Kazantzakis – The Grave

Skywatch Friday

Nicos Kazantzakis was probably the greatest author to be born on the island of Crete. His books included Zorba the Greek to Freedom or Death. His book, The Last Temptation, was banned by the Pope and his writings in general led to him being excommunicated by the Greek Orthodox Church.  He thus was not allowed to be buried in hallowed ground.

He died in 1957 and his grave lies on top of the south bastion of the Venetian wall around the city of Iraklion. This was where he was born and spent a lot of his life.

He wrote the words that appear starkly on his headstone. “I want nothing. I need nothing. I am free.”

The final resting place of Nicos Kazantzakis.

The final resting place of Nicos Kazantzakis.

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John Sooklaris’ Latest Video Crete 1961

I just had an email from John Sooklaris that said:

Ray, If I had realized that these movies that I sat and watched when I was a kid, and fell asleep to, as my father would show them to all of our relatives, time and time again, would create such interest in the world, I would have posted them a long time ago when my father was alive. Alas, I am happy with the interest that we have received by people like yourself, and my mother is, no doubt, flattered by the interest as well. Yes, I just happened to visit your site yesterday, before receiving this message and even changed the one about Akrotiri in which you said I was confused. I wasn’t really confused, but just ignorant to all of the places in these videos. With the help of people, like yourself, we’ll get this all straightened out so we can properly inform our viewers. But I did take your word for it and changed it to the Agia Triada in Akrotiri. I will read your other comments on the other videos as well, as I do care about the quality of information that I post. Thanks for your help, as I continue to post the remaining videos from that time. John Sooklaris

Here is the latest video from John – part 1 0f 2:

I don’t recognise the first memorial, but the second after a minute or so is certainly the memorial south of Hania on the Omalos road at the Alikiarnos junction. This is a memorial to those dead in the last war when the Germans occupied Crete. There is listed the names of those killed in around five local villages. In the basement of this memorial is a glass ossuary containing many skulls of those killed, each with a bullethole over the right ear.

Later in this movie I see the hospital in Rethymnon which was newly built in those days. The big ceremony/festival near the end of the movie is certainly in Eleftheriou Square (Freedom Square) in Iraklion. That’s the one with all the crowds and marching soldiers. If you watch carefully you will see the Iraklion Morosini  Fountain twice.

Here is part 2 of 2 of this film.

The first part of this film is obviously a trip eastwards from Iraklion towards Agios Nicholas. The first part of the film is a stop at St Georges church in the gorge of Selinari near the village of Vrahassi. I remember this place on the first bus I took when I arrived in Crete going to Agios Nicholas. No Cretan can pass this shrine without stopping. The whole busload got out and said a quiet prayer here.

Most of the rest of the film is taken in Agios Nicholas – you can clearly see the small lake with the boats that connects to the sea. The final part of the film is I feel taken on a trip to the Lassiti Plateau – you can see the windpumps/windmills.

If any of you out there can do better than me and identify more of the places in the film, of which there may be several, then I and John would be grateful. Please post a comment.

I would appreciate it and so would John Sooklaris. In memory of his father who took these great films.

O Pramateftis – Iraklion 1961

This next video is taken in Iraklion in 1961. It has been posted by John Sooklaris but the man behind the camera is his father Anthony Sooklaris. They visited Crete on a ship sponsored by the Pancretan Society of America in 1961.

This film shows Iraklion very well. You clearly see the old market in Iraklion with all the butchers and fruit and cheese shops unlike now when it is mostly tourist shops. You then have some clear shots of Eleftheriou Square (Freedom Square where I used to work in 1968 on) and the Morosini fountain.

In the closing shots of the film you see a man walking across the road. This is the later very famous musician Nikos Xylouris the great singer of Crete.

Here are Johns words about the movie: “O Pramateftis. While this video clip is more the life and times of Heraklion, Crete, in 1961, it does tell a story that Mountaki so eloquently tells in this story of the poor peddler. You will see peddlers selling their wares at or near the Agora. I just love the shot of the traffic cop.

Anthony Sooklaris so keenly captures the moment in this amazing footage of what life was like. Make sure to catch the traffic cop. It’s a classic solution to a then “new” problem of how to deal with more cars on streets that were once more populated by horses and donkeys, than by motor vehicles.

It was a more simple life, and it will no doubt remind us of fond memories of this most precious past.”

Here is the movie:

Enjoy, but see also how much this island has changed in 47 years.

The Magical Mesara Plain.

In the whole of the island of Crete, one area that is still magical today as well as being vitally important to the history of Crete, is the Mesara Plain. The  Mesara is in southern central Crete in the south of the Nomos of Iraklion. It is the biggest plain in Crete and very important for the extensive agriculture that is produced there both now and around five thousand years ago.

The name ‘Mesara’ comes from the Greek for ‘between mountains.’ Mesos – between, oros – mountains, which becomes Mesaoria or the modern word, Mesara. In the north are the southern foothills of the Psiloritis or Ida mountain range and in the south are the Asterousian mountains between the Mesara and the Libyan Sea. The coastline of the Mesara faces west almost from Agia Galini in the north to Matala in the south. Between the two is one of the most perfect and extensive beaches in Crete, mostly with hardly a soul to be seen.

