16. IERAPETRA - ZAKROS (inland route) (see
Map Crete Agios Nikolaos)
From Ierapetra to Zakros
If you take a look at the map of Crete, you will see a central
circular route at the eastern end of the island. The route starts
from Ierapetra, crosses a plain replete with olive trees that
opens to the north (the narrowest point on Crete) until it reaches
the northern coast and then turns eastward to Sitia, where it
turns again southward coming to the southern coast at the village
of Analipsi and continues along the shore returning to Ierapetra.
Map of Crete. From Ierapetra to Zakros
This circular route attracts most of the traffic, but the interesting
part is precisely the mountainous region enclosed by it. Here
lie two rocky massifs, Thripti with its summit at Afentis Estavromenos
(1,476 m) and Orno with its summit at Askordalia (1,237 m).
Their slopes are covered in bushes, herbs and wild flowers with
a few surviving islands of pine forest that once thrived everywhere.
On the highlands formed between the peaks are nested a score
or so of poor hamlets that subsist on animal breeding and small-scale
farming (mostly grapes) on the limited, terraced ground. Most
of the roads connecting these villages are unpaved (D3), although
a good tarmac road does exist. Let’s see them from the
You set out from Ierapetra on the road to Agios Nikolaos and
6 kilometres later you leave the main road by turning right
and heading for Ano Chorio. Once in this village you may be
confused by the maze of minor roads, but try to reach the village’s
eastern end, where a little church marks the beginning of our
route. If you get lost, ask a native for the road to Thripti.
Having managed to find the start of the dirt road set your trip
odometer to zero and follow Road Book 11. Beyond Ano Chorio
the road climbs abruptly to 500 m and offers a panoramic view
of the vast olive grove covering the isthmus between Ierapetra
and Pachia Ammos. Farther on you ride through one of the last
remaining pine woods in Crete and soon you enter the mountain
village of Thripti. To be exact, you come to
a crossroads at the village’s south and where you see
a large walnut tree and a small blue sign bearing a white arrow
that instructs you to turn left. If you wish to visit the village,
heed the sign, otherwise keep on straight ahead to continue
Route 16. The few dwellers of Thripti migrate up here in spring
and summer to tend their vines, and in winter time they return
to the lowlands, leaving their village totally uninhabited.
One of the rare permanent residents of this area is the large
shepherd Manolis Vardas, who keep their hut and sheepfold two
kilometres east of Thripti village, on the road to the village
Two parents, ten children, a hale and hearty grandfather, twenty
beautiful sheepdogs and a flock of 400 sheep make a whole village
by themselves! If you have room to spare in your luggage, stop
and buy a head of galotyri (hard salty sheep’s milk cheese
that is cured for a month in small wicker baskets) or soft mizithra
(low fat fresh white cheese made, naturally, of sheep’s
About 800 metres beyond this sheepfold (to the east) you will
see a passable dirt road branching off to the right (south).
This road was opened in 1993 and climbs to the peak of Thripti,
Afendis Estavromenos (1,476 m). If you are lucky to be there
on a clear day, the view from the top is unlimited in all directions.
Resuming your journey eastward you will soon reach the mountainous
village of Orino.
The cindery remains of the pine forest that once flourished
here scar the landscape and your soul until you come to the
village of Stavrochori. Here you head north on the asphalt road
(A3) which offers enjoyable riding through the picturesque villages
of Chrisopigi, Skordilo and Achladia, and ends at the village
If you prefer to continue on tarmac, you can turn north at
this point toward Sitia and proceed eastward following Route
21. Should you prefer, however, to enjoy dirt road routes on
the magnificent Ziros Plateau, turn south. Until you reach the
beginning of the dirt road you can enjoy sporty riding on the
well-designed road (A2) up to the village of Epano Episkopi.
Here you turn left (east) at the cross-roads that is posted
with an English/Greek sign which says Ziros. This road (A4)
is very dangerous as it is narrow and full of tricky bends.
As soon as you arrive at the village of Nea Presos you will
see a large English/Greek sign marked “Praesos Archaeological
Site” and pointing to a dirt road in a northerly direction.
Ride through the village fields (small signs mark all junctions)
and 1,800 metres later you will come upon a sign informing you
that you have reached the archaeological site of Praesos.
