1. HANIA - AKROTIRI (see map
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
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.
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.
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.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.
A Gr/E sign outside the monastery directs you to the
Gouverneto monastery in the north.
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
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.
“...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.
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.