno and always according to the inscription it was (an ornament of the town). On the same street we can see the mansion of Zangarol with a gate of renaissance artistry, and on the opposite side the mansion of Molin, that had images of warriors on its gate heads and in the middle the coat of arms of Molin.

The mansions, like other Venetian houses, were totally destroyed by the bombing in the Second World War (1941). On the hill of Castelli in St Mark's Street, survives a section of the monastery of Santa Maria de Miracoli. It was a convent of the battalion of the Domenicans. It was founded in 1615. The typology of the monastery follows the familiar Western prototypes. On the south of the church is the closed courtyard with the passage, while the belltower that used to be on the southeastern part of the church has not survived. The greatest part of the church has been destroyed, and only the southern wall remains with the embossed mouldings for the perprendicular vault and the blind archings, whilst from the rest of the complex part of the courtyard the cells and the passage way can be seen. On the steps north of the monastery is the big arsenal. It's a shipyard to which a second floor was later added and was used as Town Hall of Hania. The relics of the Minoan town are also on the same hill. Ruins of buildings are found in Katre Street and in Kanevaro Street. The most outstanding complex of houses has been dug up on the square of St Catherine during the Greek-Swedish excavations.

A big building of the post-minoan period has been discovered. It has many chambers, an open paved courtyard, a hearth and a storeroom, where a great number of pots and jars were found, as well as monumental entrances that look out on to small streets. Approximately 100 clay tablets of Linear B Scripture have been found; something that probably suggest the possible existence of a palace. On a site in Katre Street, an archive of tablets of Linear A Scripture has been found. In Katre Street there is also the Turkish hamam. Continuing eastwards we reach the neighbourhood of Splatzia. There was the Turkish quarter. The lanes and a few of the houses are still there. In Daskaloyanni Street is the Catholic church consecrated to St Rocco, protector of the town from the plague. The Latin inscriptions on die facade show the date 1630. It is a single-aisled church with a chapel on the north, without an altar arch. Built with strong influences from the Italian renaissance it represents a typical example of correct proportions and plain form.

A few metres southwards is the square of Splantzia. Here is the monastery of St. Nicholas, a possession of Dominician monks, that must have been built before 1320. The cells of the monastery, arranged in accordance with Western models, were on the nothern part, forming two closed courtyards adjacent to each other, with the passage way on the groundfloor and the cells on the upper floor. From this complex today only the one side of the western courtyards survive. The eastern part has been altered by subsequent additions. The church is divided into three parts: a) the vestibule with the entrance gate of characteristic gothic type, b) the threeaisled main temple that has been renovated and c) the altar with its right and left parts quite well preserved. The original bell-tower of the monastery, was standing on the northeastern side of the church. Today not even its base exists; it has been replaced by a contemporary one on a different spot.

Firstly, the church of St Nicolas was converted into a temple of Ibrahim or Houghar (of the Monarch). From its usage as temple it is left the minaret on the southwestern part and the imprint of the emblem of the Sultan on the entrance survive. Here the sword of the conqueror was kept in a red wollen sheath and Imamis held it each Friday when he read the Koran. Today it is kept in the Orthodox church of St Nicholas. On Splantzia square there was a Turkish fountain that during the Turkish dominatin, was a recreation ground for the Turkish population. South of St Nicholas is the two aisled vaulted Orthodox church of St Catherine (characteristic renaissance architecture). Until recently it has been used as bakery. In the neighbourhood of Splantzia, on Rougha square, in Kallinikou Sarpaki Street is the Orthodox single-aisled church of St Irene, that has been recently discovered. In Hatjimichali Daliani Street is the temple of Ahmet Agha. It is single-aished vaulted edivice, with a minaret on the northwestern corner and the southeastern corner. South of Splantzia neighbourhood, is the neighbourhood of St Anarghiri, where there is the homonymous Orthodox two aisled church. It is also consecrated to St Savas. It was a parish church, owned by the brothers, also priests Manolis and Damianos Fassoulas from a middle-class family registered in the Venetian catalogues of 1644. It functioned as the Metropolis until the erection of StTrimartiri. (Is situated in Jacob Koumi Street).

Going on towards the port from Daskaloyianni Street, we see in Archoleon Street the Venetian shipyards. After that, we come northeast of the town to the bastion Sabionara. On the walls we see the Lion of St Mark, emblem of the Venetians. Then, we come out of the walls to the neighbourhood Koum-Kapi. The Beduins who came to Crete during the Egyptian occupation (1831-1840) used to live there. Most of them however came in 1884. After the treaty of Halepas, (it started on the 28th August 1878 and expired on the 3rd October 1878) order and peace reigned on Crete. Thus commerce and agriculture developed, and for that human labour was needed. Then the General Administration of Hania brought a lot of Beduin families from Vengazi. They lived in the area Koum Kapi outside the walls in huts. The people called them Halicutides, mostly because of the characteristic sound of their speech. After Koum-Kapi there are the new neighborhoods of Hania, built on beautiful town-planning designs.

Agrotourism in Crete

If you wish to relax with the sounds of nature, meet the traditional way of live of the people in villages by participating in agricultural or stockbreeding activities, meet the authentic Cretan cuisine by helping in preparations or ride in the mountains and the valleys of Crete, then the agrotourism hotels are the most appropriate way. The number of traditional hotels in Crete is constantly rising. In many areas of the island you can find hotels and other accommodation units with special features adjusted to their natural environment and in the Cretan country architecture. Staying in such traditional environment of stone and wood during your vacation is something that will surely fill you with enthusiasm and will give another dimension to your holidays. Additionally you will have the opportunity to find out yourself about the famous Cretan hospitality that only the Cretan know how to offer.

