Crete has been invaded by so many people, the Egyptians, Romans, Saracens, Venetians and Turks being the main races. Before these Crete was forever being over run by the major city states of Greece. Each of these races have left behind parts of their culture. This leaves Crete as a fascinating island to explore and uncover some of its treasures.
Much of Crete's folklore is founded in Mythology but upon discovering some of its marvelous ancient buildings and the treasure they hold, one would be forgiven for confusing truth and myth..
Homer wrote much about the Cretans with their love and skill with the longbow throughout his poem The Iliad, with the Cretans favouring the side of Agamemnon and providing the bowmen in the siege of Troy.
The capital city Heraklion ( Iraklio ) is named after one of Greece's favourite demi gods Heracles ( Roman Hercules ), son of Zeus.
Below is a sample of places to be enjoyed without venturing too far from the Apokoronas.
Turkish Fort c1866.
The small village of Aptera, once known as Megala Chorafia but has changed its name back to the ancient name. Aptera is an amazing place to visit, especially during April to early May as the poppies and daisies make the most beautiful landscape.
There is a fort rebuilt by the Turks in1866 during their occupation of Crete. This fort overlooks another fort above Souda Bay, Intzedin Castle that became a prison for political prisoners during the Turkish occupation and was used later by the Greeks to house the communist dissidents c 1948.
So many places to explore - the ruins above the massive Roman rainwater cisterns used to supply the massive public baths, the byzantine church with its small fortification and the now restored ampitheatre and ancient Roman house. Don't arrive after 3pm as you probably wont get in.
It is said that Sirens were urged by the Goddess Hera to challenge the Muses in a singing contest, but this contest they lost.
In victory, the Muses plucked the Sirens of their feathers and wore them as a trophy.
With their feathers plucked the Sirens were no longer able to fly and turned half of their body into a fish tail.
This, some believe, is how the ancient City of Aptera got its name – in tribute to that famous episode from Greece’s Mythical past, for an animal is aptère when it is devoid of wings.
Part of the refurbishment of the Minoan palace.
Knossos is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete and is considered Europe's oldest city.
The name Knossos survives from ancient Greek references to the major city of Crete. The identification of Knossos with the Bronze Age site is supported by tradition and by the Roman coins that were scattered over the fields surrounding the pre-excavation site, then a large mound named Kephala Hill, elevation 85 m (279 ft) from current sea level. Many of them were inscribed with Knosion or Knos on the obverse and an image of a Minotaur or Labyrinth on the reverse, both symbols deriving from the myth of King Minos, supposed to have reigned from Knossos. The coins came from the Roman settlement of Colonia Julia Nobilis Cnossus, a Roman colony placed just to the north of, and politically including, Kephala. The Romans believed they had colonized Knossos.
After excavation, the discovery of the Linear B tablets, and the decipherment of Linear B by Michael Ventris, the identification was confirmed by the reference to an administrative center.
It's nearly two hours drive east along the highway from the Apokoronas but certainly worth the visit.
You can even feel the quiet !
In 1866 the Abbot of the monastery decided to fire all the gunpowder in the monastery magazine, blowing up a large part of the buildings and 943 women and children who were taking shelter from the Turkish rule.
Many of the Turkish soldiers were also killed during this act of defiance which did not bring an end to Ottoman rule but did bring the plight of the Cretians to the rest of the World and eventually to the intervention of several countries which finally ended the occupation.
There is still much of the monastery intact and the beautiful Katholico ( the monastery church ). There is a building dedicated to the events in 1866 and houses many of the skulls. Whatever, the monastery is definitely worth a visit. Stay approximately 2 hours.
There is another monastery worth a short visit on the way to Arkady which is called Arsani, a very restful place.
Following a visit to Arkady, best in the morning as it can get very hot on the plateau, it is worth visiting Crete’s ceramic centre at Margarites. The village has a good taverna on a bend in the centre of the village where you can buy welcome ice creams and drinks etc as the village, which is definitely worth exploring, is built on a steep hill. If you’ve still got some stamina left, then Rethymno can be visited on the way back to the Apokoronas.
Site of St Francis of Assissi monastery
Usually a museum is not the best place to visit whilst on vacation, unless of course you like museums.
Chania museum on Halidon Street that leads to the old port is built on the site of the monastery of St Francis of Assissi.
There are some very ancient statues of the goddesses Artemis and Hera.
You can still see a lot of the old building which extends to a couple of shops in the street. It finishes where the Roman Catholic church, the Cathedral of Assuption of the Virgin Mary is situated. There is a very nice statue of St Francis in the church garden.
The church is very beautiful and so peaceful yet set in the heart of the city. The approach is through a very old tunnel that leads through the garden to the church entrance.
A couple of hours drive from Apokoronas but the journey is great.
The ruins that overlook the Mesara Plain were first formed as a Minoan palace about 2000 bc. Destroyed by an earthquake at about the same time as the main palace at Knossos which is thought to be circa 1600 bc, the palace like Knossos was rebuilt until finally being destroyed as was Knossos by the invading Archaeans circa 1400 bc.
The Golden Step
The Monastery of Chrysoskalitissa is built on a rock at the south-west end of Crete. The church of the monastery is dedicated to Mother Mary and the Holy Trinity and its feast is held on August 15 (Dekapendavgoustos). If you are travelling to Elafonisi you must stop here as it is only 15 mins from Elafonisi.
The Monastery was built during Venetian rule on the site of St. Nicholas monastery and, according to tradition, it took its name from a golden step, the final of the original ninety-eight that led to it when it was first built.
Tradition has it that only the very pious can see the Golden Step but history tells us that it was taken away by the Ottomans to pay the heavy taxes.
It was built on top of the rock because an icon of the virgin Mary was found there and caused the monastery to be built.
Before the Monastery of Chrysoskalitissa was built, there was another church of the Dormition of Mother Mary. The church seen today started being built before 1894.
In 1900, the Monastery was dissolved along with other ones on the island and was re-established as a convent in 1940. After the Nazi occupation of Crete, several resistance fighters were given refuge here and this is why German soldiers came to live at the premises in 1943, after they chased the monks out. When the Nazi forces left, the monks returned to the monastery.
Beautiful monastery on Akrotiri.
A particular favourite Agia Triada or Holy Trinity Monastery. This is a beautiful monastery and well worth the visit. Don’t forget to visit the cellars where you may even get a free wine tasting. After your visit, carry along the road for 5 kilometres to another Greek Orthodox monastery at Gouverneto, Our Lady of the Angels built in the 16th century to give shelter to the pilgrims visiting the site of St John the Hermit.. The journey is beautiful, through the twists and turns around the rock scapes of olive groves, heather and thyme fields for the bees that produce Crete’s fabulous honey.
For the energetic you can walk from Gouverneto to the Katholiko Monastery, Agios Ioannis, supposedly dated from the 6th or 7th century and the cave of St John the Hermit, the founder of the monastery. Katholiko is the name given to a church where all the monks from a monastery would pray. Although the monastery no longer exists, because the church is called Katholiko, there must have been a monastery there at one time.It is well signposted from Gouverneto. This is about a 45 min walk with a further 10 minutes to the seas edge, the monastery is long abandoned and swimming in the sea is frowned upon. There are too many legends to note all here.
Take plenty of water, the return journey is all uphill.