Psiloritis mountain – Island of Crete.
Psiloritis, the green mountain of the Homeric years, with the numerous caves that fed Gods and hosted battles, with the wildness of life and nature but at the same time with the echo of lyre across the mountain, it surely isn’t a random place.
One could say that Mother Nature intentionally endowed this place with every form of ornament in order to grow Cretan born Zeus. High tops with beautiful plateaus, coombs with fountains crystallized from the melted snow, forests that slowly obtain a different glory and amplitude, stone as if it was ordered to make shepherd’s shelters (mitato), gorges as the doors of the great mountain, caves as the shelters of wild animals and the rebellious insurgents of the mountains (Chainides). There is inspiration everywhere on the occasion of Cretan poetry (mandinada).
If the visitors search for the clew that links all the characteristics of Psiloritis, they will end up in this land. This is the land that popped out of the Mediterranean millions of years ago, with hammerdressed rocks from the constant collision of Africa and Europe. The movements of these two lithospheric plates still define the fate of this land. Due to the earthquakes, the mountains of Crete, along with Psiloritis, constantly gain height.
Within 5 million years, Psiloritis grained approximately 1500 meters of height and became the tallest mountain of Crete and on of the tallest mountains of the Mediterranean. And as people say: …the way wind always blows with rage towards the highest top…”, this way Psiloritis has the marks of weather all over it. The water, the cold weather and the snow dug deeply into the rocks that grew higher and created gorges and unfathomable caves. At the same time, the breaches, these cuts on the land, marked the difference between Psiloritis and its brother Kouloukonas – even though Kouloukonas never reached Psiloritis height it resembles the sacred mountain in many ways – and created deep valleys that surrounds it.
Psiloritis differs from the other mountains of Crete. It is a long and narrow mountain and its few high tops seem like breaking the sky. There are five mountain tops more than 2000 meters with “Timios Stavros” reaching the 2456 meters. All around, there are lower tops, almost covered with winter snow weaving a garland that surrounds the main mountain chain. Skinakas with the homonymous observatory, Koudouni, Mavri, Kourouna, Spathi, Chabatha and Chalasokefala are some tops that reach the 2000 meters. Between them spread coombs, gorges and plateaus. The plateau of Nida as well as Idaion Andron, the cave that according to the mythology Zeus grew up is well known. Equally beautiful and impressive is Evdomos above Gonies of Malevizi and Livadi at the mountainous side of Krousonas as well as the smaller caves of Kserolimni and Vroulidia in Anogia.
Depending on the approaching side, the appearance of the mountain at the lowest parts is dramatically different. The northern and western side of the mountain is put down in various levels, where the feeding grounds of north Mylopotamos start and then, the mountain’s well known dorps. The southern and eastern side of the mountain, however, seems wilder and abrupt. From the mountain tops start vertical cliffs that reach the lowland of Heraklion and Mesara or end up to the valley of Amari. The first dorps are hooked on the roots of the cliff to benefit from the feeding grounds and the low land but mostly from the waters of the fountains or the flumes. The gorges are the easiest roads for the mountain tops and the paths that cross them are there since the Minoan years.
The nature of the rocks does not let the water of the rain to form big flumes or rivers. The biggest rivers cross the small valleys of the area such as Geropotamos that starts from the north glacis of Psiloritis and crosses the basin of Mylopotamos ending up to the sea or Amarianos that dewaters the basin of Amari ending up to the river of Plati at the south, Koutsolidis that starts from the forest of Rouvas and ends up to the Dam of Faneromeni as well as Litheos that starts from Amourgeles and ends up to ancient Gortina.
Psiloritis looks like a mountain with limestone rocks. However, this appearance fools the non expert since the variety of the rocks that are hidden in the coombs can very easily characterize the area as the ark of rocks in Crete. There are only a few rocks that are not present in the mountain.
Like a backbone across the island there are the hard, positioned in platters limestones, the remains of the bottom of an ancient ocean. These rocks that we come across at Psiloritis are actually dark marbles that are picked out from thin, white or tile-red stirps of a harder silicic material from which hones were made in the past. Today, following the tradition of centuries, the shepherds of Psiloritis build their shelters (mitato) with limestones in the form of a platter.
Most of these rocks, with all their alterations due to time, can be observed by crossing Kouloukonas Mountain starting from the north to the south on foot or by car. It is a half hour drive, a trip of 250 million of years in the past… The pressures that picked up the rocks and created the mountain are captured like pleats or creases that crinkle the layers. They seem impressive during the ride towards the Monastery of Vosakos or the plateau of Nida.