Agrotourism and Cretan Diet
The holidays in an agrotourist hotel in Crete are bound together with famous Cretan diet, where the visitor has the chance to taste it and also help preparing it. Most agrotourist hotels have their own farms, where they culture biological and free from all chemicals products. By that, Cretan products like cheese, honey, vegetables, olive oil, oregano, thyme, sage, rusks, wine, raki from local vines and aromatic herbs as well as many more will constitute the basic ingredients of your meals, which will be cooked by the owner or another cook of the area based on traditional recipes. Additionally, in some places, you will be able to participate actively in the preparation, learning the secrets of Cretan cooking pastry making and agriculture, through fully organized teaching classes.

Agrotourism and Activities
Horse Riding, mountain biking, walk in the woods or the crossing of a gorge, making bread or some traditional cake are only a few of the activities which you will be able to experience while staying in a traditional agrotourist hotel in Crete. Or else, if you only wish to rest, then your stay in the Cretan countryside will absolutely relax you, giving you endless times of serenity, listening just the sounds of nature.

Castles, Buildings & Constructions

The Venetian Fort of Iraklion
Construction of the fortification of La Rocca al Mare) with two floors and twenty-six apartments which were used for accommodation as well as for storage. In order to supply the city’s constant need for drinking water, the General Provisioner of Venice, Francesco Morosini, had a 15km long conduit constructed which ran from Mount Youktas to Iraklion.
In the summer of 1645 the Turks invaded Crete, and in 1648 started attacking the fortifications of Iraklion. The siege continued for the next 21 years, one of the longest in history and it is estimated that 30,000 Christians and 100,000 Turks were killed. The fortifications of Iraklion are still impressive and can be seen in several locations within the city today.

The Fortifications of Chania
The last Venetian fortification of Kastelli, where there were a large number of Venetian palaces. Chania always had adequate water for its inhabitants. In 1645, after two months of Turkish siege and heroic battles, the walls near the rampart of Shiavo (southwest rampart) were cracked and the city was surrendered. Today the fortifications of Chania are visible in several locations around the city.

The Fortifications of Rethimnon
The Venetian fortifications in Fortezza, a solidly-built fort on a hill. The city fell to the Turks in November 1646. Today the Fortezza is well-preserved, while the fortifications around the city have almost disappeared.

Venetian and Byzantine Forts around the Island
One of the most spectacular Venetian castles and a location reputed to have been a pirates’ stronghold is the castle on the small island of Imeri Gramvousa, opposite the north tip of the hersonisos (peninsula) of Gramvousa, Kissamos. The fort occupies the top of a rocky promontory, its walls rising abruptly from the sea and it commands majestic views from its site. Between the island and the cape there is a small boat anchorage in the event of bad weather.
The well-preserved Venetian fort of Frangokastello, near Sfakia in southern Crete is beside the sea and has the Lefka Ori dropping abruptly behind it. Frangokastello is associated with the Cretan revolution of Chrisomalousa against the Venetians and with the heroic battles of Greeks against the Turks in 1828.
Several other Venetian castles may be found on Crete, such as Itzedin, above Souda Bay in Chania, the castles of Ierapetra, Sitia, Spinalonga, and the island of Souda.
In some cases a castle was Byzantine and was also used in the Venetian era. The remains of the extensive fortifications of Profitis Ilias (Kanli Kastelli), Polirinia, Kissamos, are Byzantine with Venetian additions. Nearby in Polirinia are also the remains of very large Greek walls beside a Byzantine church with ancient Greek inscriptions on its stones. The fort of Kyriakoselia in Apokoronas, was also a Byzantine fort which passed to the Venetians.
The Turks used the Venetian castles and constructed new ones, usually of smaller size, in order to maintain communication across the island and to protect themselves from the Cretans. The castles of Aptera, Agia Roumeli and the Kouledes of the Askifou Plateau are such examples.

Venetian Buildings
There are many remains of beautiful Venetian buildings all over Crete. Particularly architecturally important are the Chania, Rethimnon and Iraklion still have visible evidence of their Venetian origin. The old town of Chania retains the ambience of a Venetian town of the past and buildings are protected by a historical preservation law.

Venetian Arsenali
Iraklion have the remains of the Venetian Arsenali in their harbours. The ones in Chania are extensive, better preserved, and they form an integral part of the picturesque Venetian harbour of Chania. The Arsenali were used to make or repair boats, each Arsenale being able to hold one ship.

The Venetian fountains are beautiful reminders of the Italian influence in Crete. The Morosini Fountain in the city of Iraklion was used to bring drinking water to the people of Iraklion (through a 15km conduct from Mount Youktas). Today the lower part contains a large number of very beautiful sculptures around the fountain as well as four lions on the central pillar where a statue of Poseidon had formerly stood.
The Rimondi Fountain in Rethimnon is also an interesting example of a Venetian fountain. It has three subdivisions in which the water runs from sculptured heads. Four columns with Corinthian-style capitals complete the piece of art.
The Venetian fountain outside the Moni Vrondisi, Monofatsi, is also very attractive. It consists of a number of sculptures, and the water flows out of four sculpted marble human heads, giving the impression of a strong wind blowing.
Other Venetian fountains of interest include, in Iraklion: the Bembo Fountain with several marble carvings and a headless Roman statue, and the Sagrendo Fountain with a statue that Gerola believes is Crete, the mother of Pasiphae; and the fountain (the lion-head spout was stolen) in Gorgoliani Monastery, in Malevizi.
The Idomeneas Fountain and the Koubes Fountain, in the city of Iraklion, are good examples of Turkish fountains.

