Agios Nikolaos. Crete, Greece
A kilometre to the north of the present town, at the spot where the luxury hotel, the Minos Palace, now stands, a small, protected harbour is formed which was used by experienced seamen to tie up their ships as far back as Minoan times. When the Byzantines threw the Arabs out of Crete and the second Byzantine Period (961-1204) began, this small harbour became the centre for commercial traffic in east Crete.
In today’s world of laws and statutes and means of protecting citizens’ lives and property, it is difficult for us
to realise the anxiety and insecurity that tormented the people in that not so remote period. Constantinople was a two month journey away, and the Byzantine fleet travelled at a snail-like pace. Who would protect their lives and their property if pirates suddenly appeared at that small isolated harbour? Their only comfort and hope was God and his saints, and especially St. Nicholas, the patron saint of seamen. So the pious Cretans built a humble church at the entrance to their harbour which was dedicated to St. Nicholas and which they decorated as well as their limited finances would allow.
Unfortunately, when you are attacked by enraged pirates, your faith operates more as a comfort after the destruction than as a protection against it. The Venetians, who knew this very well, preferred to strengthen their defences with castles rather than with churches when they conquered Crete. In order to protect the Porto di San Nicolo, as they called this small harbour, after the church which stood at its entrance, they reinforced the castle that the Genoan pirate Enrico Pescatore had had time to build (but not to enjoy for very long) in 1204 on the hill between the lake of Agios Nikolaos and today’s marina. The small, insignificant Doric town of Lato Pros Kamara was built on the same spot, of which very few traces are left..