DAY 2 - AKROTIRI PENINSULA

   

Akrotiri meaning the Cape lies north-east of the city of Hania its official name is 'Melechas'. It protects the naturally secluded bay of Souda. As well as Hania airport and the military bases on Akrotiri there are some of the most beautiful Monasteries of Crete to be explored.

  

THE VENIZELOS GRAVES

   

Following the Akrotiri signs east out of Hania you start to climb as you leave the city, at the top of the 'Profitis IIias' hill named after the small church of the Prophet Elijah you will see the sign to the 'Venizelos Graves', the tombs and gardens are simple and well maintained and you will see one of the most fantastic panoramic views of Hania. The stone slabs are of Eleftherios Venizelos Crete's most famous politician who dedicated his life to the service of his country, the other is of his son Sofoklis. From here you have a fantastic view of Hania, this is an excellent place to also enjoy the sunset from - if you wish to leave this until last!

  

Moumies, on the outskirts of Hania is the birthplace of Eleftherios Venizelos he was born on 23rd August 1864. After studying law in Athens he became leader of the Liberal Party on Crete. 1n 1905 Venizelos gathered support and called for a rebellion at his headquarters in the village of Theriso leading to the abdication of Prince George the High Commissioner of Crete. He went on to become Prime Minister of an independent Crete. His aim was to unify all Greeks into one nation. In 1910 he was elected Prime Minister of Greece bringing about civil reforms. 

  

At the same spot is the statue of 'Spyros Kayaledakis'. The site where In 1897, an illegal raising of the Greek flag took place in defiance of the Turks and European powers, (British, French, Italian, and Russians), all of which had navy's in the bay, trying to take the island. The flag pole was shot down by their shells, but the Cretans raised their standard and Kayaledakis stood upright and became a new flagpole whilst his comrades held the flag aloft. One account has it that the foreign admirals were so impressed by the courage of the Cretans who held the flag up in their hands after the destruction of the flagpole that they applauded. 

   

The chapel, which was a monastery at the time was, however, then blown up by the Russians, though the following day the Russian ship itself was destroyed. An event interpreted by the Cretans as the revenge of the Prophet Elijah.

  

PARK FOR THE PRESERVATION OF FLORA AND FAUNA

  

Covering 30 hectares the park was opened two years ago and is well worth a visit. The aims of the park are to conserve the native plants of Crete and to raise public awareness of the need for conserving biodiversity. It is possible to spend several hours strolling along the well laid out paths through a small gorge, agricultural environments, an olive grove and semi-natural grasslands. The park is located near the Venizelos Graves. Open Monday to Friday 08.00am 16.00pm and Saturday from 10.00am - 16.00pm.

  

KOUNOUPIDIANA

  

The road divides close to the graves take the fork heading north to Horafakia and Stavros, driving through Kounoupidiana. (Pronounced Kounoupithiana) This village has grown over the past few years and is now a popular residential area.

 

The coastline around Akrotiri is rocky and steep, with only a few sandy beaches, however they are very clean and awarded every single year with the blue flag.  The first a small detour from Kounoupidiana takes you to Ayios Onoufrios beach or continue on until the road drops to the two small beaches of sand split by a rocky outcrop at Kalathas

 

Tersanas is a small natural bay, 13 km northeast of Hania, a quiet village with a lovely, sandy beach and a craggy cove.

  

Stavros sits at the northern tip of the Akrotiri peninsula it has a marvellous, narrow strip of sandy beach which is dominated by a huge rock shelf which was served as background in the movie 'Zorba' the Greek'. The beach is enclosed by the circular bay where you can enjoy the sea and sun, from the beach you can see the entrance to a Neolithic cave that has been used as a sanctuary as far back as the Bronze Age. The main sandy beach is where many scenes were shot for the Anthony Quinn film 'Zorba the Greek'.

 
Back to Horafakia then follow the signs for the monastery at Ayia Trida.
  

THE MONASTERIES OF AYIA TRIADA - GOUVERNETOU & KATHOLIKO

  

Ayia Triada open daily 8am-2pm & 5-7pm (with a small charge to enter). With now only five monks in residence this is one of the last monasteries to preserve real monastic life. The enormous cruciform church with several domes and Doric columns contains a beautiful old gilded altarpiece. There is a small museum and shop. It was founded during the 17th century and is also called 'Moni Zangarolo' after its founders, two brothers Jeremiah and Laurentius Giagarolo who were Venetian converts to Orthodox Christianity. 

 

Both church and monastery are built of pink and ochre-coloured stone. The present name means 'Holy Trinity' and on Trinity Sunday a pilgrimage takes place. There was a religious college here during the 19th century and the monastery still holds a fine library and an olive-oil factory run by the monks in one of the buildings.

 

Continuing north following the sign outside the monastery, you start to climb up hill through a gorge and in spring you find an abundance of the purple leaves of the dragons tongue which are everywhere. Soon you arrive at the large car park (field) of the second and older 15th century Venetian Monastery of Governeto 'Lady of the Angels' built on a small plateau open daily from 9am-12.30pm 4.30am-7pm (free). This monastery is in the far north-eastern corner of the peninsula, which is wild, rocky and rugged country, the monastery is yet another example of the building of structures situated high up and away from the coast away from the every present potential pirate attacks which devastated Crete during this period. 