Mosques and Minarets
A number of attractive Turkish mosques (tzami) still survive in the city of Rethimnon. The Ibrahim Han Mosque (converted Venetian cathedral) are also noteworthy.
The Janissaries Mosque is in the harbour of Chania and was constructed in 1645 when the Turks captured the city.

Activities in Crete

Climbing, Diving, Walking...
One of the most interesting potentials that the Cretan land can offer to the visitor, is that in little time and small distances one can discover and enjoy the Cretan nature. Crete is an island with countless beauties that combine sea and mountain with the best possible way. The alterations of the landscape, the geological site sees and the excellent climate make Crete an ideal place for any activity. Discover the wonderful gorges of the island and the imposing White Mountains, try scuba diving in the bottom of the sea, fly with a parachute in the clean Cretan air, or just meet the prosaism of the people staying in the isolated villages, enjoying the relaxation and the magnitude of the Cretan landscape.

Climbing – Walking
In Crete, except the sea and all the facilities that are offered by hotels, it really worths to enjoy the beauty of the landscape and the mountains. In a scene with many alternations from rough wild and deserted to green serene and passable, one can meet our gorges and mountains, track our history and civilization of the areas through archeological ruins, historic monasteries, churches and settlements. The High Mountain, the White Mountains and the rest of the mountains hide countless paths of all difficulty rates, while the gorges that are shaped between them are a unique experience as well as a challenge for every walking or climbing person. In Crete there is also a part of the Ε4 path which crosses a long area of the island and has very good signaling. And finally, for the lovers of climbing there is a well organized climbing field in the village of Kapetaniana, in the Asterousia Mountains of Heraklion.

Paragliding, or else Parapente comes from its French name (para- parachute and pente= slope) and it’s a sport with many funs. In Crete exist many schools where you can exercise and learn the secrets of it as well as practicing. Additionally there are many tracks for beginners or advanced users in order to the high view of Cretan nature.

Mountain Bike
The wonderful country roads, full of green and scents of flowers and herbs, are ideal not only for sight seeing but can also offer amazing experiences to the funs of mountain bikes. Bikers can participate in teams for organized tours following specific tracks or solely by renting a bike and following their instinct to meet tha Cretan countryside.

If you enjoy the sea sports, then during your stay on the island you can experience diving in the wonderful undersea world of Crete. Even if you are beginners, diving centers operate all over Crete in order to guide you through the process of safe diving and accompany you to wonderful under sea world, providing you with the appropriate equipment.

Forget your hotel room and far from all crowdie beaches, cut from the tourist groups, enjoy sailing alone or with your friends. In Crete are many ports and anchorages for those who wish to visit the island by shore. For the rest of you, there are schools of sailing that can teach you, provide you with the appropriate equipment and accompany you to wonderful sea trips. You can also rent a boat or join a cruise starting from the island to wherever you dream.

If you wish to relax with the sounds of nature, meet the traditional way of live of the people in villages by participating in agricultural or stockbreeding activities, meet the authentic Cretan cuisine by helping in preparations or ride in the mountains and the valleys of Crete, then the agrotourism hotels are the most appropriate way. The number of traditional hotels in Crete is constantly rising. In many areas of the island you can find hotels and other accommodation units with special features adjusted to their natural environment and in the Cretan country architecture. Staying in such traditional environment of stone and wood during your vacation is something that will surely fill you with enthusiasm and will give another dimension to your holidays. Additionally you will have the opportunity to find out yourself about the famous Cretan hospitality that only the Cretan know how to offer.

Other Activities
Except of all the above activities, the visitor of the island has many more choices so his stay in Crete remain unforgettable. The exploring of caves, horse riding, the participation in local feasts, cart driving and bowling as well as water parks are some of the many activities offered. For more information you should contact the travel agencies of the island.

