The historic province of Mylopotamos
In Crete, the biggest island of Greece, between the cities of Heraklion and Rethymnon spreads the historic province of Mylopotamos. Its northern coasts are reached from the Cretan sea, while its southern part is demarcated from the mountain tops of Psiloritis.
Mylopotamos is consisted of four Municipalities: The Municipality of Anogia, with Anogia as the capital, the Municipality of Kouloukonas, with Garazos as the capital, the Municipality of Geropotamos with Perama as the capital, the Municipality of Arkadi with Adele as the capital and the commune of Zoniana as the capital. The area of Mylopotamos is mostly mountainous. The visitor is taken by surprise by the dramatic changes of the landscape. High mountains, deep gorges and cliffs are spread everywhere.
The beautiful valley of Geropotamos splits Mylopotamos in two areas: North Mylopotamos, with the banks of Psiloritis and South Mylopotamos, with the relatively lowland zone and the area of Kouloukonas that ends up to the northern coast.
The snow which is a frequent visitor across north Mylopotamos is a characteristic of the mountainous landscape offering a gateway from the cities.
The village of Mylopotamos are spread around the mountain tops and the glacis: Anogia, Livadia, Zoniana, Kalivos, Agios Mamas and ancient Aksos etc. In the valley of Geropotamos, Doksaro, Aimonas, Apladiana, Sises and other small villages of the area are built in dense vegetation.
The southern areas such as Perama, Garazo, Melidoni as well as the coastal Panormo and Bali villages, gather a plethora of activities. The yellowish limestone of the traditional houses is a special characteristic of these dorps which are located near the Monastery of Arkadi, Margarites, Eleftherna and other smaller villages.
Access to the area of Mylopotamos
Access to this area is made through various road axis that lead to the glacis of Psiloritis and link the area with the cities of Rethymnon and Heraklion. A dense mountainous road network with asphalt and earthen roadways links the dorps not only with each other, but also with the mountain tops of Psiloritis.
Access to the plateau of Nida and Idaion Andron is made through Anogia village, while the visitor can access Psiloritis mountain top through the village of Livadia, by following the marked route. The passing of the new national road of Heraklion and Rethymnon from the coastal zone allows quick access to the area from across Crete. However, for those who love nature, the old national road that passes through the valley of Mylopotamos constitutes a great experience.
Geology of Mylopotamos
The limestone rocks of the area create a plethora of rock formulations across the mountainous Mylopotamos, while the schist and foliar rocks of the northern coast and the soft sediments of the lowland areas offer the small fertile rural land.
The limestone platters of Psiloritis are ideal for dry wall constructions such as the shepherd’s shelters (mitato) and the dry walls that demarcate the areas. In the lowland zone, the yellowish marl limestone replaces the structural material for the traditional dorps constructions.
The intense pressures that formed the mountains are captured in the form of impressive corrugations (crease) in the layers of platter-like limestones that unroll during the ride to the Monastery of Vokasos or the plateau of Nida. The road from the village of Sises to the village of Aloides is a unique geological route, since the large variety of limestone rocks is a mark of 250 million years. The pillow lavas that the visitor comes across from Malevizi to Aksos villages are unique, since they were formed from undersea volcano eruptions millions of years ago.
Plateaus and Caves
However, the plateaus and the caves constitute the unique characteristic of the area’s anaglyph: From the large plateaus of Psiloritis and Nikda to the smaller of Petradolakia, Zominthos, Rousa lake etc, where unique preservation pouches of endemic forms of flora and fauna in Crete are formed.
There are tens of caves and other forms of limestone breaks of the rocks in the area. The ones that stand out are the one of Idaion Andron, Sfendoni cave at Zoniana and Gerondospilios cave of Melidoni that is accessible from visitors without the risk of bat attacks or other animal.
At Psiloritis, there are some deeper cave chasms such as the one of Tafkoura that is 960 meters deep. For the speleology lovers there are many other caves that are equally important, such as the one of Erfoi of the Municipality of Arkadi, the one of Mougri near the Monastery of Vosakos, the one of Fandaksospiliara at Prinos village, the caves of Tsoupa in Kalivos etc.
