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