Two rivers flow through the Mesara and both have their source near to the village of Asimi. From there they flow in opposite directions. Geropotamos, known in ancient times as Lethaios, flows westwards to the sea and out into the Gulf of Mesara. Anapodaris, ancient name Katarhaktes, flows into the bay of Derma, east of the village of Tsoutsouros.

Here in the Mesara in ancient times, civilisation grew from Neolithic (5th Century BC) to the modern day. During the Minoan Prepalatial period growth was amazing (4th & 3rd centuries BC) where huge leaps forward were taken in architecture, pottery, the incredible circular tholos tombs, Agios Onoufrios and Kamares ware, countless figurines, seals and jewelry were produced.

In the first Palace period we see the palace at Festos being built (1900 – 1700 BC). The second Palace period was centered around the later palace at Festos, the palatial buildings at Agia Triada and at the port of Kommos just north of Matala near Pitsidia (1700 – 1300 BC).

Later the came Gortyn, the magnificent city that dominated the Mesara for sixteen centuries, from 800BC to 800AD. Gortyn is situated just west of Agioi Deka and covered a diameter of ten kilometres. It is said that in its greatest years over 80,000 people lived in Gortyn and in Roman times it became not only the capital of Crete but the Capital of Cyrene as well (North Africa).

There is still a plane tree in the ruins of Gortyn that keeps its leaves all year. Under that tree Zeus made love to Europa and the children that they produced were Minos, the king at Knossos and his brother Rhadamantys, King of Festos.

Agioi Deka, the ten saints of Crete.

The road from Iraklion winds south through the town of Agia Barbara and descends to the Mesara Plain at a small village which is still called, to this day, Agioi Deka. Agioi Deka is built on the eastern part of the ancient city of Gortyn. Gortyn is one of my favourite sites in Crete and more will be written of this exciting city of Crete which was the capital for many centuries of Crete and north Africa.

At the end of the second century AD, Christianity was spreading across Crete thanks to the earlier work of the Apostle Titus, a Cretan who was student to the Apostle Paul who landed on the island around 62AD.  Titus became the Patron Saint of Crete and a huge Basilica with five aisles has now been discovered west of the centre of Gortyn near the village of Metropolis, which is called the church of St Titus. The old church of St Titus in the public area of the Gortyn site was not the original church by any means. It was just called that by an archeologist in the last century.

By the end of the second century AD Christianity was an important religion in Gortyn. Circa 170 to 190AD Gortyn had a very active Christian bishop called Philip who is today held as a saint in the Roman Catholic church. Every day we learn more about these times in Crete but the information is still pretty scarce. At least until the year 249AD. Within the Roman Empire that year was a leader called Emperor Decius who was deified as were all Roman leaders. Decius though, wanted the whole of the Roman Empire to worship his name and this happened in Gortyn. A shrine was set up and a great celebration declared to worship the Emperor Decius, god of Rome.

Although Gortyn was by now becoming a Christian city, no one argued with the Emperor of Rome. So everyone in Gortyn went through the motions watched by the Romans. All except ten men who used the moment to protest saying that no one should be worshipped except the true god, Jesus Christ. Consequently all ten were arrested.

It is interesting though that this protest seemed to have been a planned protest. Although five of the men, Theodoulos, Satornilos, Euporos, Gelasios and Eunikianos came from Gortyn, the other five came from other cities such as: Pompios from Lebena, Agathapos from Panormos, Basiliedes from Kydonia (Hania), Zotikos from Knossos and Euarestos from Iraklion. The men were held in prison and tortured for one month. But they failed to change their opinions and so they were sentenced to death by the governor of Crete. The executions took place in Alonion, a part of Gortyn now known to be the main amphitheatre of Gortyn. Later in the reign of Constantine the Great of Eastern Rome now called Byzantium governed from Constantinopolis (Istanbul), permission was given to raise the bodies of the ten men, now sanctified as saints, and rebury them in holy ground in sarcophogi. No one knows exactly where they are buried for there is still so very much of Gortyn to discover.

The graves of the martyrs of Alonion, Gortyn may be the sarcophogi discovered during a rescue excavation in 1981. There was a low enclosure where stone sarcophogi were seen at the centre of which was a small votive pit. The site was then recovered and is now, apparently, no longer accessible. We just don’t know.

However the ten saints of Crete are still celebrated today for their courage and their sanctity and the previous centre of the amphitheatre Alonion now holds the church of the ten saints in the village of Agioi Deka, just south of the main road through the village. The church stands in the original oval of the centre of the amphitheatre and is dated to the late twelfth or early thirteenth century. It has a fine icon to the saints as well as wall paintings that depict the ten saints. It is well worth a look.

It is also worth remembering that the ten saints came from cities in central and western Crete suggesting that even in the third century AD, Christianity had not yet penetrated the east of the island.