The few gorges of the area are gathered round Margarites village where the cypresses with the horizontal branches can be found as well as several species of the fauna and flora of the island. The gorge that leads to Kalivos from the dorp of Mousai, the gorge of Kalandares as well as the gorge that is located in between the Abdanites and Damavolos and Agios Silas villages, where there are many windmills are of particular natural beauty.
Something that characterizes the area of Mylopotamos is the variety of ecosystems and by extension the different types of vegetation. At the north side of the Kouloukonas Mountain appears the characteristic type of dense makia vegetation, where arbutus (Arbutus unedo and Arbutus andrachne) and Ericas (Erica manipuliflora) prevail.
In the same area, during spring the spiny blooms (Calicotome villosa) bloom and their bright yellow color competes with their strong aroma, while during the very hot days of the summer, one can see the residents of Sises village holding leather rakes (workshops) in order to gather the labdanums (Cistus creticus). During summer the hardy flourished oleander (Nerium oleander) can be found either self-sawn in coombs or planted on the side of the road. During September, the sea daffodil (Pabcratium maritimum) bloom in the river mouth of Geropotamos and the beaches of Skaleta-Stavromenos.
Near Arkadi and north Mylopotamos
Near Arkadi and north Mylopotamos, clusters of cypresses with horizontal branches (Cupresus sempervirens) and acorns (Quercus pubescens) appear. Particularly impressive are the gorges of Eleftherna Margarites – Orthe in which a large variety of plants is gathered. Ascending to a higher altitude of Psiloritis, we observe that live stocking has formed the vegetation.
Most of the bushes are prohibitively bristly, such as the perennial shrub Rhamnus lycioides, the perennial herb Astragalus angustifolius, and Astracantha cretica, while among them there are hidden small but beautiful bulbed plants, such as the Prospero automnale, the endemic Cretan colchicum (Prospero automnale) and the endemic tiny plant called Colchicum cretense.
At the root of “Skinakas” top, grows the rarest plant of Crete, which is one of the four endemic species of Greece. It is hard to be detected by humans and unfortunately very easy to be detected by goats. Horstrissea dolinicola grows only in small plateaus of the area and is threatened by habitat loss. At the plateau of Nida, the trees are few, mainly maples (Acer sempervirens), wild pear trees (Pyrus spinosa) and whitehorns (Crataegus monogyna).
The monotony of the mountain genista breaks because of the reptilian endemic plant of Crete, the Polygonum idoeum that spreads like a carpet across the pateau. In smaller neighboring plateaus, maples, Kermes oaks and acorns are multiplying day by day. The forest of Mylopotamos (villages of Doksaro – Drosia – Agridia) and the Kermes oaks forest at Kalivos village are very impressive.
The area of Mylopotamos practically identifies itself with the mountain area of Psiloritis, one of the three big mountain chins of Crete. Due to the limestone rocks, the high altitudes and the intense geomorphology, it is characterized by a large variety of super terrestrial but also “underground biotopes”.
South of the mountain area, big slopes prevail, offering numerous sites for the nesting of the big raptors. The north glacis fade away slowly at the Cretan Sea and is used as a feeding ground, which has as a result to offer more food search (usually dead sheep) for the carrion buzzards and the lammergeyers. The wider area of the mountainous Psiloritis hosts several war eagles that use the smooth glacis for the hunting of partridges, while Bonelli’s eagles and lannerets nest and hunt here on a regular basis.
At the plateau of Nida
At the plateau of Nida (around Idaion Andron), the Choughts (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) are gathered as one of the most important populations in Greece, while equally large populations have their “cousins”, the Alpine coughs (Pyrrhocorax graculus) in the same places. At the altitude of 1800 meters, it is easy to come across woodlands (Lullula arborea) and a few meters higher the Alpine accentors (Prunella collaris).
As far as the invertebrate species of the area is concerned, the presence of one of the four butterflies of the island is unique. Kretania psylorita lives and reproduces only at the plateau, where due to its rarity is immensely endangered from its collectors that visit the island.