Geography of Crete

Location and Size
Crete lies at the point where the continents of Europe, Asia and Africa meet. It is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean with an area of 8,335 square kilometers. It has an elongated shape with an east-west axis and a length of 257km and a maximum width of 60km. However, in the area of Ierapetra, Crete is only 12km wide.
Prefectures and Provinces
Crete is divided into four prefectures (nomos). From west to east they are: Chania, Rethimnon, Iraklion and Lassithi. Each one of the prefectures is subdivided into provinces (eparchies). The Nomos Chanion is subdivided into Kydonia, Apokoronas, Sfakia, Kissamos and Selino. The Nomos Rethimnou is subdivided into Rethimnon, Milopotamos, Amari and Agios Vasilios. The Nomos Irakliou is subdivided into Malevizi, Temenos, Pediada, Pirgiotisa, Kainourio, Monofatsi and Vianos. The Nomos Lassithiou is subdivided into Mirabelo, Lassithi, Ierapetra and Sitia. Chania Prefecture
The prefecture (nomos) of Chania covers the western section of the island. It has an area of 2,376 square km. Chania is subdivided into five provinces (eparhies): Kydonia, Kissamos, Apokoronas, Selino, and Sfakia. The main cities of the prefecture are Chania, the capital, and Kastelli in Kissamos. The main towns are Paleohora and Kandanos in Selino, and Hora Sfakion in Sfakia.
The prefecture of Chania offers a wide variety of tourist services and activities of all classes and types. The city of Chania has also maintained characteristics of the Venetian era. The Lefka Ori rise behind Chania and drop to the Libyan Sea in Sfakia and contain many gorges and canyons for the nature or hiking enthusiast. The sandy beaches and clear waters of Falasarna, Paleohora and Georgioupolis offer pleasant swims. The Minoan, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Turkish archaeological sites attract those seeking cultural and historical information.
The province of Kissamos in the northwest of the prefecture of Chania lies between the two peninsulas of western Crete. It extends west to the sea and south to Elafonisi Island. Kastelli is the main city of this area. The city has a variety of tourist services. On the coastal road from Kastelli to Elafonisi Island you can see the wild beauty of western Crete. The beaches at Elafonisi, Falasarna, and Gramvousa are among the finest in Crete. The many Byzantine and Venetian churches, as well as the ancient cities of Polirinia and Falasarna, may be of interest to tourists. The peninsulas of Gramvousa and Spatha are mostly inaccessible by car. Hikers can enjoy some parts.
The province of Sfakia occupies the southeast area of the prefecture of Chania. The Lefka Ori cover most of the area. The province includes the plateaus of Krapi, Askifou, Niatos, Anopolis, Aradena, and Kalikratis. Sfakia has the highest peaks of the Lefka Ori: Pahnes (2,450m); Kastro (2,218m), and Troharis (2,409m). This wild terrain is one of the most impressive in Crete. The visitor may enjoy the panoramic view going from Chania to Sfakia by road. Very impressive also is the Samaria Gorge excursion and the subsequent boat trip to Hora Sfakion.
There are many interesting things for a visitor in the area of Sfakia. The beaches near Loutro, Agia Roumeli, and Frangokastello offer the clear waters of the Libyan Sea. The Byzantine churches of Agios Pavlos (in Agia Roumeli), Michael Archangelos (Aradena), Agii Apostoli (Hora Sfakion), and the Panagia Thymiani and Agios Georgios (Komitades) are of cultural interest. The ravines and gorges through Samaria, Aradena, Imbros, and Kalikratis afford excellent hiking opportunities. The mountain hike to the refuge and plateau at Niatos, 1,500 metres above Askifou, may interest the visitor. With more than 40 peaks above 2,000 metres, the Lefka Ori offer numerous superb hiking possibilities.
The province of Selino is in the southwest part of Crete. It borders the Libyan Sea and the south side of the Lefka Ori. The two major towns are the capital, Kandanos, and Paleohora on the south coast. The name of Selino is derived from the Venetian castle, Selino, in Paleohora. Near Kandanos there are many interesting Byzantine churches.
Rethymno Prefecture
Rethimnon is one of the four prefectures (nomos) of Crete. It lies between the prefecture of Iraklion and the prefecture of Chania, and consists of four provinces (eparhies): Rethimnon, Milopotamos, Amari, and Agios Vasilios. The province of Rethimnon is in the northwestern part of the prefecture. Milopotamos is on the eastern side, bordering the prefecture of Iraklion. Amari is in the uplands, bordering the other three provinces, and Agios Vasilios is Rethimnon's province on the Libyan Sea. The main cities of the Nomos are Rethimnon, Agia Galini, Anogia, Amari.
These two provinces of Rethimnon and Milopotamos occupy all the area on the north coast of the prefecture of Rethimnon. The entire area is easily reached from the city of Rethimnon. The roads in the provinces are good, usually paved, but narrow and winding. The excursions in this area go east and west along the picturesque Old Road between Rethimnon and Chania and Rethimnon and Iraklion. The construction of the National Road isolated these small villages in the 70s but this adds to their attraction. Hidden among these villages are Minoan sanctuaries, cemeteries, villas, and palaces.
There are many Byzantine churches in the prefecture of Rethimnon. Some of the later churches have interesting frescoes such as the Panagia Kardiotissa in Miriokefala. The church in Moni Arkadiou is one of the finest examples of Venetian influence on the architecture of the time and the monastery a symbol of the love of and sacrifice for freedom. There are many caves where objects from Neolithic times have been found. More recently, the Cretans used these caves during the Turkish and German occupations.
Rethimnon is an area of traditional villages (Anogia), Byzantine churches, and ancient sites. The Oropedio Nida, one of the most beautiful and historic plateaus in Crete, is high in the Psiloritis Mountains. The Ideon Andron Cave in Nida is reputed to be the birthplace of Zeus or the place where Zeus was raised, according to others.
