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Mountainous Malevizi: Psiloritis – Crete.

In Crete, the biggest island of Greece, a few miles southwestern of the city of Heraklion there is the historic province of Malevizi.  The name Malevizi itself refers to the homonymous Venetian castle called Malvicino at Keramoutsi village.

The two Municipalities, the Municipality of Krousonas with Krousonas as its capital and the Municipality of Tylisos with Tylisos as its capital, spread at the eastern banks of Psiloritis and their capitals keep the economic and commercial life of the area alive.

There are also tens of villages with squares, coffee shops and taverns ready to offer times of relaxation, familiarize the visitor with the daily life of the hospitable residents and a plethora of other sightseeing to archeological sites, Byzantine monuments but also places of historical remembrance of national fights.

Malevizi is a transitional zone.  There is an entrance to the mountain or the low land, a landscape that is unique and special.  The majority of the area is a part of the low land of Heraklion with the fertile cultivable lands at the mountainous zone of Psiloritis.

Eastern banks of Psiloritis

Small coombs start from the eastern banks of Psiloritis and end up to the north coast, interrupting the lower palisades of the low land.  At their exit from the mountains they form successive gorges, which are the ancient routes of the sacred mountain.

The same routes are followed by the current road network to transfer the visitor to the mountainous zone.  Tarmac earthen routes cross the gorges and climb to the craggy mountains, offering unique experiences and images of the pure Cretan up country.

At the same time, they connect the beautiful villages of the low land with the villages of the mountain, serving the old time needs of product exchange and the current needs of leisure and communication.  The old national road of Heraklion and Rethymnon starts from Malevizi.  It consists one of the most beautiful routes of the island, such as the route towards the mountainous villages of Mylopotamos.

Most of the dorps of Malevizi are rooted and hooked at the shadow of the abrupt glacis as a way to dominate the fertile low land.  Krousonas, Tylisos and Korfes villages are some of the biggest dorps in the area.  There are few however, that prefer the isolation of the mountain tops and the sound of the sheep, such as Gonies, Astiraki, Kamariotis, Marathos and Damatsa villages.

The mild climate with the bountiful rains during winter creates beautiful landscapes with alterations of cultivable areas and natural ecosystems.

Geology

The anaglyph of the area is a result of the peculiar geological processes and the variety of its rocks.  The limestone rocks of the mountain zone are interrupted abruptly in order to be successed by soft argils and marls.  This is the border between the low land and the mountainous zone.  This area is characterized as a breach by geologists.  The flat limestone walls of the breaches, commonly known as “laundresses”, are obvious in various areas, such as Tylisos and Krousonas.

The hill of Profitis Elias

The hill of Profitis Elias at the north side near Gonies village has an important peculiarity.  Successively. The one on top of the other, all the types of the Cretan rocks are presented, as if someone created a small exhibition for the visitor.  Red horn stones interchange with flesh-colored bluestones and greenish lavas of old volcanoes.  The soft sediments of the lowland zone are rich in fossils, corals, sea urchins, snails, shark’s teeth, limpets and small fish, challenging the visitor to discover the rock’s secrets.  They pop out on top of the mountains’ small plateaus in between the crests, adding small green touches at the grey of the rocks.

At the route from Krousonas to Psiloritis in Livadi village, the visitor will come across small gardens with fruit trees, at Evdomos village near Gonies, sheep and goats grazing in between the Kermes oaks, while if lucky, at Stroumpoula one can admire the proud galloping of the horses that are often practicing with their riders.

The beautiful valley of Sklavokampos

Equally beautiful are the small gorges that cross the mountain areas.  The gorge of Gonies transfers the visitor to the beautiful valley of Sklavokampos, while the gorge of Agia Irene at Krousonas impresses with its wildness.  The water of the rain and the snow has dug the limestone rocks, leaving behind numerous swallow holes and precipices.  One of the most impressive gorges is the one called “Voulismeno Aloni” at the road towards Stroumpoula village.  It is a crater that was created from the collapse of the roof of a cave.

All along the mountain area there are small or big caves that meet everyone’s needs.  The caves of Doksa before Marathos and Chaionospilios at Kamari village are accessible.  On the other hand, Arkalospilios cave at Marathos, Kalimari cave at Tylisos, Spiliara at Astyraki and Chonos at Sarchos villages are some of the biggest caves in Greece and require special knowledge of speleology in order to be accessed.

Flora

The flora of Malevizi is characteristic of the small altitudes.  At the low land of the residential areas, olive groves and vineyards prevail.  Vegetation that benefits from the human intervention (human friendly) such as crown daisies (Chrysanthemom coronarium) and soursobs (Oxalis pes-caprae) make their presence in the fields.  During the past, in the area of Gonies village, there have been recorded examples of worshipping of tree species that still exist, such as osiers (Vitex agnus – castus in the bocage called “Ligies of Panagia”) and acorns (Quercus pubescens), while the nearest village Astyraki, took its name from one of the most beautiful plants called Styrax officinalis that still grows in the area.