Around the central mountain chain, a variety of other groups of rocks cover the limestone platters. Many of the lower mountainous areas are consisted of limestones and dolomites of the Tripoli zone. At the north coast and in some valleys of the upcountry, schists, rocks, foliars and flyschs create beautiful coombs, valleys and plateaus with rich flat waters and vegetation.
The most peculiar rocks of the area are surely these that one comes across in the basin of north Mylopotamos, from the area of Gonies at Malevizi to Aksos, but also at the south of Psiloritis at Lochria and Kamares. Tile-red, green or purple rough rocks pop out of the edges of the roads. They are the lavas that several millions of years ago were erupting from the underwater volcanoes, forming what we call today the ophiolites.
At the lowland and fertile zone, the newer rocks, mainly yellowish limestones, marls and argils that were formed when millions of years ago sea covered parts of Crete, prevail. White and shiny layers of plaster pop out of the area of Messara, Agia Varvara, Apomarma and Zaros. In these places there is a hidden treasure of fossils that includes echinuses, fish, shells, limpets, shark’s teeth, sirenias or sea goats.
Caves, Gorges, Plateaus
The limestone rocks are surely some of the strangest materials. They are very hard and massive but also very ephemeral… The water breaks a grain of limestone sand in five months!
The limestone rocks that comprise the majority of rocks in the area of Psiloritis defined the form and the characteristics of the whole surface due to this particularity. The numerous caves, the gorges and the plateaus are all a result of the dissolution of rocks.
The lighter the mountains get the more dissolved they become due to water. Wherever there is a crack, the water enters it and makes it bigger, digging the mountains, creating underground rivers that will create the caves. This is the reason why the visitor of the area cannot see any rivers. They are all under their feet!
Many of these underwater rivers make their way towards the surface forming important fountains such as the one of Gergeris and Zaros, while other times they mingle with the sea such as Almiros in Heraklion, the biggest fountain of Crete or the underwater fountains of Bali.
Smaller fountains pop out of everywhere offering life and dew to the people and the environment.
The same way the water digs the gorges at the sides of the mountains, it makes the holes of the surface bigger forming plateaus or landscapes from naked limestone, since the ground transfers to plateaus to create the “red land” or in other words terra rosa.
Many of the small plateaus and the gorges make an oasis of endemicity and biodiversity gathering and protecting unique species of the flora and fauna of Crete. Characteristic plateaus are these of Nida, Ious Kampos in Gerakari, Rouvas, Evdomos at Gonies, Stroumpoulas at Tylisos as well as the gorges that are demarcated from Eleftherna – Margarites – Orthe villages, Agia Irene in Krousonas, Gafaris at the forest of Rouvas, Vorizia, Patsos in Amari, Kalanderes at the south of Mylopotamos and Moussai next to Mourtzana village. Undisputedly, however, the caves are the most impressive elements of the anaglyph of this area due to their number and their forms. From the simple drafts of the surface (dikes and dents) such as “Voulismeno Aloni”, cavitations or rock roofs such as the ones at Agios Nicholaos in Patsos village, underwater rivers such as “Chainospilios” in Kamaraki or the cave in Erfoi at the Municipality of Arkadi, to the unfathomable precipices such as “Tafkoura” in Nida that reaches the 960 meters under the surface. The underworld pf Psiloritis competes deservedly the wealth of the surface. Many caves are impressive due to their decoration. The cave of Sfendoni at Zoniana with a surface of 3000 square meters and partly accessible to the visitors or the cave of Melidoni with the enormous stalagmites and stalactites are two of the few caves accessible in the island. Other caves such as Chonos of Sarchos, Koritsi at Nida or Kamilari at Tylisos, Mougri at Sises and Tsoupa at Kalivos, Arkalospilios at Marathos and Spyliara of Astyraki, Notiki Tripa at Nithavri at Elenes are characterized not only for their difficulty ad riskiness but also for the legends and traditions that are hidden behind their walls
Surely the greatest are these of Idaion Andron at Nida, where Zeus was born as the biggest devotional place of Minoan Crete, Kamaraiko above Kamares village with the pottery of unique style, Sfendoni at Zoniana and Melidoni as a place of martyrs against the Turkish invaders. The beauty of the landscape of Psiloritis, the value of its natural monuments and the richness of the cultures, has ranged Psiloritis in the List of the Global Network of National Geoparks by Unesco and the European Geoparks Network.
Geology, Psiloreitis-Crete: Texts: Charalampos Fasoulas
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