Archaeological Sites, Monasteries & Castles

Ancient Aptera Aptera, Chania

If you are interested in archeological sites, Aptera is a "must". Mostly roman remains built over an ancient Hellenic city. A lot to see including the remains of an amphitheatre. A great taverna in the village below too. This site is not yet completely discovered - archeologues are still busy at this place.

Ancient Aptera

Beatiful theatre discoverd only a few years ago.
Aptera is a complex of roman or hellenistic buildings that is on top of a hill overlooking Souda Bay. It is about 20 min drive from Chanea, about 10 min from the main highway.
The views are breathtaking, particularly in the spring with all flowers blooming. It is a place to chill out for a few precious minutes, away from the crowds on the beaches - I have been there five times and never saw tourist buses.
It is a pity that the castle across from Ancient Aptera appears closed for now. It was a wonderful place to explore, small and full of real traps, such as missing floors and staircases, but this is what made it real.

Lissos

The walk to Lissos is the most popular walk for people staying in Sougia. This walk is relatively easy, doesn't take long (about 90 minutes each way) and Lissos is a very beautiful and peaceful place with interesting remains of ancient civilization.

The walk starts at the harbour of Sougia. Whilst passing there, note the ancient water line which is clearly visible in the cliff, about 7 meters above the present sea level. This sudden elevation happened about 1500 years ago in western Crete.
At the entrance of the small gorge, a fence must be opened (& closed afterwards). The turn is quite clearly marked with the sign E4 and after clambering over a smooth rock (step on this one really carefully on the way back, it is bvery slippery) you get on the path leading to Lissos.
After following the path in the shade of pine trees for about half an hour (there are a few branches to the path but it is impossible to get lost) you will pass an impressive smooth cliff overhanging the trail. Ten minutes later the path veers off to the left and starts climbing up the hill. The turn is quite clearly marked but there is still a slight risk that you might miss it and carry on walking in the gorge so keep an eye out for it.
The good path up the hills then leads through old pine trees to a treeless plateau with good views all around. After ten more minutes walking straight towards the West you arrive at a steep drop with beautiful views of Lissos. Lissos is like a bowl of vegetation fields and terraces leading to the sea.
The path then takes you down into the valley only a few meters away from the Aesculap temple. The return is by the same path. Make a note of where it starts so that you can find it easily when you decide to return to Sougia.
It is worth spending a while exploring Lissos and soaking up its incredibly peaceful atmosphere. Beside the better-known Aesculap temple and Roman necropolis (on the western slope of the bowl) there are also two chapels. Agios Kyriakos has some nice frescoes and the chapel of the Panagia (close to the sea) shows how chapel builders "recycled" ancient (Roman in this case) sites and integrated them in their building: the chapel has several carved marble blocks in its walls. Wandering around, you will also see numerous remains of habitations, terraces, threshing circles as well as some impressively old olive trees, one of them probably going back to the Roman times where Lissos was an important settlement.
The small beach is a coarse pebble beach and unfortunately almost always has quite a bit of tar on it. This is rather strange considering that the beach of Sougia never has any tar on it but probably due to different currents.
Note that nobody lives in Lissos and you will need to take a picnic with you. You can get good drinking water (after all Lissos was famous for its spring which was said to have healing properties) in a couple of places, one of them is marked on the map below.

Holy Trinity Monastery (Agia Triada) Akrotiri, Crete

Holy Trinity Monastery (Agia Triada)

The Patriarchal and Crusading Monastery Agia Triada (Holy Trinity) of Jagarolon is one the most significant monastic complexes from the end of the Venetian Occupation of Crete, with a rich offering to the history and education of Crete. It is located at the base of the Stavrou mountain range, in a position known as "Tzobomilos" of Cape Meleha.

In accordance with tradition, confirmed by Venetian archives, the monastery was built by the brothers Jeremiah and Lavrentio Jagarolon, who were descendants of the great Venetian-Cretan family, a then powerful authority of the Orthodox population, and also among the Venetian Catholics. Jeremiah was a significantly learned man, and friend of the great Patriarch Alexandrias Meletiou Piga, and was himself a candidate for the position of Ecumenical Patriarch. He was a master of Greek and Latin learning, as can be seen from his writings, but also his bilingual signs which have survived in large numbers in the monastery grounds. His education and knowledge of modern European architecture of the time is obvious from the complex that he designed and built, and wherever specific faults were found by the Veronian architect of the 16th Century, Sebastiano Serlio.

In the place where the Agria Triada monastery is located, stood a small monastery which belonged to the holy monk Joachim Sofiano, and was in a state of decline after his death. For this reason, the Venetian authorities of the Monastery of Agia Kiriaki, assigned Jeremiah Jagarolo with its reformation in 1611. Jeremiah began the reconstruction of a very large complex, which was continued after his death in approximately 1634 by his brother Laurentios. In 1645 Chania fell into the hands of the Turks and all building work ceased, which had by then reached the base of the great dome. During the year of Turkish occupation, the Monastery was known as "Selvili Manastir" (the monastery with the cypress trees) and was frequently in difficult situations, which we are informed of by documents and travellers of the times. In the great Greek revolution of 1821, the monks left the monastery without having a chance to hide the precious heirlooms which were either plundered or burnt when the building was destroyed by fire.
After the uprising, the Monastery was reconstructed and the building works were finally completed. In these years the Monastery acquired substantial properties and had many appendages (capital) even as far away as Smyrni.
The Monastery made an agreement for the maintenance of the Greek schools of Chania from its earnings, while from 1892 a seminary operated in the buildings of the East Wing.

