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Ierapetra - Zakros

 

16. IERAPETRA - ZAKROS (inland route) (see Map )

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, 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 start.

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 family of shepherd Manolis Vardas, who keep their hut and sheepfold two kilometres east of Thripti village, on the road to the village of Orino.

Little Georgia was born, and now grows like a wild flower, on the mountains of Tripiti

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 milk).

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 of Piskokefalo.

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.

Four hundred years of history  ara supported by a crumpling

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 maintenance. The 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.

ANCIENT PRAISOS
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.

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 incomprehensible words.

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)


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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