The province of Agios Vasilios is one of four in the prefecture of Rethimnon. It stretches west, from the prefecture of Chania, south along all the coast of Rethimnon to the prefecture of Iraklion. The eastern portion of the province contains the Kedros mountain range with the highest peak at 1,777 metres above sea level. The easiest and shortest road from Rethimnon to southern Crete is through Agios Vasilios. In the area there are ravines, Byzantine churches and pleasant villages that are relatively unaffected by the tourist population moving through them. There are also spectacular views of the bay of Plakias and southern Crete from the road. The prefecture of Iraklion is the largest in area, has the greatest population and the highest per capita income of Crete. There are seven provinces (eparhies) in this prefecture: Malevizi, Temenos, and Pediada on the north coast and Pirgiotisa, Kainourio, Monofatsi, and Viannos in the centre and on the south coast. The main cities are Timbaki, Ano Viannos, Matala, and Mires. The northwestern area of the prefecture of Iraklion is comprised of the three provinces of Malevizi, Temenos, and Pediada. The main city is Iraklion. This area is the largest of grape - producing areas of Crete and its main products are sultana raisins, Malevizi (Malmsey) wine, and table grapes (Rosaki). In these valleys Sir Arthur Evans, the British archaeologist, excavated the Minoan Palace of Knossos, the remains of a great civilization. A low mountain range rises in the middle of the prefecture and descends into the Mesara Plain. These fertile plains have been cultivated for thousands of years and have important Minoan, Greek, and Roman archaeological sites -- Festos, Agia Triada, and Gortyn are the major ones. The imposing peak of Psiloritis, 2,456 metres above sea level, is visible from almost all points of the prefecture of Iraklion. It is especially impressive during the winter months when it is snow-capped.
The Amari Valley, southeast of Rethimnon runs from north to south Crete for 25km. The valley is 400 - 500 metres above sea level. The peak of Psiloritis (2,545 metres above sea level) is on the east and Kedros (1,777 metres above sea level) is on the west. It is a major north - south pass and has seen a great deal of action throughout history. The Amari Valley is a fertile valley where many varieties of fruit trees are grown and a great number of well - preserved Byzantine churches may be seen.
Iraklio Prefecture
The prefecture of Iraklion is the largest in area, has the greatest population and the highest per capita income of Crete. There are seven provinces (eparhies) in this prefecture: Malevizi, Temenos, and Pediada on the north coast and Pirgiotisa, Kainourio, Monofatsi, and Viannos in the centre and on the south coast. The main cities are Timbaki, Ano Viannos, Matala, and Mires.
The northwestern area of the prefecture of Iraklion is comprised of the three provinces of Malevizi, Temenos, and Pediada. The main city is Iraklion. This area is the largest of grape - producing areas of Crete and its main products are sultana raisins, Malevizi (Malmsey) wine, and table grapes (Rosaki). In these valleys Sir Arthur Evans, the British archaeologist, excavated the Minoan Palace of Knossos, the remains of a great civilization.
A low mountain range rises in the middle of the prefecture and descends into the Mesara Plain. These fertile plains have been cultivated for thousands of years and have important Minoan, Greek, and Roman archaeological sites -- Festos, Agia Triada, and Gortyn are the major ones. The imposing peak of Psiloritis, 2,456 metres above sea level, is visible from almost all points of the prefecture of Iraklion. It is especially impressive during the winter months when it is snow-capped.
The prefecture of Iraklion has many cultural and historical features to offer the visitor. The finest collection of Minoan artefacts in the world and the sites of one of history's greatest civilizations may be of interest as well as the numerous Byzantine churches and Venetian castles and fountains.
The historical aspects combine with the scenic landscapes of mountains, valleys, and sea to make this a beautiful and fascinating area. The beaches of Agia Pelagia and Limin Hersonisou on the north coast and Matala and Kali Limenes on the south coast will attract the visitor with their warm, clear seas. There are many fine restaurants and tavernas offering Cretan specialities throughout the area.
The eastern part of the Iraklion prefecture has some major resorts near the sea (Limin Hersonisou), some major archaeological sites (Malia), and many important Byzantine churches.
The southern area of the prefecture of Iraklion includes the four provinces of Pirgiotisa, Kainourio, Monofatsi, and Viannos. The most prominent physical feature here is the Pediada Mesaras. It stretches east from Timbaki to Ano Viannos. The plain is between the low mountain ranges of the south and north. The main products of Mesara are cereals, olives, and fruits. and cultivation goes on year-round, aided by the use of hothouses to increase productivity.
Lassithi Prefecture
The prefecture of Lassithi covers the eastern end of the island. The mountain range in this area is the Dikte. Its tallest peak is Mount Dikte, 2,148 metres above sea level. The prefecture has four provinces: Mirabelo, Lassithi, Ierapetra, and Sitia. The major cities are Agios Nikolaos, Ierapetra, and Sitia. The earliest settlements in Crete are in this prefecture, including the palaces of Zakros, Praisos, Mochlos, Vasiliki, and Gournia. An important early Greek city, Lato, is near Kritsa. The fine Archaeological Museums of Agios Nikolaos and Sitia display some of the artefacts from these and other excavations.
According to legend, the Dikteon Andron Cave, on the Lassithi Plateau, was the birthplace of Zeus. The area around Agios Nikolaos is not only the most developed area for tourism but one of the most interesting. The church of the Panagia Kera near Kritsa contains some of the best-preserved Byzantine frescoes in Crete. Elounda has one of the strongest Venetian forts built on Crete. The area of Sitia is full of Byzantine churches and Venetian villas, as well as ancient Minoan sites. The famous Toplou Monastery has a museum displaying its well-known icon collection. The area also has very good beaches with many coves between Ierapetra and the Kapsa Monastery that offer excellent swimming. The area of Vai has a unique palm grove that attracts many people.
Ierapetra is one of the four provinces of Lassithi. Its capital is the city of Ierapetra. The province of Ierapetra has many good examples of Byzantine churches with frescoes in them There are two monasteries of note, Exakousti Monastery and Faneromeni Monastery. East of Ierapetra there are many fine beaches in the Makrigialos Bay.
Sitia is the largest province of Lassithi in area and population. Its capital is the city of Sitia. The mountains are lower then in other parts of the island, but have a distinctive and varied landscape. The earliest Minoan settlements are here at Mochlos, Palaikastro, and the Minoan palace of Zakros. The Kilada ton Nekron (Valley of the Dead) in Zakros and the Hellenistic site of Itanos near Vai are also of interest. There are many Byzantine churches in the area. Evidence of the Venetian era may be seen in the villages of Etia and Handras. The monastery of secluded Kapsa offers visitors a view of monastic life; there is much to see and do in this province.

