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Travel

The Different Kinds of Magic on Crete

The renowned island of Crete has been called a ‘continent in itself’ and ‘another planet’ by people amazed by the amount, variety, and significance of its cultural – and natural – riches. ‘The Big Island’ as it is called by the locals, with its flora, fauna, architecture… and cuisine… is a feast for the eyes and the belly, but natives and visitors alike will tell you that their experiences transcend the senses. There is an energy that simultaneously rises from the ground and descends from the heavens, generated by its sacred soil, sea, and sky.

Crete has been described as an island with a rich historical heritage and a modern, lively character – and there are numerous spots, ancient and modern creations, where they will feel the magic very strongly.

Knossos – Magic from Deep in the Mists of History

Archaeological finds on Crete date back to pre-history, but the most fascinating finds belong to the Minoan era, when the first European civilization was born. The Palace at Knossos is the place for the visitor to begin, where it seemingly all began.

The palace began to be constructed in the 17th century BC and restorations in situ and on paper reveal a way of life that was serene, joyful, intelligent, and practical – there are remains of advanced plumbing and sublime and delightful frescoes, both leaving the modern guests in awe. French composer Eric Satie was inspired by the palace to write a beautiful series of pieces titled ‘Gnossiennes’, which refers to Knossos.

There are also Minoan palaces at Phaistos – where the famous and fascinating Phaistos disk was found, inscribed with the Linear A script of the Minoans, Malia, and Zakros on the eastern coast of Crete, but there were other smaller palaces across the island as well.

Multicultural and Modern Magic in Rethymno

The classical, Hellenistic, Roman, Venetian, and Ottoman periods left behind ruins and reigning settlements all over the island. Pick a town or city. Any Cretan town or city – each has its magic – which I feel most strongly in Rethymno, a university town and artists’ colony.

Rethymno is situated between Chania and Heraklion and is known for its well-preserved Old Town, its Venetian fortress, and beautiful beaches.

Interkriti.org notes that “the town still maintains its old aristocratic appearance with its buildings dating from the 16th century, arched doorways, stone staircases, Byzantine and Hellenic-Roman remains, the small Venetian harbor and narrow streets. The city’s Venetian-era citadel, the Fortezza of Rethymno, is one of the best-preserved castles in Crete.”

Among the best preserved medieval towns in all of Greece, Rethymno is one of the most beautiful places on Crete, its narrow streets having shade from overhanging vines and bougainvillea. Many intact historical buildings house elegant and chic as well as down to earth restaurants, cafés, lounges, and bars that attract many visitors every night. Offering amazing nightlife with numerous entertainment options in a variety of styles, music in the clubs starts around midnight and the dancing does not stop until dawn.

The town is home to the Rethymno Campus of the University of Crete, which contains the School of Philosophy, the School of Education, the School of Social, Economics, and Political Sciences, as well as the University Library of the University of Crete. The Tria Monastiria area houses its Institute of Plasma Physics and Laser – where a different, potentially lucrative kind of magic is pursued.

Crete’s other cities boast their own brand of magic and charm. Chania’s Venetian harbor offers a blend of tavernas, galleries and shops – with a lighthouse at one end of the jetty, and a curious mosque – a perfect sphere set in an ideal cube – contributing to a most charming skyline with the Aegean Sea as a background.

Heraklion is the biggest city and the capital. Its coastal area is said to have been as beautiful as Chania’s, but it has yet to heal architecturally from German bombing in World War II – it is the place that counts Knossos in its back yard, however – big bonus. History honors the place by noting it is the scene of the longest siege in the history of Europe – the courageous citizens – Roman Catholic rulers and Greek Orthodox subjects – bravely held out for 27 years against the Ottoman onslaught in the 17th century. Alas, the town fell, and the rest of Crete with it, in 1669.

Agios Nikolaos is a picturesque coastal town located on the eastern side of Crete. It’s known for its scenic harbor, its lagoon known as Lake Voulismeni, and nearby archaeological sites.

Sitia, located on the eastern coast of Crete, is known for its laid-back atmosphere, beautiful beaches, and nearby Minoan archaeological sites.

The Magic of Nature

The island abounds with idyllic landscapes, verdant plains, and scintillating lagoons, spectacular mountains – including Mount Ida, AKA Psiloritis, said to be the birthplace of Zeus, specifically in the Psychro Cave. At 2456 meters (8,000 feet) it is the highest point on the island and “offers a mythical walk amid sublime panoramas.” There is also – believe it or not – skiing, at the Ski Center of Timios Stavros.

When you return from Crete, you are likely to be asked “did you hike the Samaria Gorge?” which is the deepest gorge in Europe. Framed by greenery and high peaks, according to en-vols.com, “the gorge tumbles down over a distance of 16 km until it blends into the blue horizon of the Libyan Sea.”

The same site calls Balos lagoon “a picture-postcard landscape… its turquoise waters and pink sand is all you would expect it to be.” Lake Kournas, Crete’s only freshwater lake, is a paradise for turtles, and the Vai Palm beach in Lassithi is Crete’s most famous, a wonderful sandy beach bordered by a natural palm grove at the northeastern tip of the island.

In the town of Ano Vouves, in northwest Crete, there is an olive tree that scientists say was planted over 3,000 years ago, making it the oldest in the world. Called “one of nature’s own sculptures,” with a trunk 4.5 meters in diameter, it is a sight to behold.

Patriotic Magic – The Arkadi Monastery

Crete, with a Christian heritage that goes all the way back a visit by Saint Paul – surviving a shipwreck actually – is filled with inspiring churches and monasteries. One, the Arkadi Monastery near Rethymno, in addition to nurturing the spirituality of the islanders for centuries, is also at the heart of the centuries-long struggle for Cretan independence from foreign rule and for unification with Greece. Among the many revolts of the Cretans – beginning with efforts to end the Venetian occupation that began in 1205 AD – is the tragic rebellion of 1866. In that year, 943 Greeks, mostly women and children, sought refuge in the monastery. After three days of battle, the Cretans, under orders of the Abbot, blew up barrels of gunpowder stored there, choosing to sacrifice themselves rather than surrender. The explosion did not end the insurrection, but it attracted the attention of the rest of the world and helped lead to the island’s independence in 1898 and its union with Greece in 1913. The monastery became a national sanctuary in honor of Cretan resistance and the 1866 holocaust is commemorated on November 8.

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