Crete for all seasons

As I slowly grow older I search for great movies that really talk about the Crete I know and love. They are rare but here is one that is very good indeed. It is about Crete in all seasons including specific journeys in autumn and winter when the beauty og the island is extraordinary. Here is the film:



I hope that you enjoy it, it is well over an hour long, but do watch it all. There is a great deal of wisdom and knowledge here.



The Amari Valley – the movie

At last I have found a pretty recent, hour long video professionally produced of just the beautiful Amari Valley that I have often mentioned. It is still one of the best places in Crete to see although the main roads seem to avoid it. It is the biggest area to the south of Rethymnon and has lots of beauty and history.


Matala hippies to return to Crete

An attempt to “reconnect” everywhere the former hippies who spent some time in Matala, scheduled for next June, at the initiative of two Germans!

According to the newspaper “Southern View” initiators of this idea are the author Arn Strohmeyer and publisher Thomas Balistier, who have great love for the island and have a dedicated series of books on the island. Indeed, the latest version titled “The Myth of Matala” is precisely that area was mainly in the 70s and the ideal of “freedom” for people, especially young people-from all over the world.

The two Germans expressed the hope that it will respond by many “veterans” hippies who will respond to the invitation and will travel for a weekend in June in southern Crete.

Those interested to participate in this “reunion” should communicate through the website


Living with donkeys in Crete

A week or two ago I went to see a lady called Suzanne and her partner Alistair who live in the village of Anatoli some fifteen minutes above Ierapetra. They are both British and have lived in Crete for some years but they are unique. They are accumulating donkeys.

Suzanne walking with donkeys

Here is Suzanne with one of her rapidly growing number of donkeys. So far they have twelve or so. To me, that is a lot of donkeys. So how did this come about, I asked Suzanne. “After witnessing a donkey being left out in the sun to die we realised that we must start a home for unwanted donkeys so that their owners do not have to kill the donkeys when they are no longer of use to them.”

Donkeys feeding

But there is a lot behind this simple statement. The donkeys have to be fed daily and there must always be one of them there to make sure that the donkeys are well and happy. Many of them come with injuries, teeth problems, hoof problems and so on, so a vet and farrier has to be within contact. There has to be stables for the donkeys at night, grass or bales of hay or sacks of pellets for the donkeys to eat. This can be sheer hard work. It can also be expensive.

One of the family

We do the work, says Suzanne, and we try to raise some money through our website but we also get many people who come to visit the donkeys and we can take children on rides and picnics and they really love the animals. We can always be contacted at the website.

Suzanne scratching ears

It is a very large commitment you have made, I told her. I know, she said, but the truth is that we love the donkeys. I could see why, they are really lovely animals.

Crete fortifications debunk myth of peaceful Minoan society

By Owen Jarus

A team of archaeologists have discovered a fortification system at the Minoan town of Gournia, a discovery which rebukes the popular myth that the Minoans were a peaceful society with no need for defensive structures.

The team’s efforts were led by Professor Vance Watrous and Matt Buell of the University at Buffalo. Located on the north coast, Gournia was in use during the neo-palatial period (ca. 1700-1450 BC), when Minoan civilization was at its height. The town sits atop a low ridge with four promontories on its coastline. Two of these promontories end in high vertical cliffs that give the town a defensive advantage, and it is here that the fortification system was discovered.

The team weren’t able to excavate the area, and so relied on photography, drawing and surveying to identify the fortifications. The eastern-most promontory had a heavy wall that was about 27 meters long. Beside it the team found a semi-circular platform of stone, almost nine meters in diameter, which they believe is the remains of a tower or bastion. The other fortified promontory had a two meter thick wall, running east-west, “as if to close off access from the sea,” said Buell.

The other two promontories slope gently down to the shore, and would have provided easy access to the town. “It was on these two promontories”, said Professor Watrous, “that the Minoans built structures.”

