ANCIENT DIKTYNNAIO

 

Diktynna was an ancient Cretan Minoan Goddess. 'Vritomartis' in the Cretan dialect means 'sweet virgin'. 'Vritomartis' is also called Diktynna daughter of the God Zeus and born, according to Greek mythology, right here on Crete.  She was a mountain goddess and was known for her hunting and love of nature. Young and beautiful and a virgin by choice. 

Said to have been born at 'Kaino' amid the Samaria Gorge and White Mountains in western Crete. She was the daughter of Zeus and Karme. Diktynna is also believed to have invented nets for hunting named 'dictya'. King Minos, who ruled Crete and lived in the Minoan Palace of Knossos, fell in love with Dyktynna and pursued her for a full nine months chasing her along the length of Crete. But Dyktynna wanted to remain a virgin and would not give in to Minos' attentions. He chased her to the edge of a cliff where she was trapped, it was either give in or die. In her eyes and not wanting to surrender to the desires of the King, she threw herself off the edge of the cliff at the very spot where the ancient city was built amidst the rugged barren peninsula. 

Unbeknown to the King, fishermen saved her in their nets and a sailor, Andromedes, sailed with her from Crete to Aegina. After landing there he also made advances towards her and she fled from his vessel into a grove, and disappeared in the sanctuary of Artemis where she became known as Aphaea. Because of her dedication and desire to protect her chastity, Artemis awarded her with immortality.

 

She was worshipped all over Crete but no more so than in the western region. This is also where most of the sanctuaries were built in her name. The largest and most wealthiest was Dikynnaio of Rodopos, The sanctuary was a major centre of Diktynna worship in the Classical period and the cult continued during the Roman times too. The temple stood inside a large court and was said to have been guarded by hounds, stronger as bears.  This is where during the Hellenistic and Roman era worshippers would come with offerings from all over Greece and other areas of the Mediterranean. It was custom for them to come with their rich offerings barefoot, this was in order to be in direct contact with the earth and nature, as Diktynna had done.

 

Remains from the Roman era and a marble statue of Diktynna along with a bust of the Roman emperor Hadrian were discovered in 1913, and now can be seen in the archaeological museum in Hania. The remains of a temple built by Hadrian around 123 A.D. also survived and a sacrificial altar at the site of an earlier temple built around the 7th Century B.C.  Which is situated on a rocky plateau above a small cove and sandy beach at the end of the peninsula. There are more ruins including that of a Roman aqueduct. Although it has never been properly excavated there's a surprising amount to be see. Following the collapse of the Roman Empire the sanctuary was abandoned and looted.

  

It was a most important temple and a reason for conflict regarding its control between the powerful cities of Kydonia in Hania and Polyrrinia at Kasteli. Prior to Dikynnaio is the remains of the Ayios Yeorgios monastery. Later, in the 9th century the monastery of Ayios Yeorgios was built here but it was abandoned because of continuous pirate attacks remains are a tower and a building now used by a local shepherd. This was the forerunner of the Monastery Odigitrias Gonias at the south of the peninsula. 

 

On the west of the peninsula and a challenging hike is the isolated Church of Ayios Ioannis Gionis. Every year on August 29th in commemoration of the death of St John the Baptist people flock to the isolated Church of Ayios Ioannis Gionis on the western side of the peninsula from all over. It also pays a major role in mass baptism of all boys called John and it is an important festival. A splendid three day festival 'panayia' takes place people travel from all around the northern coast and from Hania to celebrate flocks arrive in suitable vehicles as the undeveloped road winds is wild and rocky towards the north and pick up trucks jeeps or boats are the best forms of transport all equipped with chairs and benches for the feast and festival days. Tradesmen set up their stalls and food is brought to barbeque with all the trimmings and many stay overnight this is a real experience - one not to be missed. Some prefer to make the pilgrimage on foot at least one way! As it is a two to three hour walk - each way from Rodopos. But beware the regulars all send out their scouts to bag the best places under the shade of the pine and cedar trees.

 

As you pass through the village of Rodopos en-route to either Ayia Ioannis or Diktynnaio, the road narrows into a single paved road and then after a short distance begins to climb, to rough unpaved track. Some of the roadside stone walls and a milestone into the village are said to be an ancient paved Roman road which ran from Diktynnaio to Kasteli. Built around 123 A.D. Today there are many reminders of the goddess Diktynna here in Crete, there are rivers, mountains, gorges and bays all named after her and of course the wonderful herb Diktamon. 

 

The herb Dittany of Crete is known, amongst other names, as Diktamon but is also referred to as Diktynna by many locals living in western Crete. Its Latin name is 'Origanum dictamus'. It is one of the most important healing herbs of antiquity - the plant named 'diktamnon' of the Diki mountains was thought to be the cure for most illnesses. It is an indigenous plant of Crete and it endures the droughts, which is why it can be mainly found in barren rocky areas.

 
 
 
 

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: Beaches - Western Crete : Apokoronas : Hania Town : Kournas Lake : Aptera :
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