2. HANIA - Paleochora (see Map of Crete, Hania orChania)
If you choose the eastern direction (toward Sougia), about
100 metres after the intersection you will see to your right
a hill crowned with a church. Turn to the right on the narrow
road that climbs the hill, and after a while you will arrive
at the top, where once the ancient city of Eliros was situated.
Map of Crete. Dodovani to Sougia
The next village on your route is Moni, where you can visit
the Byzantine church of Aghios Nikolaos with its beautiful wall
paintings, among which the outstanding painting of St. Nicholas,
the work of Ioannis Pagomenos.
About two kilometres to the south of Moni a road (A3) heads
to the east, passes through Livadas, and ends at the legendary
Koustogerako. If some members of the group have decided to walk
through the Aghia Irini gorge this will be the best place to
wait for them. As you enter the village you will see a monument
dedicated to the memory of the tragic events that took place
here during the second world war and to the heroic resistance
of the local people. The Koustogerako people have a long tradition
of rebellions and restlessness, and they fought hard against
the Nazis (this is where the illustrious rebel Kantanoleos came
from, see). The Nazis surrounded the village but the armed men
managed to escape. They left their women and children behind
assuming the Nazis would not harm them, but they were totally
wrong. Ten of these men, hidden behind a rock, witnessed how
the Nazis gathered the women and children together in the village
square and set up a machine gun. Still, the incredible cruelty
did not make them lose their readiness; they aimed well and
a few seconds later the machine gunner and another nine Nazis
fell dead. Then they charged and chased them until Moni, killing
and wounding many of them. The next day a more powerful Nazi
death squad entered the deserted village and blew everything
up. This was the fourth time that Koustogerako was reduced to
ruins (it was twice before burned by the Venetians and once
by the Turks), but the heroic Koustogerako people rebuilt it
from scratch after the war was over.
However much you look around you, you will only find some
traces of the ancient city. The couple of column drums,
the few carved stones and
the scattered pieces of ceramics make it difficult to believe
that at this place stood the largest city of the southwest
of Crete in the classical times. It was a city of 16,000
people and it became wealthy through... arms trade!
Eliros was famous for its quality bows, arrows, knives,
catapults and other weapons, which it sold all over Crete.
It also exported these weapons, and used for this purpose
no less than three harbours, Lissos, Syia, and Pikilassos!
At the same time, the townsfolk cultivated the fertile valley
to the east and south of the city and kept bees. In fact,
Eliros had become so wealthy that it minted its own coins
on which the two symbols of its wealth were represented:
on the one side an arrow in the side of a goat (although
those who bought the arrows used them for other targets
than goats) and on the other side a bee.
The homes of the ancient Elirians were luxurious and had
a grand view of the Libyan sea to the south and the White
Mountains to the east, as you will be able to see for yourself.
But although these people were great arms merchants, they
were not masters of the weapons themselves. As a result,
they vanished from the face of the earth, probably as victims
of the invasion of the Arabs who conquered the whole island
during the early 9th century BC. Never has an archaeological
excavation taken place on this hill and what remains of
ancient Eliros probably lies some feet under the ground.
two kafenìa are located at the beautiful village square,
where you can enjoy a good cup of coffee and a great view of
the White Mountains and the rock from which the Koustogerako
fighters shot the Nazis. It’s worth paying a visit to
the small Byzantine church of Aghios Georgios at the edge of
the village; it was built in the 10th century and has many impressive
paintings of the 15th century made by G. Provatopoulos. If the
hikers of the group have not shown up by now, it may be wise
to start looking for them!
Two interesting mountain-hiking routes begin at Koustogerako.
The most popular one, which takes five hours, heads to the northeast,
continues smoothly and at a relatively low altitude (below 1000
metres) through the western side of Mount Psilafi, and ends
at the small chapel in the western entrance to the Omalos plateau,
at Seliniotikos Giros. The other route is more demanding (six
hours) but far more interesting.
It goes east passing through a gorge and suddenly gains height
climbing the southern side of Mount Psilafi. After only eight
kilometres from Koustogerako, the road has climbed 1200 metres,
taking you to an altitude of 1700 metres at the Linosseli pass,
the highest point of the route. Here you can enjoy a dazzling
view of the Libyan sea and quench your thirst at a cool spring
that refreshes the traveller all year round. After two kilometres
of descending you will reach Xiloskalo at the beginning of the
Samaria gorge. For both these routes it’s advisable to
request info and maps from the Hania Mountain Climbing Club.