The town consists of around 60 tightly-packed houses, a ship shed, and a small palace in the centre, and archaeologists have discovered evidence of wine making, bronze-working and stone-working at the site. “Gournia gives you, the visitor, a real feeling of what an Aegean town was actually like. Walking up the streets, past the houses, you feel like you’ve been transported into the past,” said Buell.

In addition to the beach fortifications, it also appears that the Minoans built a second line of defence further inland. Heading back from the beach, there were two walls, together running about 180 meters east to west. Backed by a tower, or bastion, the walls would have posed a formidable challenge to any invader trying to march into the town.

Defenders manning this system of fortification would have rained projectiles down on attackers, by using bows and slings. The walls had stone foundations and were made of mud brick, making them sturdy enough to stand on.

It’s an open question as to whether the people guarding the fortifications were part of a militia or something more organized. There was “definitely a body of men who would have had that duty but we don’t know exactly what they were like,” said Professor Watrous.

Tombs uncovered by Hawes and other excavators have shown people buried with swords. Watrous said that there was one particular tomb that produced an entire collection of daggers, swords and other items.

However, Gournia’s fortifications did not prevent the town’s demise. The town fell around 1450 BC, along with other Minoan settlements. A new group called the Mycenaean appeared on Crete at this time, taking over the island.

Watrous said that Mycenaeans probably avoided attacking the town by sea. “Many other settlements were destroyed at the same time. My guess is that they just came along the land; they didn’t have to come up from the sea”.

He cannot say for sure if the town defences were ever actually put to their intended use. Any evidence of a battle near these fortifications, such as weapons or bodies, would be underground, and excavation would have to be carried out to see if they exist.

One thing that excavators can say is that the people of Gournia had something worth fighting for. Many of the goods they made – such as the wine and the bronze implements – were for export, suggesting that the people had some level of wealth.


Author of leper bestseller shuns Hollywood

THE bestselling author Victoria Hislop has rejected an offer of about £300,000 from Hollywood to turn her debut novel about a leper colony off Crete into a blockbuster film.

Keen to preserve the integrity of the book and to give something back to the Mediterranean island on which it is based, Hislop has instead allowed one of Greece’s main television channels to dramatise her story for a fraction of the fee.

Since its publication in 2005, The Island has sold more than 1m copies in Britain alone, won several awards and been translated into more than a dozen languages, including Greek. The popularity of the novel in America led to Hislop, 50, being courted by several film studios.

“Some were offering me high six-figure dollar sums for the rights,” said Hislop, whose follow-up novel, The Return, set in Spain, has also been a success.

After spurning Hollywood, the author settled for “far less” from Mega, the Greek broadcaster, which is turning The Island into a 26-part drama that has just started filming.

“I really don’t mind,” said Hislop. “What I wanted, and will now get, is a chance to have a say in the TV series.

“Of course it is the writer’s script, but I feel much happier with some of my input and knowing that the Greeks, who took the book to their heart, will care about making the series and keep loyally to the plot.

“I was simply not happy with the approaches from America. I was worried what might happen to my story and my characters.”

Hislop is no doubt mindful of the fate of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres, a wartime novel set on the Greek island of Cephalonia, which was filmed in 2001 by John Madden, the British director.

In the hands of Universal, the US studio, Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz were considered miscast as a captain in the Italian army and his Greek girlfriend.

De Bernieres later remarked: “It would be impossible for a parent to be happy about its baby’s ears being put on backwards.”

The Island tells the tale of Alexis Fielding, who goes in search of her Greek mother’s past, uncovering tragedy and passion. The TV adaptation will employ about 300 local actors and is expected to cost £3.5m — despite the country’s economic meltdown.

The writer, who owns a house on Crete with her husband, Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye magazine, will even have a small speaking part in the drama. “I’ve been learning Greek for the past couple of years,” she said. “I’m fairly fluent now.”

She also said the deal did not preclude secondary rights being sold to a British film or TV company at a later date.