Further down, are the glacis of the gorge of Gonies, the visitor can collect oregano (Origanum onites) and admire the herb called Staehelina petiolate, the Centaurea argentea and the endemic Cretan ebony (Ebenus cretica).  During winter cyclamens (Cyclamen graecum) grow everywhere.

At north

At north, in the seemingly naked hill of Stroumpoula, various bulbed plants such as lilies of the field (Sternbergia lutea), cyclamens (Cyclamen creticum), and colchicums (Colchicum sp.) are trying to protect themselves from the grazing that grows underneath bristly bushes, such as Genista acanthoclada (urchin’s feet) and burnets (Sarcopoterium spinosum).

Ascending towards the village of Krousonas, at the banks of the road, locust trees (Ceratonia siliqua), Kermes oaks (Quercus coccifera) and maples (Acer sempervirens), are interchanging with barberries (berberis cretica), the Greek spiny spurges (Euphorbia acanthothammos) and spiny booms (Calicotome villosa), while in between them impressive sea squills (Drimia maritima), grow ashpodels (Ashphodelus aestivus) and orchids (Orchis sp.). The road ends up to one of the most beautiful and relatively unknown Kermes oak forests of the municipality called “Vromonero”.

Fauna

The site of this area in the middle of the island in combination with the smooth glacis of Psiloritis, the important water biotope of Almiros and the dense brushes, create a miniature of the island in the area of Malevizi.  It seems as if this place has everything!  Representatives not only from the mountainous fauna of the plateaus, the lowland brushes or the forests and the caves but also the residents of the sweet or brackish waters of the island are all gathered here.

The wetland of Almiros hosts eels, mullets, spotted basses, slimes and atherines while the three species of the Cretan amphibians are represented:  The tree frog (Hyla arborea cretensis), the green from (Bufo viridis) and the Cretan from (Rana cretensis).  Also, there are six species that are common in the area: snippets (Tarentola mayritanica), grass snakes (Natrix tessellate), ocellated skinks (Chalcides ocellatus), the snake called Columber gemonensis, Balkan green lizards (Lacerta trilineata) and probably the densest population of the Balkan terrapin (water turtle) (Mauremys rivulata) in the island.

Bird migration

The wetland is of extreme importance when it comes to bird migration.  At least 175 species have been observed during this sensitive period, while it seems that 30 of these are nesting in the wetland.  Among the big raptor birds, special in the area is the impressive colony of carrion buzzards at Keri, while in the route of the old national road of Heraklion and Rethymnon one can easily observe a big variety of the raptor of Crete.

Apart from the common mammals that are characterized by large populations at Malevizi (ferrets, mice, forest mice, hedgehogs and weasels), of particular importance is the presence of the tiny endemic shrew (Crocidura zimmermanni), one of the rarest insectivores, which is smaller than a common baby mouse.

The biovariety of the caves is very large in the province of Malevizi due to the particular karstic wealth (over 125 caves and 65 precipices have been found in the area).  Some of these (such as “Chonos” of Sarchos village) gather several protected species of bats but also endemic forms of blind, cave living invertebrates.

 

The History of Malevizi – The Monuments

The place name “Tylisos” is being used constantly since the prehistoric era until today.  During the Minoan era the palace center of Tylisos was flourishing.  During the historic years.  Tylisos was independent with its own currency.  During the Venetian invasion, the wider area was a part of Kastaliana at Malevizi.  It has been the center of revolutions not only against the Venetians but also against the Turks.  That period at the mountains of the area inhabited the undisciplined Chanides.

At Krousonas during July 1822 a legendary battle took place inside the church of Agios Charalambos, the patron saint of the village, where 370 people of Serif Pasa were defeated, which had as a result the retreat of the Turks from the down country of Messara.  Gonies village has been an important revolutionary center.

During the Ottomans

During 1830 the Ottomans executed 75 people of the village.  During the Second World War the armed groups of Psiloritis acted.  One of the most important events of the resistance was the sabotage of Damasta which was the reason for the execution of 30 men and the destruction of the village.

Very important archeological site is the palace block of Tylisos and the worshipping cave of Trapeza.  Near Gonies one can visit the Minoan edifice of Sklavokampos as well as the sanctuary at the site of Filiorimo, while at Krousonas at the site of Koupos the geometric dorp as well as the dead city at the site of Chriromandres have been discovered. The plumbing works and the drinking fountains of Tylisos are brought through across the provinces of Malevizi, Kamari and Kamariotis as well as the old faucet at Krousonas.