Resuming your trip south from Nea Presos on the road (A3)
toward Chandras, shortly before entering the latter village
you will notice on your left the remains of a medieval settlement.
Some 500 metres before Chandras a dirt road (D1) branches off
to the left and then left again at the next junction and leads
directly to the ruins, although you can get to this point by
riding through Chandras proper.
Most houses of this medieval settlement have collapsed, but
amongst them still proudly stands a tower, whose vaulted gate
and first floor survive today, although not for long, as it
has been abandoned to the ravages of time without the slightest
only building that has enjoyed maintenance is the church of
St. George (15th century) at the hilltop, with enough visible
traces of its original frescoes. A bit north of the ghost village,
next to the dirt road, lies its monumental stone fountain, cool
water still flowing out.
From Chandras follow the only dirt road (D1) coursing in a
north-easterly direction, in order to enter the Ziros
Plateau, an isolated highland region hosting ten or
so poor hamlets, ideal for off-road explorations. The road passes
outside the village of Katelionas but it is worth detouring
briefly just to travel back a century in time! Then you pass
through the village of Sitanos, where again it is worth detouring
on the dirt roads (D3) branching off to the east just to travel
even further back in time to the era of Venetian rule, when
villagers used to live isolated and self-reliant in the most
inaccessible places, seeking peace and quiet. A little before
the village of Karidi turn east. Following a wonderful landscape
of strange solitary brown rocks, you will arrive at Adravasti
village, destitute but proud of its traditions, from
which you continue south towards Zakros.
When the Achaeans came down to Crete in around 1450 BC,
initially they clashed with the local Minoans but the
two peoples were quickly reconciled and learned to live
in harmony with each other. They tried, of course, to
avoid intermarriage but in the end the two peoples influenced
each other and in this way the Cretomycenaean civilisation
developed. Around 1100 BC, however, the Dorians, a Greek
race who knew how to use iron, began to invade Crete in
waves. When we say 'use iron', we mean basically that
they knew how to make deadly spears and swords with which
they skewered their enemies, i.e. all those who were not
Dorians. The Minoans realized that these invaders were
not joking, like the last ones, and so they all packed
their bags and moved to the most isolated corners of eastern
Crete, hoping that the Dorians would not pursue them.
Indeed, the Dorians left them in peace for many centuries
and so, these final descendants of the Minoans, the so-called
Eteokrites (i.e. authentic Cretans - eteos means true)
got on with their lives enclosed in their traditions and
their fortified towns.
The biggest Eteocretan city was Praisos.
Built on the slopes between three hills (which were its
acropolis) with a strong wall completely surrounding it
and with a fertile plain at its feet that was watered
by a river with abundant waters (then called Didymos and
today named Stomio), Praisos not only survived but also
became stronger and gradually expanded the boundaries
of the land it controlled. When at some stage these boundaries
met the boundaries of Ierapetra, the biggest Doric city
in eastern Crete, the conflict happened.
Crete, the ancient Praisos
The centre of the bitter claims was the Temple of Diktaios
Dias (Zeus at Diktaio) (near the Palekastro of today,
see page 504) which was claimed by a third city, Itanos
(see page 502). This bickering of the three cities did
not have a favourable ending for the Praisians. In 155
BC, the Ierapetrians captured their city and levelled
it without a second thought. Those Praisians who were
caught were sold into slavery in the slave markets of
the East, while those who had time to get away settled
in the area which is Sitia today.
The first person to excavate in the ruined city was
the Italian archeologist, Federico Halberr, in 1884. Without
much effort, since everything was there as the fleeing
Praisians had left it, he found dozens of earthern idols,
pots, tools, utensils and the first eteocretan inscription,
a text written in the Greek alphabet but with completely
More extensive excavations were done later (in 1901)
by the English School of Archeology under R.C. Bosanquet,
and brought to light many houses and graves with valuable
finds. Despite the importance of the site, only a very
small part of ancient Praisos has been excavated. As you
walk between its three acropoleis, at every step you will
wonderful landscape of strange solitary brown rocks, you
will arrive at Adravasti village, destitute but proud
of its traditions, from which you continue south towards
Zakros (see page 506)
of the information on this page : “Unexplored
Crete”, Road Editions. For more
guidebooks and maps of Greece, click here.