Hairy Roads in Crete

One of the hairiest (scariest) roads in Crete used to be the road down to Hora Sfakion until they did it up and toned it down. But now there is another, a recently tarmaced dirt road that leads from Kallikratis to Frangokastello. Kallikratis is a bit remote in the mountains above Argiropouli, but now, thanks I suspect to EU help, it is beginning to enter the real world.

Recently, about two weeks ago, I drove down this road in our little car with my wife, and she agrees, scary it certainly is. Anyway here is a lovely video by Dave Wood on Youtube of this exact road.

Maze of underground caves could be the original site of the Labyrinth

An elaborate network of underground tunnels topped by a stone quarry on the Greek island of Crete may be the original site of the ancient Labyrinth – the mythical maze where the half-bull, half-man Minotaur lived. The site, located near the town of Gortyn in the south of the island, is believed to have as much claim to be the Labyrinth as the Minoan palace at Knossos, 20 miles away.

Knossos, which was excavated a century ago had largely been heralded as the home of the legendary King Minos, who commissioned the Labyrinth to contain the Minotaur, a terrifying hybrid born of a union between his wife and a bull. Wealthy English archaeologist Arthur Evans, who excavated the site between 1900 and 1935 had keenly encouraged this belief. But scholars say that this site is an equally plausible setting for the legend.

labyrinth plan

An 1821 plan of the Labyrinth at Gortyn

The Gortyn site, known locally as Labyrinthos Caves, is made up of nearly three miles of interlocking tunnels with widened areas and dead end rooms. They have been visited since medieval times by travellers looking for the Labyrinth, but since the rediscovery of Knossos at the end of the 19th century, the site has been neglected by travelers searching for the Labyrinth, and was even used as a Nazi ammunition dump during World War II.

The cave complex at Gortyn had been visited recently by archaeological thieves who were preparing to dynamite one of the inner chambers in the hope of discovering a hidden treasure room.

Nicolas Howarth, an Oxford University geographer, said: ‘Going into the Labyrinthos Caves at Gortyn it’s easy to feel this is a dark and dangerous place where it is easy to get lost.

‘Evans’s hypothesis that the palace of Knossos is also the Labyrinth must be treated skeptically. The fact that this idea prevails so strongly in the popular imagination seems more to do with our romantic yearning to believe in the stories of the past, coupled with the power of Evans’s personality and privileged position.’

A third contender for the site of the Labyrinth exists at Skotino on the Greek mainland.

Mr Howarth added: ‘If we look at the archaeological facts, it is extremely difficult to say that a Labyrinth ever existed … I think that each site has its claim to the mystery of the Labyrinth, but in the end there are questions that neither archaeology nor mythology can ever completely hope to answer.’

Amari Valley – some pictures

In another post on this site I wrote a long article about one of my favourite places on the island of Crete, the Amari Valley. I have had some requests for photographs of the valley so here we are.

These three photographs are taken from the village of Thronos high on the north side of the valley.

The first photograph shows Mount Ida in all it’s glory. This mountain is known in greek as Psiloritis, which means ‘highest’. It is certainly the highest mountain in Crete and this photo was taken in the spring this year capturing the snow on the peak. Mount Ida is the legendary birthplace of the king of the ancient gods, Zeus and it forms the eastern boundary of the Amari Valley.

Mount Ida from Thronos, Amari.

The second photograph shows Mount Samitos, the mountain that stands in the centre of the valley. Behind Mount Samitos are the Kedros mountains that are the Amari Valley’s boundary to the west.

Mount Samitos, Amari.

The third photograph below is looking directly south of Thronos towards the southern end of the Amari. In the foreground is a small village on the floor of the valley. Here is an orthodox christian monastery that has for many years been the local agricultural school for young people learning to build farms in the area and beyond. It has a really splendid church and most of the other buildings are being brought up to date at the moment.

The Amari Valley

The Amari Valley is truly a most beautiful place. Here exist so many flowers in the spring that it is breathtaking to see. All over the valley are ordered fields with livestock and many forms of agricultural endeavour. From Olives to Apple and Cherry trees as well as the abundance of natural herbs. If you have never been, I hope that you can go there soon.