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Ierapetra

 

IERAPETRA (Map )

The modern town of Ierapetra has about 12,000 inhabitants. Although you might not guess it, it is the richest town on the island and ranks quite high among rich towns in the entire country. Its wealth does not derive from tourism, however, but from... cucumbers and tomatoes.

Ierapetra

Until 1965 it was a rather poor place with an economy that was based on farming and stockbreeding.

Then something happened and its fate changed; a young Dutchman by the name of Paul Coopers came to Ierapetra, armed with some precious knowledge. Coopers was a member of a poor and large family, who had studied agronomy with the support of the Church and was under the obligation to offer his services free of charge in some underdeveloped area.

He chose Ierapetra because he foresaw that its mild climate and fertile ground would be excellent for the greenhouse crops that were becoming so popular. The locals did not pay much heed to his advice and they were even mistrustful. But Coopers was not one to get easily disappointed, and he persisted in spite of their narrow-mindedness. He built a greenhouse and showed them how lucrative it was to produce juicy red tomatoes in the heart of winter! In the next twenty years the entire south coast of

Ierapetra

Crete was covered with greenhouses, and the farmers’ pockets were filled with earnings. Ironically, Coopers did not live to see the fruits of his success. He died in 1968 in a car accident and was posthumously honoured by the locals with a splendid statue, which they erected among the greenhouses, at the same place where he once planted the “seed” of their present wealth.In spite of its wealth, Ierapetra is a town full of eye sores: ugly apartment buildings that stifle it with cement, narrow streets full of potholes, and debris lying around everywhere.

The municipal beach at the east side of town is not so ugly, but you will certainly find better beaches a few kilometres to the east. Near the harbour you can see a part of the old town which has survived, but as the fronts of the houses have not yet been restored and there are no pedestrian zones

Ierapetra

it gives the impression of a rather shabby old neighbourhood. At the west part of the old town you can see a Turkish mosque and fountain, the most obvious reminders of the Turkish presence in the area. As for the time of the Venetian rule, it has left behind several landmarks, especially small churches. Among them, the church of Afendis Christos (Christ, Our Lord), which dates from the 14th century and is situated just west of the fortress, the Panagia tou Kale just opposite of the fortress gate, and the church of Aghios Nikolaos. Though thechurches are usually locked, there is always somebody around who knows where to find the keys.

Another thing worth seeing is the archaeological collection, housed in an old building opposite the town hall at the main square. (Incidentally, the building once served as a Turkish school). The place is open Tuesday through Sunday, between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.

Among other exhibits, one can distinguish the marble statue of the goddess Demeter, dating from the 2nd century BC, and a clay Minoan sarcophagus of the 14th century BC, which was found in Episkopi and bears some wonderful representations of chariot processions, hunting scenes etc.

History

The modern town of Ierapetra is built on the exact same site as the ancient Dorian town of Ierapitna, which grew big, powerful and rich thanks primarily to the trade with the most significant harbour towns of the eastern Mediterranean, and especially those on the African, Greek and Sicilian coast.

Like all rich people from the beginning of the world, the Ierapitnians were not satisfied with what they had, and they did everything in their power to acquire greater wealth. In this endeavour they followed a primitive but effective way, which has never ceased to be popular throughout the world: appropriating their neighbour’s property by force. After long and hard wars, they managed to conquer the neighbouring town of Praisos, thus expanding their power over almost the entire eastern part of the island. The poor Pressians, who were the last of the Minoans and had sought refuge on the mountains of eastern Crete after the Dorian invasion, were literally wiped out; those that were not killed in battle or executed were sold as slaves. The Ierapitnian merchants took no account of the fact that they were the No 1 species in danger of extinction, and together with their vases and jewellery and wine and olive oil they exported Pressian slaves. In fact, they probably got a very good price for them, because they sold them to the last one! And so it happened that the last descendants of the Minoans, the people whose forefathers created one of the most splendid civilisations, had a truly inglorious end...

Now that the Pressians were out of the picture, the last rival to deal with was Itanos. “Cornered” at the northeast end of Crete, Itanos stubbornly resisted the Ierapitnians’ attacks, much like the Galatian village of Asterix put up a fierce resistance against the Roman legions! Yet the town was a “small fish,” and it would inevitably be eaten by Ierapitna which was a much bigger one. It would be - but it wasn’t, since a third, giant “fish” gulped down both of them with one swift move. This happened in 67 BC and the third fish was the Roman Empire.

However, Ierapitna did not suffer under the Romans. Instead, it prospered greatly, in fact more than any other time in its history. It soon spread out over a larger area than the one taken up by the modern town, and it was filled with magnificent public buildings: theatres, baths, aqueducts, temples etc. Until about the 10th century there were plenty of ruins to be seen from the Roman town, but today there is almost nothing above ground. Under the ground and the modern apartment buildings, however, there must still be plenty of precious historical monuments, probably doomed to stay there for ever.

In 824 there was a new sweeping invasion that left nothing standing: the Arabian one. Plundering and destroying everything in their path, the Arabs did not spare Ierapitna. Soon, however, they regretted its destruction and built it from the start, because they realised it was a very convenient base for their sea raids. When the Venetians took over the island they built a small square fortress, the Castel Gerapetra, which was meant to protect their galleys in the harbour. The fortress underwent restoration work under both the Venetians and the Turks, and, more recently, under the care of the Greek authorities, and today it is almost intact.


THE ROUTES THE ROUTES

Routes starting from Hania

Hania
1. Hania - Akrotiri
2. Hania - Paleochora
3. Hania - Sameria
4. Hania - Hora Sfakion (Sfakia)
5. Hania - Kissamos (Kasteli)

Routes starting from Kissamos
Kissamos (Kasteli)
6. Kissamos - Gramvoussa
7. Kissamos - Elafonissos
8. Kissamos - Paleochora (through the Topolian Gorge)
9. Kissamos - Paleochora (through Episkopi)
10. Kissamos - Sirikari

Routes starting from Hora Sfakion (Sfakia)
11. Hora Sfakion - Rethimno (Rethymnon) (travelling inland)
12. Hora Sfakion - Rethimno (Rethymnon) (following the coast)

Routes starting from Rethimno (Rethymnon)
Rethimno (Rethymnon)
13. Rethimno - Ierapetra (following the south coast)
14. Rethimno - Ierapetra (travelling inland)

Routes starting from Ierapetra
Ierapetra
15. Ierapetra - Zakros (coastal road)
16. Ierapetra - Zakros (inland route)

Routes starting from Iraklio (Heraklion)
Iraklio (Heraklion)
17. Heraklion - Rethymnon (coastal road)
18. Heraklion - Rethymnon (travelling inland)
19.Heraklioon - Agios Nikolaos (coastal road)
20. Heraklioon - Agios Nikolaos (travelling inland)

Routes starting from Agios Nikolaos
Agios Nikolaos
21. Agios Nikolaos - Zakros

 

Source of the information on this page : “Unexplored Crete”, Road Editions. For more guidebooks and maps of Greece, click here.

 

 

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