Oh Frangocastello. Full of raki and fast asleep I was abruptly awoken by the bouncing dirt road that led to Frangocastello. It must have been eleven o’clock at the minimum when we left the tarmac at whatever village it was when Dimitri told me that soon we would be home for dinner. I had no idea where we were going but it sounded like a Frankish Castle – Frangocastello. Where it was or what it was remained a mystery. It was pitch black and I felt tired and shaken by the road and wondered whether it was worth it.
When we arrived I could see nothing at all. The motor of the truck was still going and there were no lights. Welcome, said Dimitri, to the best place in Crete. Now lets eat.
I followed him as best I could around some dark walls, slipped down a sandy track, walked across what seemed like a beach and arrived at his parents taverna. There was no moon and precious few electric lights. The taverna, however, was something else. Glaring with light but shaded well from the entranceway we walked into what can only be described as a party. There was food by the mile, dancing for ever and a band consisting of a Cretan lyre, a violin, two bazoukia and one or two others beyond counting. There were plates smashed across the floor and a guy doing a dance that was way above my imagination. There were also a lot of people here.
This was very strange. I arrive on a bus in Hora Sfakion, relax, find a place to sleep and get in a truck to take me there. I fall asleep and am roughly awakened by the state of the road. Then I follow the driver through almost complete darkness late at night, turn two corners and am in the middle of what seems like Dantes hell. But what a hell it was, and I was starving. Kats Raymundus – sit down and eat and enjoy. I blinked twice and came awake. Sat down and begun to enjoy the best Cretan meal I think I had ever had. It is a wedding, I was told, and soon it will get lively.
After plates of flavoured rice, lumps of lamb, huge salads, tons of bread along with fruits of various kinds plus cream cake and then more meat I began to enjoy the wedding of ‘I am not sure who’ and his wife. Soon it was around one o’clock and the dancing that until then was extraordinary, took on a new life. And boy did they dance. I was pulled up onto the stage to do my best. The raki and the wine helped a heck of a lot and I think that I did really well. Luckily there was no-one there to take photographs so I must have been excellent. I had been awake for more hours than I could remember apart from the nap in the truck and I was now in my second wind. The dancing got wilder and the conversation better, except that towards three in the morning I was seriously losing not only my second wind, but the third and fourth as well.
I really do not remember any more than that, at least, not much more. I woke up at around nine in the morning across three chairs at the back of the taverna. I wasn’t alone. I was completely surrounded by strangers waking up with me. Men, women and children. I stood up and went outside and in front of me, in front of the taverna, the beach just stretched out ahead. It was probably the best beach I had ever seen and I wandered forward to the end. The gentle sound of the sea carressing me as I walked through heaven. This has to be a dream a voice in my head kept repeating over and over.
Then I turned around. One hundred and eighty degrees and in front of me was what looked like the finest original castle I had ever seen. My mind kept telling me that this is Crete, they don’t have medeival castles here. There are no knights and kings of yore. But there it was in all its magnificence – Frangocastello. The Venetian castle. It was absolutely amazing.
As I walked closer it got bigger. Then in front of me was a small bay with a little greek fishing boat moored there. On the beach was a pile of yellow nets which I stared at almost mesmerised. I lifted my eyes and sheer in front of me was a complete looking medeival castle. I walked around the bay and stood underneath the near perfect walls and battlements and was simply stunned. Here at the backend to nowhere was a castle dreamed of by the British Tourist Board. No-one could compete with this. It was perfect. I walked all the way around, superb walls with battlements.
Then I came to the entrance. An archway through which I walked and inside – nothing. Well almost nothing. there were a few walls but that was all. A huge empty space like an outdoor theatre. It was subtle and outrageously beautiful at the same time. What could be done here I asked myself. Shakespeare? The Beatles? The London Symphony Orchestra?
About three or four miles behind the castle rose the walls of the white mountains, the Lefka Ori. Climbing to thousands of feet in the morning sun. In front of them virtually nothing but the sea, the wild and open sea that divides Europe from Africa. There on the coastline was this amazing castle. Why had they built it here? Thousands of miles from Venice?
The answer was not so difficult to ascertain. The Venetians built the castle to deal with the outlaws – as they saw them – of Sfakia. Did it ever do any good, no. It was in fact a small garrison that no-one came near. Out of space and out of time. But there it is, between Europe and Africa, Frangocastello. The dream of a building and the building of a dream.
The castle was built by the Venetians in 1371. Almost square in plan with square towers at the corners. That’s all to be said. In later years stories evolved. They tell tales in local villages that on the dawn of 17th or 18th May the Dhrossoulites, those of the dew, or the ghosts of Daliani Katzimichalis, the heroic fighter of the Turks and his men dance and march up the beach to the castle. In 1828 he occupied the castle to fight the Ottomans, and like most were doomed by Turkish cannon. But still the castle survived the 700 years or so of its existence. Today they say you can still see the Dhrossoulites although sceptics say it is a mirage from across the see – Libyan troops on exercise, but who knows? Here, nobody knows.
I certainly do not and I spent several days here and it always seemed like heaven. Perhaps it always will. The strange recipe of place, time, buildings and lack of people all amount to something in our imaginations. A recipe for happiness or madness – a solution to our lives and who or what we are. For me Frangocastello was a special place. I had never been there before but it felt like home, the splendid beach, the awesome castle, the kindness and friendliness of the people there all came into tune and I sang in the music. It was indeed very, very special.