 

The monastery, forms a quadrangle with towers at the corners, and has an elaborately-decorated facade with relief carvings on columns at the base and with some impressive frescoes inside. There are two chapels and small museum. A mere 10minute walk from the Gouverneto Monastery and well worth seeing is one of the many caves of the area this one is called the Bear Cave used during the early Christian period, (in pre-Christian times the cave was sacred to the God Artemis), who was worshipped here in the form of a bear 'Arkouthospilo' (Bear Cave). Ruins surround the entrance to the cave and at the left side is the church of the Virgin. On the 1st  February a feast day takes place in the evening for a church service and then stay in the cave to celebrate with food and wine. In the cave a stalagmite has formed in the shape of a what is traditionally known as 'the bear' bowing over a cistern local legend has it that the Virgin Mary turned the bear into stone after she caught it drinking the monks' water - but to me it looks more like a petrified monk!

 

From the cave a path leads down the wild Aviaki ravine here you can walk approx 30mins down to the  Monastery of Katholiko the oldest monastery on Crete 6th-7th century. The walk is not for the faint hearted down is ok but don't forget the walk back up hill all the way! Sited amid cliffs with its buildings scattered around, either side of a bridge above a dry stream-bed. Its founder St. John the Hermit spent his life in the area. The monastery church is carved into the rock and made of stone. The monks here fled three centuries ago to Gouverneto after repeated pirate attacks. There are caves at this point, dotted all around these were once inhabited by hermits. In the largest of these, which is to the left of the monastery is the Cave of 'Ayios Ioannis Xenos'  'St John the Hermit' here he spent most of his life in seclusion until his death.

  


For the more adventurous of you at the bottom of the ravine, which you can get down to by following the dry stream bed to the sea for approx 20mins. Here you will find a tiny sand-less cove and the remains of the monastery's small port and boat house. After leaving the monastery you can follow the road signs for the village of Kathiana and on to Pazinos where there is the Cavernous Church of Ayios Georgios Apidiotis in the gorge of Mavre, near Pazinos village. Prior to making your way to Sternes passing Nea Souda.

  

SOUDA BAY WITH THE SMALL ISLAND (NEA SOUDA) FORTRESS

 

The bay is about 15 km long and only two to four km wide, and is a deep natural harbour. It is formed between the Akrotiri peninsula and Cape Drapano. The bay is overlooked on both sides by hills, with a relatively low and narrow isthmus near to Hania. Souda was fortified by the 'Republic of Venice' and it protected the large natural harbour of Souda. After the fall of Candia modern day Heraklion in 1669, it was one of three heavily fortified islands kept by Venice until it was finally taken by the Ottomans in 1718. 

 

From a distance the Venetian and Turkish fortifications look well preserved. For over 30 years this little island fortress proved to be an impressive defence after the rest of Crete had fallen, prior to being abandoned. 

  

MARATHI & LOUTRAKI BEACHES

 

The captivating narrow but sandy coves and crystal clear waters of Marathi attracts many swimmers in the summer months. Remains of the ancient city of Minoa can be found upon arrival to the cosmopolitan beach of Marathi. Minoa was one of the two harbours of the powerful city state of Aptera it dominated the entrance to the bay of Souda. Excavations have revealed part of its harbour and some buildings dated to the 2nd century A.D.
 

 
Marathi is a small seaside village renowned for its sea side harbour fish 'tavernas'. Well protected and not affected by the 'meltemi' (northern summer winds). The beach is very popular and frequented much by locals especially on weekends because of the shallow water, which is ideal for small children. Just at the opposite side of the bay to were Marathi is located, can be found the small bay and beach of Loutraki

 

Ayios Ioannis Eleimon Monastery is abandoned and can be found on the Hania - Aroni - Paxinos - Ayia Triada road on the way to the airport. In Paxinos (Gallagado). The cloister is evident within the style of a fortress, once again helping to protect it in the past from invasion.

The abandoned Byzantine monastery of Agios Ioannis Eleimonas in Pazinos

 
For an alternative way back follow the road which leads to Souda Town.

  

THE ALLIED WAR CEMETERY

   

The Allied War Cemetery is on the south side of the isthmus from the Venizelos graves on the waters edge. Though on some maps the cemetery is named as 'The British Cemetery' and also 'The Commonwealth War Cemetery', the 1,527 soldiers buried in the well-kept row after row of graves in this peaceful eucalyptus grove number 862 British, 5 Canadians, 197 Australians, 446 New Zealanders, 9 South Africans and 8 soldiers from other countries most of whom perished in the first days of the Battle of Crete during May of 1941, many of them very young and unknown soldiers.

 
The grave of British archaeologist John Pendlebury, successor to Sir Arthur Evans in the excavation of Knossos after Evan's retirement, is here as well. Pendlebury died fighting during the German attack on Heraklion at the eastern flank of the German coastal invasion. 

 

West of Souda, towards Hania about 1km down a tree-lined road you will find the Monastery of Chrysopigi. (open 8am-12noon; 3:30pm-6pm), with a church and museum containing icons from the 15th century onward. The 'Chartophylakas' family founded the monastery in the sixteenth century. On the entrance gate is an inscription and coat of arms of the founder's family, with the date 1863, this was possibly when the monastery was renovated. It is surrounded like so many, by a wall and in the centre of the grounds stands the church dedicated to the 'Life-giving Fountain', 'Zoodochos Pigi'. Important documents are kept in the monastery. The original section is in the middle of the church. The Turks entered the monastery on Easter Day of 1821 and killed all the monks. 

   

The land around the Monastery has been designated as a protected zone that includes a variety of plants and trees, a number of caves which have been inhabited by hermits for many centuries and the whole area has a significant biodiversity. One of the main activities of Chrysopigi Monastery is the cultivation of its land with organic farming methods. Today it is a convent with several nuns living there. They are renowned for their icon paintings they are also praised for the production of very high quality extra virgin olive oil organically produced, by the nuns.

 
 
 

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