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Hania - Akrotiri


1. HANIA - AKROTIRI (see map Hania Akrotiri, Crete)

The Akrotiri region is a flat peninsula east of Hania with a hill at its eastern side (528 metres high). If you are interested in the beauty that nature has to offer, you won’t find much to see in Akrotiri. The entire area is cultivated and spoilt by the presence of a military airport and a NATO missile launching base.

Map of Crete, Chania (Hania)

This is also where the dreary cement buildings of the Hania University campus are located as well as some factories and a number of country houses randomly built all over the place.

If you wish to swim, again this is not the best place to come, because Akrotiri has very few good beaches. The most charming sandy beach is at Kalathas, but it is surrounded by many Rooms to Let, Hotels, taverns etc.
A second beach, tiny but sandy, is that of Tersanas, which has much fewer buildings around it and is much more quiet. Only a hundred metres from the beach you can find the Studios to Let “Alianthos.” These make a very cosy place to stay, as they are surrounded by many trees, offer peace and quiet, and have balconies with an exquisite view and sheltered parking. Nearby you will find a nice tavern.

A third beach, the largest of Akrotiri, is also sandy and lies west of Stavros. However, only a hundred metres behind the beach - and right over your heads - there is a huge military radar, which is not only disturbing but may also pose a threat to your health. The village itself consists of many large country houses, a few huts, and a couple of taverns featuring plastic tents, plastic chairs and plastic signs. The small sandy beach of the village must have been quite beautiful a century ago, but today it’s covered with plastic deck chairs.
Still, a few of the most beautiful monasteries of Crete are located in Akrotiri and it’s worth making a trip just to see them.

The St. Trinity Giagarolo monastery is perhaps the most impressive monastery of Crete. It was named after its founders, Jeremiah and Lavrentio Giagarolo, two brothers from a wealthy Venetian family who had converted to Orthodoxy.

The St. Trinity Giagarolo monastery

As they faced problems with other monks, perhaps because they were ex Catholics, wealthy, handsome and young, they decided to leave the monastery of Aghios Ioannis (see further ahead) where they were leading their ascetic life and to move a few kilometres to the south, where they built their own monastery to avoid being disturbed! They had money, courage and faith, so nothing was lacking. And since they were going to build a monastery, they decided to do it right. One of the brothers, Jeremiah, dashed to the Holy Mount Athos to bring the best architectural designs he could find, while Lavrentio started gathering stones and other building materials. Construction began in 1612, but the plans Jeremiah had brought were so ambitious that 30 years later the monastery still was not completed, despite the hard work they put into it from dawn till dusk. And then, in 1645, appeared our dear friends, the Ottoman Turks, who had the bad habit of entertaining themselves by burning monasteries and slaughtering monks. During a rare moment of generosity the Turks pitied the two monks and decided to spare the monastery. They didn’t burn it, but they didn’t allow its completion either, so our poor Giagarolo brothers had to pray in a domeless church, in direct contact with Heaven above! Their prayers, and those of the monks that lived after them, were granted two centuries later when, in 1834, after a grand dinner given by the monks, the Turkish lord of the region allowed them to build the dome and to complete the construction of the monastery. In the same year, the British explorer Robert Pashley visited the place and was impressed by its wealth and exquisite wine.

The monastery church is of Byzantine style, and it is dedicated to the Holy Trinity. It has an impressive front, a high bell-tower (built in 1864), and two chapels, one dedicated to the Zoodochos Pigi (The Source of Life) and the other to Ioannis Theologos. Most of the monastery cells are locked, and the buildings are in desperate need of maintenance, but they have kept their grandeur intact. Inside the church you will find some beautiful wall paintings, but they cover only part of the church.

The surrounding landscape is also very beautiful. A thick olive grove (where you can comfortably camp) spreads around the monastery, while the road leading to its gate is lined with tall cypress trees.
A Gr/E sign outside the monastery directs you to the Gouverneto monastery in the north.

Gouverneto monastery, Crete

For the first five hundred metres the road (D1) goes through the olive groves, then it ascends (A4) through a landscape full of rocks and bushes, passes through a beautiful small gorge, and ends at a small plateau where the monastery is located. Its pale earthy colours blend perfectly with the savage beauty of the desert landscape. The road to this place was built in 1980, and it has definitely had an impact on its serenity.

Above the main monastery entrance an excerpt from the Mathew gospel has been inscribed, in Greek, :
" Narrow and sorrowful is the path leading to the afterlife"
The monastery was built by monks of the Aghios Ioannis monastery (see further ahead) for whom the “path leading to the afterlife” was very “sorrowful” indeed. As if the sacrifices and suffering of the ascetic lifestyle were not enough, pirates made things even worse. So at some point in time - nobody knows exactly when but most researchers place it during the first years of the Venetian rule - the monks abandoned their monastery and moved to a safer place in the south, where they built a true monastery - fort! This was surrounded by a thick rectangular wall, 40 x 50 metres, whose four corners feature square towers with embrasures and scorchers. Scorchers were particularly useful for the defence of the place, since boiling water could be poured on the attacking enemy!

In the centre of the monastery yard stands the church, dedicated to the Mistress of the Angels, the Virgin Mary. Its front is very impressive, decorated with sculpted monster heads of Venetian craftsmanship. There are also two chapels, one dedicated to St. John the Hermit, founder of the Aghios Ioannis monastery, and the other to the “Aghii Deka” (The Holy Ten). Unfortunately, there is very little to see inside the church, because all the valuable relics and icons were destroyed in 1821, when the barbaric Turks burned the monastery down and butchered the monks. Today only two monks live at the monastery and they are only threatened by the hundreds of tourists that arrive here daily, in July and August... If, however, you visit the monastery in the spring or autumn, you will feel most welcome. The monastery is closed daily from noon till 3 p.m.

