4. HANIA - HORA SFAKION (see Map
As you leave Hania behind you and head for Rethimno, the first
thirty-two kilometres of your journey, up to the intersection
leading to Vrisses, are on a beautiful wide road - here called
the National Road - that will invite you to speed. If you go
too fast, though, you will miss the chance to see many interesting
sights along your way.
The National Road stretches for two hundred kilometres along
the coast of Crete. It connects Hania and Agios Nikolaos and
it is practically the only highway on the island allowing you
to ride at full speed. Many foreign bikers, after spending an
exhausting few days on the winding country roads of the island
and tiring of the appalling low speeds, take this road from
end to end just to get it out of their systems.
The people of Hania know the road like the back of their hand.
From time to time they stage Dragster races on it, proving that
they are indeed very fast drivers. Their fellow cyclists from
Rethimno, Iraklio and Sitia also enjoy driving here, and the
latter often entertain themselves by making all other vehicles
look... motionless in comparison to their superbikes. If you
and your motorcycle want to let off steam because of the dreadfully
slow rides in the Hania countryside, you might feel the irresistible
urge to imitate them and drive as fast as possible until the
road will allow you to go no further. Do not hesitate to satisfy
your desire. Pop down to Rethimno or Iraklio and return to Hania
feeling relieved. And now you can calmly start Route number
About twelve kilometres east of Hania, you will reach an intersection
with a road leading to the south (Gr/E sign to Megala Chorafia
and Aptera). Turn right on this road (A3) and follow it up the
mountain, then turn left at Megala Chorafia. You will shortly
arrive at the Aptera archaeological site, situated just east
If you want to enjoy the best view of the Souda Bay (to the
north) and the valley of Kiliari with its many olive groves
(to the south), continue on the road which leads to the northeastern
part of the hill and stops just outside the Itzentin Fort.
After the Ottoman Turks put an end to the Cretan revolt of 1866,
the Turkish commander Reouf Pasha, believing that the
Turkish rule would last a long time, decided to reinforce the
defence of Hania where the administration was based. He made
up his mind to build the fort
in 1867 and gave it the name of his son, Itzentin.
It is one of the best preserved Turkish forts, not only because
it is the most recently built, but also because it served as
a Greek prison until 1971. Although on the outside the architecture
has remained intact, the inside has been changed radically and
often reinforced with cement in order to serve as a prison.
Today it stands abandoned and unguarded, and it is full of rubbish
nobody seems to care about.
Once you have explored the area leave ancient Aptera behind
you, return to Megala Chorafia, and turn south (toward Stilos).
You will cross a rural area full of olive trees and streams
which join to form the Kiliari river. Settlements have existed
in this fertile land since the Minoan period. In fact, one such
settlement was recently brought to light when a hill was excavated
in the area near Stilos, just after the crossroads leading to
Malaxa. You will certainly find that the road you have taken
- the old National Road which connects Hania and Rethimno -
does not have much traffic, since everybody seems to prefer
the new road. After a quiet ride, you will arrive at Vrisses.
From Vrisses you can go just about any place (including Sphakia),
as you will soon discover. The village has some Rooms to Let
and a small hotel, and on the main street there are lots of
coffee shops, restaurants and super markets, so this is a good
chance to replenish your supplies. In the super markets you
will also find fresh fruit, refrigerated and delicious.
Once you stand on the spot where ancient Aptera was situated,
you will understand that the reason the Dorian settlers
chose this location to build their town was
the magnificent view! Built at a height of two hundred metres
above the sea on a steep hill, with the entire Souda Bay
at its feet, this important west Cretan town looks like
it has taken off; why on earth they chose to call it Aptera
(“the non-winged one”) remains a mystery!
The prevailing interpretation derives from Greek mythology:
a musical contest between the Muses and the Sirens is said
to have taken place on this spot. The Muses excelled in
creating beautiful music; indeed so splendid was their music
that they even gave this art form its name! (music <
Muse). Still, the audacious Sirens, the sea goddesses that
were half woman and half bird, had the nerve to challenge
them to a musical contest. Their impudence was due to the
fact that they had no rival in their territory, a rocky
island somewhere in the Mediterranean sea from where they
bewitched those sailing by and led them to wreck their ships
on the treacherous rocks of the shore. As you may remember
from the Odyssey, the only one who escaped that dreadful
fate was Odysseus, because he had the intelligence to put
sealing-wax in his companions’ ears and to have them
tie him on the ship’s mast... But the Muses were no
mere sailors who could not resist their mellifluous songs.
And it so happened that the competition took place and the
Muses won. After their victory they grabbed the Sirens,
pulled out their wings and feathers, and threw them in the
sea as a punishment for their rude audacity. In commemoration
of the event, the Dorian settlers decided to call their
The striking landscape always delights the heart, and delight
gives the artist wings. On the other hand, the city’s
position on top of the hill greatly contributed to a feeling
of security. These facts allowed the people to... take off
and reach the height of achievement. Their craftsmanship
was famous not only in Crete but also on the Greek mainland
and even as far as Southern Italy. Their workshops turned
out the most beautiful masterpieces. They had their own
fleet of ships and two handy ports at the Souda bay, and
they built up a lively trade. The city prospered during
a long period of time, during which no less than seventy-two
different coins were minted!
Some of these precious coins were discovered in 1834 by
Robert Pashley, a British traveller who happened to dig
the ground around the city ruins and thus determined its
exact location. By that time ancient Aptera had vanished
into thin air. It was destroyed by the Arabs in 832 AD and
no one heard much of it ever since...
Since Pashley’s days, only a few excavations have
taken place in the large area where once the ancient city
stood. Those few that took place brought to light some significant
findings, many of which you can admire at the Hania Archaeological
Museum. Most of the treasures, though, remain buried under
the ground awaiting the government subsidy that will allow
the archaeologists to find them.
A notable part of the city wall, which once had a perimeter
of approximately four kilometres, still stands in good condition,
as do two large vaulted cisterns dating from the Roman period,
the ruins of a theatre, the foundations of many houses and
temples, some vaulted tombs, and the mosaic floors of some
old Christian basilicas from the last period of the city’s
existence. At the centre of the archaeological site there
is a guarded area surrounded by a fence, where you can see
the foundations of a small temple dating from the classical
period (5th century BC) and an arched Roman building that
probably housed the parliament. But the greatest part of
the town, once full of ancient houses and streets, is now
below the olive groves and barren fields.
|Source of the
information on this page : “Unexplored Crete”,
Road Editions. For more guidebooks and maps of
Greece, click here.