Underground, a whole animal world (often blind), lives and develops slowly, adding its own beauty in the fauna mosaic of Psiloritis. Tens of colorless, tiny and blind anthropoda and snails endemic species that we come across nowhere else in the world but here survive and reproduce in cavities, caves or precipices of the karstik system at the mountainous Mylopotamos.
Psiloritis (Iris Mountain according to its ancient name) was considered as the Vithleem of ancient times. Here, Rea hunted by Saturn gives birth to Zeus at Idaion Andron, on top of the plateau of Nida. The goat Amaltia takes the role of the nurse, while Kourites strike their cembalos to cover with their growl the cry of the little God, who was meant to become the King of Dodecathleon.
The history – The monuments
The area presents constant inhabitance from the prehistoric era until today. It followed the adventures of the island in every historic period. Zominthos was an important Minoan center, while the ancient cities of Eleftherna and Aksos bloomed from the Geometric era until the later Roman years. It has been the center of revolutions during the Venetian invasion.
During the revolution for independence at 1824, four hundred people from Melidoni village were tortured to death at the historic place of Gerondospilios. The people of Mylopotamos fought in the battle of Arkadi at 1866. The residents of the area actively participated in the Battle of Crete during the Second World War. At Gournolakos site 32 people from Mylopotamos were executed.
During the German invasion, Psiloritis hosted resistance groups with the incident of the kidnapping of the German General Kraipe and the third in a row holocaust of Anogia at 1944, with the later destroying the heroic village at 1822 and 1867.
The monuments of the area
The archeological discovery brought to light findings at the worshipping caves of idaion Andron and Gerondospilios at Melidoni as well as burial monuments of the prehistoric years at Ageliana village, Margarites and Choumeri villages, while at Zominthos a well preserved Minoan palace was excavated, surrounded by a dorp with a cemetery as well as a pottery workshop of the 1600BC.
At Eleftherna, the excavation spreads in three areas. The Geometric cemetery of the city is being excavated. Many parts of the dorp have been brought to light such as the important old Christianic basilica of the 5th century with mosaic decorations. The acropolis of Aksos is believed to be the temple of Aphrodite.
From the first christianic centuries, great basilicas were built, such as the one of Viran Episkopi and Panormo. Byzantine and post Byzantine churches have been rescued in every dorp of the district (Agios Ioannis of Anogia, Agia Irene in Aksos, Agios Ioannis Theologos at Margarites, Christ the Saviour at ancient Eleftherna, Agios Ioannis near the Monastery of Diskourios, Agios Georgios at Kalama etc). The patriarchal Monastery of Chalepa prevails in Mylopotamos, while the Monastery of Vosakos is well hidden in the plateau of Talaia Oroi.
The Monasteries of Attali, Bali, Diskourios
The Monasteries of Attali, Bali, Diskourios near Livadia and the glebe of Karakalls in Margarites are active. We also refer to the Jerusalem glebe of Christ at Mourtzana village. The Monastery of Arkadi prevails here, which according to tradition was founded from the monk named Arkadios. Today it is considered a global symbol of freedom because of the holocaust at 1866. Venetian and later manor houses can be found around the villages of Mylopotamos such as Episkopi (the capital of the Latin Diocese), Garazi, Melidoni, Margarites, Abvanites and Agios Ioannis etc.
A large number of windmills can be found at the boundaries of Damavolos and Agios Sylas up to the Monastery of Diskorios as well as at Veni, Moussai, Drosia and Episkopi villages. The rock build brisge at Kampos in Garazo is especially interesting.
The residents of the mountainous zone are mainly occupied with stock breeding. Stock breeding remains a traditional job with ancient roots. Dairy production apart from the one that takes place at the shepherd’s shelters (mitato) is being held at fully equipped industrial units.
At the coastal zone, in the areas of Bali, Panormo and Almirida of Sises, fishery remains one of the occupations of the local people even today.
The fertile land of the low land areas in Mylopotamos favors the cultivation of seasonal fruit trees. The semi mountainous areas are one of the most productive areas of olive oil in Crete. The boundless olive grove is interrupted by small vineyards and fields with citrus fruits.