From the Gouverneto monastery a path leaves to the north and enters an impressive and majestic gorge called Avlaki. After about a half-hour walk you will arrive at the abandoned Aghios Ioannis monastery, better known as Moni Katholikou. Built during the 6th or 7th century on a steep gorge side in the heart of the rough-looking landscape of Akrotiri, Moni Katholikou is probably the oldest monastery of Crete. Its founder is allegedly none other than St. John the Hermit, who spent his life in this area. The monastery church is carved into the rock, and only the western side is made of stone. An imposing stone bridge about 50m long and 15m wide extends in front of the monastery, uniting the two gorge sides at a height of 30 metres. This bridge also serves as the monastery’s yard.

In the early Christian era, and long before the monastery was built, the caves around it, still visible today in the steep sides of the ravine, were inhabited by hermits. In the largest of these (which has a depth of 135 metres) St. John the Hermit spent a life of seclusion and passed away quietly. Its 2 x 1.8-metre opening is situated at the left of the monastery church, and it can be easily explored with a good torch.

If you wish to explore the area even further, you can continue after the bridge and follow the rough path, which after twenty minutes will take you to the rocky shore where the monastery’s small

Akrotiri

harbour was once located. Though there is no sand to lie on, the water is crystal-clear, ideal for a quick dive.

If it’s afternoon when you return to Hania, you can make a small detour at the western corner of Akrotiri (2-3 kilometres before you enter the town) and head for the Profitis Ilias hill, where you can enjoy the sunset and a wonderful view of the entire town and valley of Hania. This is also where the plain stone graves of Eleftherios and Sophocles Venizelos are located.

 

 


ELEFTHERIOS VENIZELOS

“...it’s man that shapes the generation;
the generation doesn’t shape the man....”
Written about Eleftherios Venizelos, this folk Cretan serenade expresses perfectly the feelings of Greeks towards this leading Greek politician, who dedicated his life to the service of his country during the most critical phase of its recent history. Born in Mournies (just outside Hania) in 1864, he lived a troubled childhood full of revolts, wars, exiles and suffering.

Elefterios Venizelos

Elefterios Venizelos

From a very young age he became involved in politics; at the tender age of 23 and shortly after graduating from the Law School of Athens,

he was elected as a Member of Parliament representing the Kidonia district. It was the time that Crete was still under Turkish rule, but the Berlin treaty of 1878 (which followed a successful Cretan revolt) had forced the Sultan to allow Cretans to have their own parliament and to share extensive governing responsibilities. This was the first step of Eleftherios Venizelos in his long and extremely difficult political - and even armed, when needed - struggle for the liberation of Crete, Macedonia and Thrace from Turkish occupation and for their unification with the rest of Greece.

The treaties of London, Bucharest, Neigy and Sevres, which consolidated Greece’s borders as they are today, all bear his signature. Behind his accomplished diplomatic skills, his mastery of rhetoric, and his political insight and daring, lay a burning love for his homeland and his vision of a Greece so powerful that she could claim effectively what was rightfully hers, so grand as she was during the most glorious periods of her history, and so well governed as to become once more the model of a democratic and progressive country. He served repeatedly as Prime Minister of Greece and during his entire life he was the main protagonist of the nation’s political arena. After his death in Paris in 1936, his body was carried over to Hania where the entire population turned up at the funeral. His grave at Akrotiri (lying next to that of his son, Sophocles) is a site of national pilgrimage.


THE ROUTES THE ROUTES

Routes starting from Hania

Hania
1. Hania - Akrotiri
2. Hania - Paleochora
3. Hania - Samaria
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.

 

Tip of the day

Sitting on the banks of the second largest natural harbour in Crete, Elounda and Plaka are picturesque fishing villages along the coastal road to the north of Agios Nikolaos. The actual harbour is naturally well protected by a lond peninsula and the island of Spinalonga, a former leper colony. Travelling north for about 4.5 km from the large village of Elounda with its vast central square, promenade and delightful marina, past various little landing places with moored fishing boats, you reach the quiet little village of Plaka. Plaka has two shingle beaches, a selection of pretty little fish tavernas on the sea front with mouth watering fresh fish. Some 2.5 km further on there is a mini market. A regular bus service links Plaka with Elounda and with Agios Nikolaos. This delightful region is ideal for extensive walks. The little traditional mountain villages of this area are unspoilt and give one a good sense of the original Cretan way of life. For sightseeing you may choose to visit the old Salt Pans which are close to the ‘sunken city’ of Olous. And highly recommended of course, is a boat trip to the island of Spinalonga, the former Leper Colony with its old Venetian buildings. Thanks to the protection of the long peninsula, waters are very calm here and lend themselves particularly well to all forms of watersports. The beautiful sea with its crystal clear, clean water, the magnificent countryside, as well as the tangible peace of this area will delight all who visit. From Heraklion, it is about an 80 minute drive by car to the village of Plaka. There is an even wider choice of night life in Agios Nikolaos, just a short taxi ride away, a favourite day trip is to the islet of Spinalonga, lying peacefully across the water with its deserted buildings and Venetian castle.

 

 


 

 

 

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