Visiting hours (Summer): Everyday, 8:00 - Sunset.
Visiting hours (Winter): Everyday, 8:00 - 14:00 and 16:00 - Sunset.
The Holy Monastery of Agia Triada (Holy Trinity) of Jagarolon, Akrotiri, Chania
Telephone: +30 28210 63572, Fax: +30 28210 63551

The castle of Frangokastello

What remains of the castle of Frangokastello today is not very different from the way it looked when it was first built in 1371, but most of it was essentially reconstructed in the 19th century by Mustapha Naili Pasha, the same man who had destroyed it earlier when defeating the fighters of Hadzi Michalis Dalianis.

Frangokastello was built according to the principles of fortification in the days before gunpowder and the "bastion system" that followed. It was never brought up to date because the area was of secondary importance to the Venetians.

The castle consists of four square towers linked by sheer curtain walls topped by serried battlements, forming a rectangular building. There is a small, arched entrance on the east side, while the main gateway, on the south, is decorated by carved coats of arms of noble families set into the walls. Above the entrance stands the winged lion of St Mark, the emblem of the Republic of Venice.

The southwest tower is larger than the other three and therefore more important, because it a) is larger, b) has a wider field of view, c) was the last place of defence if the castle was overrun, and d) protected the south main gate.

Along the inside of the walls were rectangular buildings, not perfectly preserved, which were used as barracks, stables, storerooms, kitchens, ovens, etc.

Monastery of Agios Charalambos

Near Frangokastello Castle and south of the Early Christian Basilica of Agios Nikitas, is the small monastery of Agios Charalambos. The small church of Agios Charalambos stood here until the Gregorios the Monk and Magdalene the Nun settled here shortly before 1821.

Thanks to their efforts, the small church soon expanded and the Monastery of Agios Charalambos was founded. The front of the church was built using stone from the ruined basilica of Astratigos. The monastery church is surrounded by battlements. To the west is the two-storey complex of monks' cells, a typical feature of local architecture.

The wooden icon screen and icons in the monastery church are particularly interesting. The skilled craftsman who worked on Agios Charalambos is conventionally called the "Painter of Frangokastello". His works are also found in Moni Preveli. Unfortunately some of the icons from the Monastery of Agios Charalambos have been stolen.

Early Christian Basilica of Agios Nikitas (St Nicetas)

The basilica of Agios Nikitas is 300 metres northeast of the fortress of Frangokastello and was built in the second half of the 6th century AD. It is an impressive 26 metres long, with a mosaic floor decorated with geometrical patterns and depictions of animals, mostly still preserved today. The floor is not in the customary style of Cretan mosaics.

The basilica was abandoned when the Arab raids began. Many centuries later, during the Venetian period, materials from its ruins were used in the construction of the castle.

In the 13th century, a small church dedicated to St Nikitas was built on the ruins of the high altar. This is a small, simple building decorated with wall paintings and constructed from the mosaic flooring and other materials from the ruined basilica.

Agios Nikitas

Generally speaking, the period of Venetian rule was when many simple Orthodox churches were built in spite of Venetian Catholic pressure.

A tale about Saint Nikitas

The Cretans have told this tale of St Nikitas from olden times to the present day.

Once upon a time, there was a wedding at Frangokastello. As soon as it was over, the bride took the tablecloths away to wash them in a spring between two rocks. As she was washing them, a ship suddenly appeared offshore. The Franks on board saw the beautiful maiden and decided to carry her off as a gift to their king. They kidnapped her at night and no-one saw them.

They took the girl to the king's palace. One day the king saw her crying and asked her what was wrong. She sighed and said, "Tomorrow is the feast of St Nikitas and there is a great festival in Frangokastello, my home."

The king laughed ironically and told her, "If the Cross has grace and Nikitas might, it's home you will go this very same night."

The next day at Frangokastello, the priest went to the church to say mass because it was the dawn of the feast of St Nikitas. When he unlocked the church door he saw a girl inside and was frightened. He lit a candle and approached her, and saw the girl whose wedding he had officiated at a year earlier. He asked her, "What are you doing here, my child?"

The girl told him the whole story. The legend says that St Nikitas himself brought her back on his horse. There has always been a great festival at the church of St Nikitas at Frangokastello ever since.

Early Christian Basilica of Agios "Astratigos"

The basilica of Agios Astratigos is 1.5 km northwest of the fortress of Frangokastello. It too was built in the second half of the 6th century. Sinclair Hood, the archaeologist who discovered it, described it as the religious centre of an extensive and thriving settlement.

In the 14th century a church dedicated to the Archangel Michael was built on the site of the high altar. The inhabitants of Sfakia call the Archangel "Astratigos", from the Greek "Archistratigos", meaning "commander in chief", i.e. leader of the Heavenly Host. This unusual name led Hood to believe that the church was dedicated to St Eustratios.

Many marble elements from the basilica were used in the construction of the church. The walls are composed of undressed stone, broken tiles and a thick layer of plaster. The trowel marks visible as lines scored in the plaster on the outer walls are typical decorative features.

Today only a few ruins remain of the church of Agios Astratigos.