The cultivation of oranges
The cultivation of oranges at Sises village and citruses at the wider area of Garazo and the table grave at Aloides village are well known. Apicalture is also widespread in the area. Pure products of the land of Mylopotamos such as olive oil (Protected destination of origin), cheese (Cretan gruyere with protected destination of origin) kefalograviera (hard cheese), thyme honey, are offered.
Folk arts that are preserved even today, offer handmade works of art. At Margarites, the art of pottery is blooming with tens of families producing works of art made of clay. At Anogia and Aksos, the loom prevails in every house keeping the telary art alive. Knitting with the screw begs is wide spread across Mylopotamos.
In Alpha and Laga villages the traditional stone makers practice the craft of stone dressing. At Anogia there is a workshop and museum of wood carving as well as a conservatoire for traditional musical instrument teaching.
Hospitality – Events
Cretan hospitality is a living breathing part of the locals that instinctively follow the orders of Zeus. The bountiful and altruistic offer is a daily experience that is revealed with every chance to the visitor. For the resident of Mylopotamos the whole year is a celebration.
The calendar is full of Saints’ celebrations with masses and precessions at the churches, gatherings at the squares of the villages with the sound of lyre, lute and Cretan poetry (mandinada).
Dancing plays a central part in the social life of people, especially in the villages of the mountainous zone (Livadia, Zoniana, Kalivos, Aksos and Anogia). Special traditional events are the weddings at the squares of Anogia preserving the tradition of old customs as well as in the villages of Livadia, Zoniaa, Apladiana, and Agios Mamas.
Every summer, cultural events are being held in all the Municipalities of Mylopotamos. The event called “Tallaia” at the Municipality of Kouloukonas, the “Cultural gathering” at the Municipality of Geropotamos. “Cultural August” at the Municipality of anogia and the festival called “In squares and yards” at the Municipality of Arkadi.
For many years the celebration of citruses at Garazo village (15the August) has become a tradition, the hyacinth celebration at Anogia (July) is regarded as a cultural event around Greece, while at Margarites village the theatrical play “Boudalia” (end of August) consisted of young people of the wider area.
During winter the chance of celebrations is never missed. At the Sunday of the carnival period the Carnival takes place at Perama village and on Clean Monday the folk proceeding called “kidnapping of the bride” at Melidoni village. At the neighborhoods of mountainous Mylopotamos, the Holy Saturday night they burn Judas. Especially at Garazo village, this custom is combined with the grilling of the lamb.
The mild Mediterranean climate and the sunny weather all year long are privileges for enjoyable holidays. The elegant agro touristic units and the let rooms offer the visitor first class accommodation and a variety of choices all day long. At the coastal zone one can visit the clean beaches that gather a large amount of holiday-makers.
The visitor can stay in Bali village with the sinuous coasts and the creeks to enjoy the sea and the night life. Very close to the area is the destination of Panormo, the Castelo di Mylopotamo, with the bourgeois manor houses, the picturesque port and its taverns.
The wintery landscape at Anogia village is unique and is an attraction to many visitors across Crete. At your tour around the mountainous zone of Mylopotamos, you should definitely visit the heroic cave of Gerondospilios at Melidoni village, which was a place of sacrifice and archeological interest, as well as the Sfendoni cave at Zoniana village. In the same village, there is a museum of waxworks, with images from the Cretan history.
For those who love adventure, we recommend a hike to the plateau of Nida or the observatory of Skinaka or even to the tops of Psiloritis and Kouloukonas mountains.
The climbing resort at the site of Trigodio of Anogio accepts visitors after arrangement, while the shelter of Anogia is under construction. In the up country there are tens of agro touristic accommodations, coffee shops and taverns ready to satisfy the needs of those who want to experience the images of the daily life of the Mylopotamos residents.
Texts: IRINI KLADOU, KOSTIS PAPADAKIS, CHARALAMPOS FASOULAS, APOSTOLIS TRICHAS, MANOLIS AVRAMAKIS
Translation: MARIA NIKOLAKAKI
The present literature was co-founded by the EU (European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF-Guidance)) and the Ministry of Rural Development and Food
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