After a great week in Greece we packed and headed for the airport. For the first time in a while, our flight was late that evening (10pm) so we were left with a free afternoon. The trip to the airport from the east coast of Crete can be as straight forward as driving 100KM down the highway on the E75. We decided to go another way – through the mountains via the Lassithi Plateau.
As we winded our way through the mountains, you really begin to feel like you are heading back in time. The ‘old’ ways still exist. Small villages which rely on local agriculture, the tourist and history that goes back hundreds of years. We stopped at a small town (name unknown) for lunch and above the door was a black and white photo of a man holding his gun (proudly). I asked the woman who that was using the most effective tourist English that I have (speaking … slowly … pointing), it was her father (Who looked like the sort of guy that really ticked the Germans off during WWII).
Narda took the boys to this woman’s stall (we could not resist), where she bought baked chestnuts and an assortment of fruits. After leaving she commented again on the sales prowess of the elderly women, dressed in black and looking harmless and sweet. Make no mistake, if she had a car on hand, we probably would have been compelled to buy. Imagine trying to get a 1952 Datsun back to the UK?
The higher into the mountains we went, the more goats we saw. They were everywhere. In places which make sense (like open fields) and in not-so-likely places like sheer cliff faces. Amazing.
Another common countryside fixture were the windmills. Everywhere. Obviously, not functioning at this point, but in previous decades they were key to the local agriculture based culture.
As we reached the top of the mountain road we stopped at a convenience store and I snapped off this shot. The white building in the middle of the valley with no apparent road leading to it is a cemetery and a small chapel.
As you come to the top it opens up into the plateau:
Oropedio Lasithiou (also Lasithi Plateau) (Greek: Οροπέδιο Λασιθίου) is a large (11 km in the E-W direction and 6 km in the N-S, approx. 25 km²), scenic plain located in the Lasithi prefecture in eastern Crete, Greece. It is approximately 70 km from Heraklion and lies at an average altitude of 840 m, which makes it one of the few permanently inhabited areas of such altitude around the Mediterranean.Winters can be very harsh and snow on the plain and surrounding mountains often persists until mid spring.
The fertile soil of the plateau, due to alluvial run-off from melting snow, has attracted inhabitants since Neolithic times (6000 BC). Minoans and Dorians followed and the plateau has been continuously inhabited since then, except a period that started in 1293 and lasted for over two centuries during the Venetian occupation of Crete. During that time and due to frequent rebellions and strong resistance, villages were demolished, cultivation prohibited and natives were forced to leave and forbidden to return under a penalty of death. Later, in the early 15th century, Venetian rulers allowed refugees from the Greek mainland (eastern Peloponnese) to settle in the plain and cultivate the land again. To ensure good crops, Venetians ordered the construction of a large system of drain ditches (linies, Greek: λίνιες) that are still in use. The ditches transfer the water to Honos (Greek: Χώνος), a sinkhole in the West edge of the plateau. Lasithi plateau is famous for its white-sailed windmills that have been used for decades to irrigate the land. Despite their vast number (some 10,000) in the past, most of them have been abandoned nowadays in favour of modern diesel and electrical pumps.
Of course, being Canadian, I would question what a ‘harsh’ winter is like in Crete. I hear they got 14 inches of snow north of Toronto on Saturday and it was –22C. All relative.
Of course, the whole history, windmill and agricutural history of Lassithi is intersting and everything, but we were there for a more important reason – the birthplace of Zeus!
The Dictaean cave is famous in Greek mythology as the place where Amalthea, perhaps known in Crete as Dikte, nurtured the infant Zeus with her goat’s milk, the mythic connection to the long use as a site of cult attested here by archaeology. The nurse of Zeus, who was charged by Rhea to raise the infant Zeus in secret here, to protect him from his father Cronus (Krónos) is also called the nymphAdrasteiain some contexts
You arrive at the base of the site, surrounded by a few shops and a family churning out freshly squeezed orange juice at their cafe. You need it. It is a long hike to the top.
For a few €, you can hire a donkey for the ride up. We walked. We did pass a few people who should have spent the money.
When you get to the top you are peering down a 200’ drop to the bottom of the cave. Steep stairs take you to the bottom where it is a bit eerie. Yellow light plays off the walls, the sound of water dripping. Huge stalagmites worn smooth by thousands of years of dripping water. Creepy but cool.
As we emerged from the caves, the rain started to drop down. We hiked to the car, grabbed a fresh Orange juice and hit the road travelling through the mountains to the main road and the airport.
Another adventure completed.