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Rethymnon - Ierapetra

 

14. RETHYMNON - IERAPETRA (Travelling inland) (see Map 1 - Map 2)

14.1 Rethymnon to Amari Valley 14.2 Amari Valley 14.3 Psiloritis mountain 14.4 Dikti mountain
14.5 From Dikti to Ierapetra 14.6 To Agios Nikolaos 14.7 Lato  

Psiloritis: Caves and mountain routes

No matter how many stones the proud Hanians pile up on top of their own mountain, Psiloritis is still the tallest mountain in Crete (2456m), even if only with a three or four metre difference from the White Mountains! This is one of the reasons why it is visited by so many climbers every year, although it cannot compare in beauty with the White Mountains.

Map, Rethymnon to Ierapetra, via Zaros

But if you are not a determined climber that will settle with no less than the highest mountain peak, you have still two very good reasons to wear your mountain shoes and climb it: the cave of Kamares and Ideon Andron. The former is at a height of 1524 metres and has given us some wonderful vases of 2000 BC, and the latter is at a height of 1495 metres and is allegedly the birthplace of the mighty Zeus.

There are many paths leading to the top. One of them starts from the village of Fourfouras, another from Kouroutes, and a third one from Lochria. Yet the most popular paths, which will also take you to the caves mentioned, start from the villages of Kamares and Vorizia.

The Kamares cave was discovered in 1890 by some local shepherd, but of course he was not the first one to go there. Ages earlier, around 3000 BC, it was discovered and inhabited by a group of people of the Neolithic age. Around 2000 BC, it was apparently used by the Minoans (most probably of Faistos) as a site of worship, possibly of the goddess of labour Eileithyia. The lovely colourful vases that were offered to the goddess were found during the excavations of the Italians (1894 and 1904) and the British (1913) and are exhibited at the Archaeological Museum of Iraklio. The only thing left to admire up here is the wonderful view of the Messara valley below. The path that starts from the village of Kamares has a steep inclination that may tire you, and to get to the cave you’ll need at least three or four hours. Fortunately, though, the path is well marked with red paint, so you will not lose your way.

The Ideon Andron (The Idi Hide-out) is another three or four hours to the north (if you walk), but you can also get there by bike from the north side of the mountain; in fact, you’ll be mostly travelling on asphalt (see Route 18. The cave was Zeus’ home for the first years of his life, and according to one tradition it was also his birthplace. In any case, his mother, Rea, hid him here to protect him from his father, Kronos, who had the bad habit of eating his children! This was not because Kronos believed in cannibalism, but because he wanted to protect his power; according to the oracle he was to lose it to one of them. “And what is more natural than being succeeded by your son?” you might ask. Nothing, of course, but when you are the absolute ruler of the universe you don’t want to give your place to anyone. The baby-sitters of little Zeus were two cave nymphs, Adrasteia and Idi, who fed him with honey and goat milk supplied by the goat Amalthia. But the child cried desperately for his mummy and he was in danger of being heard by his daddy and eaten for dessert. To avoid this terrible prospect, the demons Kourìtes covered his screams by clashing their huge bronze shields. Yet when Zeus became King of the Gods he forgot their precious service, and he killed his faithful bodyguards for a trivial offence.

Of course, Zeus was not born in this cave, nor in any other cave, but in the imagination of the ancient Greeks. Yet he was enthusiastically worshipped throughout the Greek antiquity, from the Early Minoan period till the time of the Roman Empire. Among the countless worshippers that went past the mouth of the Andron, as you are doing today, were the philosophers Pythagoras and Epimenides. (Incidentally, the back of the cave was full of humble offerings). When Zeus “died” and Christ was born, the cave was forgotten for centuries, and it was only in 1885 that it was rediscovered, this time by the Italian School of Archaeology. The various excavations which have been carried out since then (and which are still being carried out today under the direction of Ioannis Sakelarakis) have brought to light numerous findings that are very important and span the entire period of Zeus’ worship. These are exhibited at the Archaeological Museum of Iraklio, and among other things they include: the famous ritual bronze shields that conjure up the image of the mythical, shield-bearing Kourites (ca 750 - 650 BC); ivory artefacts from about the same time; seal stones; parts of bronze statues; clay statuettes; golden jewellery; and many painted vases.

If you want to get to the top of the mountain (to the chapel of the Holy Cross at a height of 2456 metres) and to return to the same place, you will need another seven or eight hours of walking. This means that you must pitch camp at some convenient spot in the Nida plateau and start climbing early in the morning. The footpath that leads to the top starts from the second hairpin of the road between the half-finished Nida refuge and the cave. It is well marked and generally easy to follow, and after the first twenty-five or thirty minutes of going south it turns to the west and climbs the south side of a ravine.

South of Heraklion. The vineyards of Archanes & Peza

After about two hours of walking you should arrive at a mountain pass 1900 metres above sea level. Here you will find a stone hut and a trail that leads to a peak in the north. Do not follow this trail - it will only take you to peak Koussakas at a height of 2209 metres - but head south instead and go downhill for about ten minutes. When you are down to 1800 metres you will see a place with a spring, two or three huts, and several paths. Take the most worn path (in the northwest), which obviously leads to the top. After two hours or so you will be at the peak of the mountain, and if you are lucky and there is no fog or haze you can enjoy a truly wonderful panoramic view. At the top you will find the small chapel we mentioned - an excellent refuge too - and a cistern with potable water.


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.

 

 

Tip of the day

In the small but organized city museum you will see findings from excavations in ancient Kissamos and its surrounding areas. The museum’s collection includes floor mosaics of 2nd and 3rd century houses found in Kissamos city, as well as findings from the archeological sites of Polirrinia and Falasarna (mainly statues, reliefs and ceramics dating back to the Hellenistic and Roman times).
The present town is famous for its amazing wine which is produced here and is celebrated with “the Feast of Wine" at the beginning of August. During the feast local wine is offered in great quantities under the sound of lyre and lute and in a very enthusiastic atmosphere.
The beaches surrounding Kastelli that you can visit for swimming in the homonym gulf are Molos beach covered by thick pebbles, Ghipedo beach surrounded by trees and Telonio beach with view of the Venetian walls. It is better though to take the road to the famous Gramvousa peninsula.

 

 

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