Part of the second route, the first six kilometres, can be done
on bike and will offer you the most enjoyable mountain ride
in the area. The road (D3) passes through a forest and stops
suddenly at a place with a beautiful view of the southern coast
of Crete and the surrounding area.
If you return to Koustogerako on the central road and continue
to the south, you will arrive after three kilometres at Sougia,
a relatively new settlement built on the site where once the
ancient city of Syia was located. In front of the village is
a wide and beautiful pebbly beach, the cause of the tourist
development in the area. Fortunately, only few hotels have been
built here, but the buildings are randomly situated and many
people have built homes only to rent rooms during the tourist
season. It would be a good idea to make this quiet place your
base for two or three days and to explore the region on foot
or bike. You can walk to the west taking the seaside path to
ancient Lissos (see further ahead) or you can take the boat
Aghia Roumeli and walk through the Samaria gorge. If you decide
to stay here, your best choices are the Santa Irini Hotel (Tel.
0823 - 051 342) and the Lotos pension (Tel. 0823 - 051 142) in
front of the beach. There are plenty of other Rooms to Let and
small hotels in Sougia, so you shouldn’t have any trouble
finding a room even during the high season. If, however, you wish
to camp, you can set up your tent at the eastern side of the
beach, at any place you choose. For your shopping we recommend
the Sougia mini market. Its owner, Giorgos Falagaris, is a member
of the Hania Motorcycle club, has many stories to tell you about
his adventures on his bike in Northern Africa, and will provide
you with all the information you need about the Sougia area.
From ancient Syia, the seaport of Eliros that flourished during
the Roman and early Byzantine time, very little has survived.
This consists of a few wall ruins at the east corner of the
beach and the floor mosaic of a 6th century basilica on which
the village church was later built.
If you wish to enjoy an impressive hiking archaeological exploration
in the footsteps of the famous British explorer of the 19th
century Robert Pashley, just follow the path at the back of
the Sougia harbour that heads to the west. You will pass through
a beautiful gorge, reach the crest of the hill side, and finally
descend toward the sea. After about one hour you will reach
the ruins of the ancient city of Lissos.
Lissos used to serve as the port of Irtakina and Eliros and
seems to have flourished from the classical times till the 10th
century AD. Most of its inhabitants were sea merchants and fishermen,
but the greatest source of wealth was...tourism! In fact, it
was a curious form of tourism with a... clearly medical nature,
since the Asclepieion of Lissos - a religious shrine of the
healing god Asclepius with a famous healing water spring - attracted
visitors from all over Crete. So wealthy was Lissos, it even
minted its own golden coins.
The area was largely unexplored until 1957, although the position
of the ancient city was known. That year one of the locals,
wishing to find the source of the water, dug exactly on top
of the sanctuary of Asclepius and found about twenty statues
portraying Asclepius, Hygeia, Pluto and a few devout patients.
Fortunately, it was not an illicit dealer but a lover of antiquities,
so he informed the Ephor of Antiquities of the island, Mr. Nikolaos
Platonas, who immediately started an excavation of the area.
This brought to light the Lissos Asclepieion with its magnificent
mosaic floors, some graves dating from the Roman period, the
foundations of houses and public baths, as well as traces of
the aqueduct and the city theatre.
Except for the Asclepieion, it won’t be easy to identify
the other ruins of the ancient city, because not only have the
excavations not been completed, but the place has been left
to its fate as well; there is only one temporary guard, and
by now thick bushes cover everything. If you walk through the
rocks and bushes, you will find indications of ancient Lissos
in each step you take. As for the statues our friend found some
decades ago, you can see them exhibited in the museums of Hania
The two Byzantine chapels of the 13th and 14th century that
are built on top of two earlier basilicas (of the 4th or 5th
century) are also worth seeing. The first, close to the guard’s
hut, is the chapel of Ai-Kyrkou (Aghios Kyriakos) with pale
fading wall paintings. In this chapel Robert Pashley and his
group spent the night of 27th April, 1834. The other, close
to the shore rocks, is the chapel of the Virgin Mary, built
with materials from an earlier time.
|Source of the
information on this page : “Unexplored Crete”,
Road Editions. For more guidebooks and maps of
Greece, click here.