History and monuments of Psiloriti
At the glacis of Psilotritis, Rea hunted by Saturn, gave birth to Zeus and the mythical goat Amalthia nurtured the King of Docecatheon. Here, Kourites with the growl of their shields covered the cry of the little god that was meant to become the father of Gods and people. Above the plateau of Nida at Idaion Andron was the center of worship of the Cretanborn Zeus. Deservingly the cave was characterized as the Vithleem of ancient times.
According to the ancient myth, Zeus disguised as a bull crossed over the river Litheos and transferred Europe to the island of Crete ending up to ancient Gortina. Here is the labyrinth, the cave where in its rambling corridors lived the infamous Minotaur.
The copper giant Talos was assigned by King Minoa to protect the island of Crete from any intruder. The mythic creature is connected with the mountainous bulk of the Talaia mountains that spread north of Psiloritis. At Gerondospilios of Melidoni, Hermes Talaios was worshiped.
The sacred mountain from the era of its first residence defines the fate of humans that are fed with myths to make history.
The history of the area is linked indissolubly with the history of Crete. The first residents of the island inhabited places near to the coasts of the island during the Stone Age. We come across Minoan habitations across the mountain with important centers those of Tylisos, Gonies, Zominthos, and Grivlia near Achlades in Mylopotamos, Monastriraki and Apodoulos of Amari.
During the Geometric and Archaic era the cities of Aksos in Eleftherna, Tylisos and Sivritos flourished. After the Roman conquest, Crete was the district of an endless empire. During that period the center of cultural and economic life of the island was Gortina. The predominance of Christianity demarcates the Byzantine period of the land’s history. Gortina, Aksos, Eleftherna and Syvritos were the centers of bishops. The Byzantine presence in the island was violently interrupted by the Arabic conquest at 823. We do not have any essential information concerning the island’s status from the dark ages of the Arabic conquest. At 961 Nikiforos Fokas conquered Crete once again. The second Byzantine period in the island began this way. Then, according to the legend, noble families inhabited the land from Instanbul such as the family of Vlastos, the family of Varouchis – names of families that we still come across in the area of Psiloritis.
The 4th Crusade (1204) marked the end of the Byzantine Empire. Crete was then conquered by the queen of seas, Venice. The Cretans did not stop insurrecting against the Venetians with constant rebellions. Thus, the wider area during the rebellions of the family of Kallergis (1299) abstracted privileges for the Greek orthodox residents. The area was conquered by the Turks at 1645. The wild Turkish Cretans had as their center the village of Ampadia in the Area of Amari. The residents of Psiloritis never accepted to subject to the foreign dynast. They were fighting for freedom with constant rebellions. During this period the caves of the area offered a hideaway to the legendary insurgents of the mountains (Also known as “Chainides”).
During the big revolution for independence at 1824, four hundred people from Melidoni village were tortured to death at the historic place of Gerondospilios. At Gonies village of Melidoni at 1830, the Turks executed 75 residents. The epilogue of the Greek Revolution in Crete is captured in the dramatic adjurations of the Cretans towards the grand powers of the era, from the letters that were written in Margarites which was the center of the Revolutionary Council of the Cretans. At 1822 and 1867 the holocaust of Anogia took place. The heroic Arkadi village was the center of the revolution at 1866. Today is considered as a humanitarian symbol of freedom and sacrifice.
During the Second World War and the Battle of Crete at Latzimas site near Prinos village at Mylopotamos, great battles took place between the allies and the German intruders. During the Nazi years, resistance groups were made up which had found their shelter in the gnarled tops of Psiloritis. The residents of Psilritis paid with blood their participation of the National Resistance. At Gournolakos site, south of Livadia village in Mylopotamos, 32 men were executed. An enormous event of the Resistance in the island was the kidnapping of General Kraipe at Damasta village. The sabotage was successed by the holocausts of Anogia at Mylopotamos, Kedros at Amari, Vorizia and the execution of 25 men from Gergeri and Nivritos villages as well as 30 other people at Gonies village.
The visitor can admire the Cave of Kamares and the small Labyrinth near Gortina village. At Malevizi, the palace center of Tylisos and the Minoan edifice of Sklavokampos at Gonies village are significant archeological sites. Zominthos was a Minoan dorp south of Anogia and served as an intermediate stop for the worshippers of Zeus at Idaion Andron. The temple of Aphrodite was excavated at the acropolis of ancient Aksos. The visitor can visit the archeological park of Eleftherna, the cemetery of the geometric era but also the center of the Roman and first Byzantine city. The building block of the old palatial period in Monastiraki at Amari village is a very significant part of the archeological wealth of the area. At Patsos, in the cave of Agios Antonios, Hermes Kranaios was being worshipped.
Christianity was spread across the area during the early Christianity years from Apostle Titos, student of Apostle Paul. The basilica of Archgellos with the beautiful frescos at Eleftherna and Agia Sofia at Panormo village stands out. The basilicas at Sivritos and Vizari villages suggest the existence of an ancient bishop in the area.
