My goal for this trip to Crete, since I am here for several months during non-tourist season, is to try and see all of the various sites of the ancient ruined cities here on Crete. Eastern Crete is a challenge to reach sometimes, so for this, I’m splitting the island in half and really just talking about the western portion. At some point I’ll plan some trips to the other half…
Towards the end of November, I packed up in the car with the guys, and off we headed to find Eleftherna, in the mountains south of Rethymno. Eleftherna was built by the Dorians around the 9th century BC, and flourished til the early Byzantine Empire. There are various ruins throughout the area, and to be honest, we did not find them all. We had no map, so no way locating each ruin, aside from some random signs around the area. We also spent a long time searching for the ancient bridge, that once we found it and returned to our car, we no longer had the energy to contemplate trekking down another steep hillside to try finding more ruins…
What we did see however, was an area that had been excavated with flooring, columns, and what looked like “gutters” for water to travel through. This area is behind a large, impressive fence, so didn’t get to walk through there. The picture I have, I had to hold my camera over the fence from a hill above the site to get it. You can walk down the right side of the fence and follow the path down into the trees. There are some old rock formations, and what use to be a “fountain” if I remember correctly, definitely a basin and area for water to run through. There wasn’t much else down there.
We then followed the path above the excavation site, hoping to find the ancient bridge that we knew looked cool from pictures we’d seen online. However, we had no idea where it would be, just somewhere along the stream… So we followed the path, which, once out of sight of the site, we ran into a fence. We decided it didn’t look like a likely route to the bridge anyways and turned back. Back at the site, we came across a group of Greeks who had their own little walking club. They too were exploring the site for the first time, and they were smart enough to come with a brochure with a map in it! We looked at that some with them, and they ambled off down the path we had just tried. We discussed it and quickly decided, the map made it look promising, so let’s try it again.
Fences in Crete are usually there for the sole purpose of keeping the goats and sheep in or out of an area. When they cross a path, the fence usually has a movable portion, that is just leaning against the other section of fence. This was the case with our fence, so they had just opened the little makeshift “gate” and we all went through. We all continued to follow the path, for we were now a part of the walking club, and eventually arrived at a fork in the path on the hillside, at the top of an olive orchard. Since the bridge should be down below (and the map showed no fork), we all set down the fork that led down the hill through the orchard. The path eventually just ended in the middle of the orchard, after we had trekked through waist high plants that covered our clothing with those little prickly burrs… The Greeks chatted amongst themselves and we all started straight back up the hill. They led the way, which eventually took us off the path and up to a fence. The men didn’t hesitate to climb over the fence, and then proceeded to try and weigh a section down and helped the women and us over it.
On the other side of this fence, was a little path leading along the hill and then down, eventually arriving on a gravel road. At this point we had lost our walking group, they were continuously stopping to pick plants. We headed up the road to the right and eventually found a path, marked with those spray painted colored dots from our Vrisi hike, and we got excited! We followed that, and sure enough, after a short distance, we eventually arrived at the bridge! At this point I was slightly relieved that we has left the group behind, we had time to photograph the bridge in peace and quiet without people all over it. Oh, and those little chapels they love to put every where? Yes! There was of course was lodged into the hillside overlooking the bridge!
Leaving the excavation site, I urged the one driving, to take the little fork off the current road, that led to a church. The Sotiras Christos Church was built in the 10th century AD, and still has a frescoe of Jesus painted inside the dome of the ceiling. A very beautiful old church, with quite the view.
From there we went to one more old site in the area, an old Byzantine tower, which was pretty cool, but I didn’t get any good pictures of it (I was too busy trying to scale it), but I did snap this awesome shot of a friend walking up the old road from the tower.