Rising from Minoan Civilization (Part II)

Rarely is a social event conducted outside of a meal in Crete. Food is a tasty, central element in most family gatherings. And, the Cretans have a particular flair for preparing fresh, healthy foods gathered from the vast countryside. Already from the ancient times of the Minoan civilization, Cretans appear to have been aware of the value of food like olive oil, olives, green vegetables, herbs and many other products that are found in the Cretan soil in great abundance.
During their history of many centuries, it is obvious that Cretans based their diet on those products - with cooking recipes preserved to today. But, that doesn't mean that fermented beverages were overlooked. Grape-gathering, wine-making and tsikoudia-making are activities enjoyed in the autumn every year. Wine-making involves crushing the grapes in special stone constructions called "patitiria". This is done by several people taking turns, walking or running in place on top of the grapes. While recovering from their exercise or waiting for their turn, the people consume food and wine. Tsikoudia or "raki" is a strong local drink made from the remains in the patitiria, after most of the grape juice has been removed. This is allowed to ferment and then is distilled. Traditional methods and machinery are still used. The licensed owner of the still will often take time off his regular work to fulfil his function as village distiller in the autumn. Very often this still has been in his family for generations. People who come to make their raki often bring food to barbecue on the fire and the brew is sampled copiously.
The major celebration for the Orthodox Church is Pascha, the Greek Easter. This is celebrated normally after the Roman Easter, due to the use of different calendars for determining this feast's date. Nature is at its most verdant and the green fields, wild flowers, blue skies and sea, and snow-capped mountains all combine to present magnificent scenery. During Holy Week (Megali Evdomada) there are long evening church services attended by large crowds. Good Friday is especially colourful, since the Epitaphi, depicting the burial cloth of Christ, is carried through the streets around the parish boundaries. In the cathedrals of the cities this procession is accompanied by soldiers, priests and the bishop of the area.
On Holy Saturday night, there is the Liturgy of the Anastasi (Resurrection). Just before midnight the lights are extinguished and the people and the priests move outside to continue the liturgy. At the moment of the Resurrection, the Easter Candle is lit (representing Christ as the light of the world) and the flame is passed from person to person to light their individual candles. Each family takes the light back to the house, where a cross is then marked on the doorway with the flame and a feast is waiting. Two of the traditional foods eaten on this night are "magiritsa", a soup made from lamb liver, and hard-boiled eggs dyed red. On Easter Sunday there is another liturgy at noon, but many people have already started their "souvla", lamb barbecued on a spit, and all the sweets being offered now that Lent is over.

Rising from Minoan Civilization (Part I)

Anthony Quinn as "Zorba the Greek" played up the playful and proud nature of Greece's people. Melina Mercouri, Greece's world-famous actress and cultural ambassador, likewise brought the passion and independence of the Greeks to the movies in “Never on Sunday”.
These two beloved actors skillfully endeared interntational audiences to the people who gave our world some of history's greatest philosophers, architects, artists and adventurers.
The people of the island of Crete (Cretans) have their own, special lineage. The Minoan people, who settled largely in Crete, were traders, developing the most advanced navy that had ever been seen. All of this concentrated mercantile activity produced great wealth for the Cretans, which went into massive building projects, art, and technological development.
The Minoans during the Bronze Age
Prior to classical Greek culture, the civilization was named after King Minos, who in Greek mythology was said to be the King of Crete. Some believe that Minos either figuratively represents the civilization or is a dynastic name. Major cities of Minoan culture were Knossos, Phaestos, and Malia, built around 1900 BC. In Minoan times, the palaces were not only the royal residence but also served as the administrative and religious center for the entire district. The architecture of early Crete was quite advanced... represented in large, complex, and luxurious palaces.
The Minoans used stone, plaster, and timbers, and painted their walls with bright colors with scenes from everyday life as well as plants, animals, and nature scenes. The Minoans built drainage systems, aqueducts, indoor pluming with toilets that could be flushed as well as a shower system! They had a system of pipes that carried water from a mountain spring six miles away, and also built stone roads and bridges.
It was the concern of Minoan religion to ensure fertility of crops, animals, and the human population and to protect against natural disasters-drought, disease, Earthquakes. These concerns were addressed in their religion. The Minoans gave Deities offerings of food or goods in household and rural shrines. A popular place for sanctuaries for the rural shrines were in sacred caves that were used as collective cult centers, most likely for ritual performances. The Minoans religion consisted of individual worship, and was also corporate too.
It is believed that the chief deity of the Minoans was a mother goddess, which was a female fertility goddess and the symbol of the creative force in nature, who controlled the harvests, weather, and other natural occurrences. The bull also played an important part in the Minoan religion. One of the Minoan customs was bull leaping. An acrobat would stand in front of a charging bull, and at the last moment he would grab a hold to the bull's horns and vault over his back. It is not sure whether of not the role of the bull leaping was strictly religious or if it was also a form of entertainment, although it is known that the Minoans worshiped the bulls.
Who were the "Hellenes?
You may notice the term"Hellenic"; is used often in referring to the people of Greece. What does it mean? Hellenic Greece was the ancient civilization of Hellas in what is modern Greece... Bound on land by Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Albania to the north, to the east by Turkey and the waters of the Aegean Sea and to the west and south by the Ionian and Mediterranean Seas. Regarded by many as the cradle of Western civilisation, Greece has a long and rich history during which it spread its influence over three continents. The people were called Hellenes.
Hellenic civilization reached the peak of its power duing the 5th century BC. In 478 B.C., following the defeat of the Persian invasion, Athens assumed leadership of an alliance known as the Delian League, which would later come to be known as the Athenian Empire. Sparta, the other great power in Greece, and leader of the Peloponnesian League, fearing the growth of Athenian power, sparred with Athens throughout the middle of the century. Finally, the two sides fought in the Peloponnesian War, from 431-404 B.C., which involved virtually every state in Greece, including colonies in Asia, Italy, and Sicily. The war ended in the decisive defeat of the Athenian Empire.