Byzantine and post byzantine churches can be found in every dorp and glacis of Psiloritis. In the area of Mylopotamos, the Byzantine churches of Aksos, Agios Ioannis at Anogia, Agios Ioannis near the Monastery of Diskourios, Agios Georgios at Kalama village and Agios Ioannis at the homonymous village, are typical samples of church construction of the Second Byzantine period and the Venetian invasion. The characteristic of Amari village is the plethora of Christian monuments. Near the Monastery of Asomati is the Byzantine church of Panagia Kera. The churches of Agia Anna near Neus Amari, Agios Ioannis Theologos at the site of Fotis at Gerakari village and Panagia at Platania village rescue frescoes of remarkable art. The visitor can admire the church of Agia Paraskevi at Amari village, Panagia of the 14thcentury at Meronas village and Agios Georgios at Apodoulou village etc. At Pano Riza village the cave of Nivritos, where Agios Methodios of Nivritos lived, presents a special interest, while in the same village, Agios Nikolaos Kourtaliotis lived as a pillar saint in the hermitage of Agios Efthimios. At Gergeri there is the church of Panagia Chanoutia with frescos of the 15th century. In the well preserved dorp of Panagia at the Municipality of Zaros, the basilica of the 15th century is rescued.
At the province of Malevizi, the basilica of Agios Georgios Kamariotis of the 16th century presents a particular interest. At this monument the coat of arms of the Kallergis family coexists with the lion of Venice. The visitor can worship the temple of Panagia Kera at Krousonas village.
Among the land and the top of the sacred mountain there is the small temple of Timios Stavros (Sacred Cross), the place of worshipping for the residents of all the villages of Psiloritis at the 14th of September, while across the top of Kouloukonas, there is another small church that is dedicated to the elevation of the Sacred Cross.
Psiloritis is surrounded by small and big 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 female Monastery of Agia Irene at Krousonas is the biggest in Crete. The Monastery of Timios Stavros at Vosakos village is hidden in a plateau at Talaia Mountain and is being reconstructed in an exemplary way. The Monastery of Diskouros near Livadia village is connected, according to the legend, with the legendary Dioskouroi and has a collection of ecclesiastic and folkloric heirlooms. At the northeastern side the Monastery of Chalepa with the wonderful view of the low land of Mylopotamos prevails. The Monastery of Atali is a real oasis near the resort of Bali village. At the glebe of the Athonic Monastery of Karakallos at Margarites village lived the neomartyr of the Turkish invasion called Gedeon. Arkadi village was an important ecclesiastic center since the years of the Turkish invasion. After the holocaust at 1866 it was brought out as an eternal symbol of the battles of the Cretan people for freedom. At the low land of Amari there is the Byzantine Monastery of Asomatoi. At Voliones of Amari village we come across the Monastery of Agios Antionios at Veni. The Monasteries of Vrondisi and Varsamanero have been the centers of the development of the Cretan painting. Here was the center of the well known hagiographers Aggelos and Damaskinos.
Characteristics of the area is the variety of architectural styles. Folk architecture of Crete coexists with the bourgeois standards and the neoclassical elements. It is distinguished by simplicity, moderation, human order and the use of local materials. The construction and the aspect of the traditional houses ensured coolness during summer and warmth during winter. The residence served the needs of the rural and stockbreeding economy as well as the social life of the people.
The techniques of goods production have been rescued for centuries at Psiloritis. At Zominthos area, there is the cheese factory since the Venetian period.
The center of the stockbreeding life was the shepherd’s’ shelters (mitato), the small rock build round houses that were used as places of dairy production. Their architecture has agelong roots since they are built with the use of schists without the use of cohesive materials but with the technique used for ancient arched Minoan tombs. We come across a plethora of shepherds’ shelters (mitato) around Psiloritis not only from the side of the Municipality of Rethymnon towards Nida but also from the mountainous zone of Amari towards Vorizia, at the forest of Rouvas as well as at the mountainous Malevizi village.
The bridges are also a big chapter of folk architecture. At Eleftherna village, the visitor will come across the bridge of the Hellenistic years. Rock build bridges and old cobblestone pavements can be found at Ano Meros of Amari as well as an impressive arced bridge (Sima Kamara) at the provincial road of Amari and Rethymnon. The bridge of Kampos at Garazos village can be found at Mylopotamos.
Near the rivers, wind mills are rescued not only from the side of Mylopotamos but also in the area of the Municipalities of Rouvas and Zaros. There, until very recently the residents were grinding their grains. At Gonies the reconstructed wind mills of the village prevail. Factories for the production of olive oil could be found in every village. The factory of the Monastery of Diskourios is still working, while the one of the Monastery of Arkadi at Kapsaliana village has been reconstructed. At Margarites village the old workshops of pottery at the area of Tsikaliara are interesting.
At Panormo village the locust bean mill that was working until 1950 was rescued and reconstructed.
History Monuments – Psiloreitis – Crete: Design-Editing: View Master
Texts: Irini Kladou, Kostis Papadakis
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