 

Gonies village and Sarchos and the wind mill of the early 20th century

Buildings with pre-industrial technology have been reconstructed as well as wind mills at Gonies village and Sarchos and the wind mill of the early 20th century at Gonies village.  At the dorps, the central squares and the rock build houses are very interesting.  At Tylisos is worth visiting the neoclassical buildings and the traditional dorp of Katsiladochori.  At Keramoutsi, the cobbly square with the mulberry tree prevails, while at the villages of Kamares, Kamariotis and Gonies the rock build houses as well as the old Elementary School of Aidonochori are of exceptional architecture.

The eastern side of Psiloritis hosts a large number of monasteries.  North of the village Kitharida there is the Byzantine Monastery of Panagia Eleousa that is one of the oldest known monasteries in Crete.

The Monastery of Agia Irene at Krousonas

The Monastery of Agia Irene at Krousonas bloomed during the Venetian invasion.  It was destroyed during the revolution of 1821 and nowadays it is inhabited by a numerous female ascetic fraternal order.  Near the village of Loutraki there is the Monastery of Jerusalem.  At Korfes village the glebe of Panagia Kavallara has been rescued, while among Marathos and Fodele villages there is the Monastery of Agios Pandeleimonas.

In the area we will come across many churches of the Byzantine and post – Byzantine period.  Very important for the worshipping across the area is the temple of Agios Myronas in the homonymous town.  Very important from an archeological aspect are the wall painted temples of Panagia at Keramoutsi and the temple of Metamorphosis of the Christ at Tylisos of the 14th century.

At the basilica of Agios Georgios at Kamariotis of the 16th century very interesting is the coat of arms of the Kallergis family in combination with the lion of Agios Markos, which is a symbol of the Venetian dominance.  The visitor can worship the temple of Panagia Kera and the historical temple of Agios Charalampos at Krousonas.

 

Human Activities in Malevizi

The residents of Malevizi grew up in the shadow of Psiloritis.  The keep their traditions firmly and love the land excessively.  They are kept rooted in the land that nurtured and fed them and fight with the natural elements, the craggy land, the snowed basal of the mountain that are pierced by the strong winds.  Visitors should not expect any luxurious touristic infrastructures at Malevizi.

However, they will have the opportunity to listen to the sounds of the sacred mountain, mingle with beautiful and traditional people that have walked inch by inch the area of Psiloritis.  These are the people that listen in the hust the fluttering of the lammergeyers, the noisy apiaries that suck the thyme pollen and the bells of the sheep.  Here is the heart beat of Crete that lives every moment to the full with the sound of the Cretan Iyre, the Cretan poems (mandinada) and the Malevizi dances.

Other

The area of Malevizi is stock breeding due to its morphology production of milk, meat and dairy products are important sources of income for the residents of the area.  Apiculture is especially developed and honey is distributed and standardized.  According to researchers, among the products of the area this well known wine variety called “Malvazia” that goes back to the medieval times, prevails.

The olive oil of the area is of exceptional quality, while the edible “stafidolia” (black olive) of Marathos is well known.  North of Krousonas at the plateau of Livadi, delicious organic pears and apples are being produced.  At the low lands fruit and citrus products are being produced.  The three female unions of Marathos at Krousonas and Korfes are successful models of cooperation that make bakery and confectionary products with local goods and recipes.  Look for the branches!                           At the Monastery of Agia Irene at Krousonas, the nuns create unique handmade needle works.

Hospitality – Events

At Malevizi, tradition is alive all year long.  The big celebrations of Christianity and the celebrations of the saints offer unique opportunities for people to get together.  During summer the Municipalities of Tylisos and Krousonas as well as the local associations organize cultural celebrations in the villages.

Characteristic is the celebration of the “Ksorusaniotis shepherd” at the village of Vromonero, the celebration of sultana variety during August at Korfes village, where the competition of Cretan poetry (mandinada) as well as the celebration of black olives called “stafidolia” at Marathos village at the Municipality of Tylisos and the Cultural August at Tylisos, the celebration of cod at Tylisos and the celebration of raki at Kamariotis village take place.  The jokey competitions at the mountain of Stroumpoula are particularly interesting.

 

Tours

The area presents mild touristic development with small agrotouristic accommodation and many taverns in the villages.  The Folk Museum of Sarchos and Damasta can be visited.  The city of Heraklion is very close for those who want to give a more cosmopolitan touch to their holidays, while for more enjoyable seas, the cove of Agia Pelagia and Fodele as well as the north coasts of Crete are suitable to visit.

Texts: Irini Kladou, Kostis Papadakis, Charalampos Fasoulas, Apostolis Trichas, Manolis Avramakis.

The present literature was co-funded by the EU (European Agriculture Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF – Guidance)) and the Ministry of Rural Development and Food.

AKOMM – Psiloritis Anaptiksiaki S.A  O.T.A.(LOCAL SELF-GOVERNMENT) Anogia, 74051, Rethymnon, Tel: 00302834031402, e-mail:  leader@psiloritis.net.gr

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georgemyzalis

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