The People and the Place (Part II)

Due to its narrow width, the island of Crete has view rivers, which begin from its central, mountains region and end at the Libyan and the Cretan Seas. Most of them have little water during the winter months, and they dry up in the summer. The biggest rivers on the island are the Geropotamos and the Anapodiaris, in the Messara area, the Tyflos and the Kolenis in the valley of Chania, the Kilaris, the Mega Potamos and the Kourtaliotis, at the delta of which we find an area of exquisite beauty. The island does not have big lakes as well, except for some very small ones as well as the lake of Koyurna in the Apokoronou area. There also exists the small but picturesque harbour-side lake of Voulismeni, next to the port of Aghios Nikolaos.

A great variety of agricultural products is produced in the numerous valleys found on the island of Crete. The lowlands of the island spread along its north side, where we find the valleys of Kastellion Kisamou, of Kydonia, of Aghia, of Georgioupolis, of Rethymnon, of Chania, of Malia, of Ierapetra as well as the Mesara Valley, known since antiquity for the bounteous production of cereals. Due to the yielding climate of the island, agriculture is greatly developed and during the last few years big greenhouse cultivations were created here, from where all kinds of products are shipped to the rest of Greece. Among other products, Crete is famous for its olives - from which the high quality cretan oil is produced - the grape vines, the groceries, the oranges, lemons and other products of the kind, as well as for the production of "tropical" fruits, such as bananas, avocadoes and kiwi, as well as thwe famous cretan raisins, known by the name of Soultanina. In the mountains areas, there is bounteous production of of mountain tea, chestnuts, walnuts and other products. On the island there is also production - in great quantities - of high quality honey and cheeses, such as the cretan anthotyro, the mizithra and the graviera, while local fishermen sell all kinds of fish and sea food.
The climate in Crete can be described as typical Mediterranea. Summer is hot and dry with sparce clouds and lots of sunshine. Winter is mild, although in certain areas there may be snow and temperature may drop to unusually low levels.
Crete is known for the wide variety of its natural flora. It is estimated that the island is home to 2,000 different kinds of plants, many of which only grow on Cretan land, such as the famous evergreen, Platanus orientalis. Along the Cretan land spread green areas of unique natural beauty. One can admire beautiful wildflowers, anemones, daffodils, osiers and the wild ranunculus. On the mountain slopes grow cypress-, plane-, chestnut-, and oak-trees. The greatest variety of rare plants grows in the gorges, especially in the famous Samaria gorge, which is a known National Park. Here, one comes across rare plants, like the Ebenus cretica, Campanula pelviformis, Gladolius italicus, Linum arboreum, Staechelina arborea, Cyclamen creticum, Chrysanthemum coronarium, Cistus villosuscreticus and Petromarcula pinnata. In the rest of the island varieties such as Tulipa bakeri, Anchusa caespitosa, Erysinum raulinu, Dianthus juniperinus, Dianthus pulviniformis, Asperula idaea and Scabiosa minoana can be found. Finally, of singular natural beauty is the palm-forest of Vai, where Phoenix theophrastu grows, a variety unique to this part of Greece.
Crete is well known for the cretan goat, otherwise called "kri - kri" which is found mainly in the Gorge of Samaria. The archaeological excavations, which have brouth to light many a wall paintings of the "kri - kri", testify to the view that this animal was worshiped on the island during antiquity. Its rareness is one of the reasons that led to the Gorge of Samaria becoming a national park. However, "kri - kri" have been spotted in the nearby islands of Dia, Theodoros and Aghioi Pantes. From the Cretan countryside, there could not been absent animals less rare, which are found in many parts of Greece. Among them, the rabbit, the wild cat or fourogatos and a unique kind of mouse. Among the birds, in the Cretan mountains we distinguish the golden eagle and the eagle Gyps Fulvus, while there are many kinds of traveling birds which make a stop on the island as they travel to the south.

The People and the Place (Part I)

The Cretans are known for their generosity of spirit. They like strangers, they are pleasant, graceful and hospitable. As their glorious and turbulent history indicates, they are driven by a powerful desire for freedom and independence, which is reflected in every expression of their daily life. Their intense character, combined with a strong sense of family loyalty, often leads them to actions that may be viewed as extreme by outsiders. The ultimate expression of this behaviour is the famous "vendetta," where the rivalry between different families can continue for generations on end. The Cretans keep the local customs and traditions alive. Many still wear the traditional costumes, sing traditional Cretan songs and dance the local dances. Their income derives from agriculture, stock- breeding, commerce and in recent years from tourism, which has developed quite a bit. Cretan girls make beautiful folk-art objects, like ceramics, embroideries and woven fabrics, which can be purchased at most shops on the island.

Found in the crossroads of of three continents, Crete is surrounded be the Lybian Sea, the Cretan Seam the Karpatian Sea and the Myrtoon Sea. Its geostrategic poistions is of great importance, a fact explaining its adventurous history. The shape of the island is narrow but long, with a a length of 260 km. and width of 60 km. and just 12 km. in its most narrow part, which is located in the area of folk-art. Crete is the biggest among the greek islands, with a total area of 8,303 square km., including the reas of the little islands of Dia and Gavdos. The latter represents the southernmost point of Greece. Its extensive beaches - of great variety of terrain - have a total length of 1,064.4 km. The population of the island amounts up to about 500.000 residents, who live mainly off agriculture, animal husbandry and as of lately off tourism. Administratively, the island is divided into four Counties. The County of Chania, with Chania as its capital City, the County of Rethymon with thw homonemous capital city, the County of Lasithi, with Aghios Nikolaos as its capital, and the County of Heraklion, with its capital, the city of Heraklion being the largest city on the island with about 100.000 inhabitants.
In the mountains of Crete there have been formed many caves, owing to the terrain of the island. Archaelogical and paleohistoric findings testify to the fact that most of these caves were used during the prehistoric era as sites of worship and religious observances. Among those caves, we distinguish the Dikteo Andro and the Ideo Andro, connected with many local legends, the Caves of Melidoniou Apokoronou, of Sendoni Rethymnou, of Ilithieas, the Cave of Aghios Ioannis the Hermit and thew Caves of Omalos Chanion.
The coastline of Crete spans an area of 1,046.4 km and is adorned by capes, bays, picturesque harbours, gulfs, steep cliffs and lovely sandy beaches. The southern coast is less developed as far as tourism goes, thus more peaceful and secluded. The northern coast, though rougher, tends to get more crowded.
Some of the most characteristic natural beauties of the cretan scenery consist of the famous cretan gorges which begin at the mountainous areas of the island and end to the sea. The green gorges a abound with rare species of flora and fauna which are protected by strict rules, as they are unique throughout Greece. Among them, one can admire rare species of cypress-trees, platans, pine-trees and wildflowers. The most famous and significant gorge of Crete is the infamous gorge of Samaria, which impresses with its size and unique natural beauty, while on its slopes, one can adire the famous wildgoat of Crete which is found nowhere else in Greece. other significant gorges are the gorges of Kourtaliotis river, of Nimbros and Tipoliano.
The mountainous areas of Crete form many plateaux. Some of them are very fertile with abundant water and are systematically used to cultivate garden produce and fruit. Others are used for pasturing. Among the better known ones are the Plateau of Lassithi on mountain Dikta, at a 900 m altitude, the very popular Omalos Plateau, on Lefka Ori (700 m altitude), made famous in folk songs, Plateau of Askifou and, finally, the plateau of Nida, on Psiloritis mountain, (1,400 m altitude).
The mountains of Crete present a wide variety of geological formations, valleys, gorges, caves and plateaux. They are part of the Dinarotauric Arrow, which begins at the Dinaric Alps. The western side of Crete includes Lefka Ori (White Mountains), or Madares, with Pachnes being the highest peak at 2,453 m. The central part of the island is dominated by Psiloritis, or Ida mountain, Crete’s tallest, Timios Stavros (2,456 m) being the highest peak. In the eastern part of island one can admire Dikta, or Lassithiotika (2,148 m). Apart from these mountain chains there are other, less high ranges, such as Kedros (1,777 m), the ridge of Kouloukonas alias Talea Ori (as it was known in the ancient years), mount Kofinas (1,231 m) and the Sitia mountains where the tallest peaks are 1,320 m and 1,476 m high. The Cretan mountains are for the most part covered with forests. In the recent years, severe damage has been caused by fire and the intensive timber trade and the forest density has been significantly reduced. Still, Roura Forest on mount Ida and Selekano Forest on mount Dikta, are well preserved. Yet, the most beautiful forest on the island is the famous palm-forest of Vai, where the palm-trees reach the beach giving a tropical touch and unique beauty to the area.

Crete: The island of the Gods

Crowning the southern-most part of the Aegean, Crete has been standing there for centuries, proud bearer of its past; a past that blends myth and historical fact, power and demise, leadership and defeat, but never subjugation, never weakness. Its terrain unpredictable... filled with mountain ranges, intense and defying, serene plateaus - blessed with the rich vegetation that only gods could bestow on this island - interspersed with wide expanses of serene valleys and gentle hills, that meet the waters of the sea, some times with fierce determination, others with quiet resolve.

The island of King Minos and a civilization that left its mark on the world, faced the voracious appetite of conquerors from mainland Greece, Rome, Byzantium, the Ottoman Empire, the Venetians, was raided by pirates and invaded by armies who cruised the Mediterranean in search of riches and power.

The proof of this in every corner of the land; in Chania, Rethymno , Iraklio, Lassithi. Finds of long-forgotten civilizations, castles with thick walls and deep moats, monasteries and churches, standing along-side minarets and mosques, they are all testaments to the turbulent past of this corner of Greece. And the people!!!... Proud as the mountains, strong as the waves that beat upon its shores, yet gentle and generous, bearers of age-old traditions and culture.

This is the birthplace of gods and heroes, divine artists and inspired politicians: Zeus and Minos, El Greco, Kornaros, Kazatzakis, Venizelos ... From myth, to antiquity, to renaissance, to modern Greek history, figures who contributed of themselves to what today makes up Crete, Greece and to some extend Western civilization.