Hiking in the Samaria gorge

When you say to your friends that you go on holidays in Crete they will probably tell you that you should go walk the Samaria gorge!  And I agree, but here is what you should know before you book your excursion to the gorge.

The entrance of the Samaria gorge is on a hight of 1200 meter, the exit is at sea level and  the gorge is 16km long.

It is a mountain walk which means that you will walk all the time over rocks and stones and pebbles, in the video below you can see a small part of the path that you will walk.

Because of this stone path you will have to look all the time where you put your feet and that means that you will have to stand still from time to time to look around you and admire the beautiful nature.  Every time you look up you will have a totaly different view.

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  • Now before you enter the gorge make sure to take the following with you :a small bottle that you can refill in the gorge at the rest areas or from the stream.
    sun protection, a hat or cap and sunglasses.
    good walking shoes and walking poles can help a lot during the descent.
    something to eat, best fruit or a light vitamin meal.
    a backpack

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The gorge has only one exit and that one is after 16km so you can not stop walking after 3 or 5 or more km, you have to go all the way.  Unless you decide to walk back up after a few km.  But in case you are injured and you can not walk any more then maybe the doctor or the wardens will decide to put you on a mule, like these

 

Now don’t you think that there is always a doctor in the gorge, mostly during the months July and August there is a doctor and that’s it, but don’t worry, the wardens and the guides are very experienced and will be able to help you with any small issue you have. Don’t expect though that they can help people with serieus health problems, they should not even walk the gorge.

Children can walk the gorge and they are mostly faster than the parents, so make sure they stick with you so you don’t have to run up and down the path to find them.

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The map below shows you the path in the gorge with its rest areas.  You can make a screen shot of it and have it with you in the gorge.  You can also print it but don’t waste paper if not necessairy.

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The first large rest area has the name Agios Nikolaos, you can sit there at one of its tables and eat some off the food you brought with you to eat in the gorge.  Look below how this rest area looks like when you enter it.

When you reach this area you have made the steepest part of the gorge.  At the next part the path goes up and down untill you reach after 3 km the Samaria village.  The next video shows you the entrance of the village

It is in the Samaria village on the 7th km that you can see some Kri kri goats, this kind of goat is endemic and protected so you should not feed them, otherwise they won’t know how to search for food in winter when the gorge is closed.

 

 

In the samaria village there is a guest book in which you can write down your impression about the gorge, the walk, the stunning views etc.  In the evening, when the wardens are all alone in the village, they like to read what visitors wrote in the book, so this is your chance to make their day!

It is here in the samaria village that you will find the doctor and/or the wardens and guides.

After your rest in the samaria village, you cross the bridge again and you follow the path to the left, after aproximatly 500m you will start walking deep down in the gorge, on the bottom of the gorge.  Here to me the views are realy stunning

 

 

When you want to walk the gorge in one day and catch the boat in Agia Roumeli then make sure you are on time because the last boat to Chora Sfakion leaves at 17.45 and the last one to Sougia at 17.30.  You can buy tickets for both trips at Agia Roumeli.  http://www.anendyk.gr

 

 

 

 

 

The statue of Antoninus in Gortyna

Antoninus Pius was emperor of the Roman Empire when the Romans had occupied the island of Crete.  That is why you can see his statue on the archeological site of Gortyna.

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He never visited Crete but he was a very beloved emperor known for his peacefull way of ruling the whole Roman empire of that time without ever leaving Italy.  He ruled over the whole meditarenean area as also Great Britain.

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Old olive mill

Already during the Minoan time olive oil was made in Crete. The olives were broken by using stones, the olive pulp was mixed with water, put in a press and the mixture that came out of the press was put in basins. As water is heavier than olive oil, the water went down in the bassin so the olive oil was separated from it and easy to recuperate.

The pictures below show you a later used way of the process.

 

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Today machines are used.

MORFOGONIA

The Genesis of form

The Genesis of faces and their expressions.

The exhibition of MORFOGONIA takes place in the Saint Marc Basilic in Heraklion until 15/9/2018.

 

Masks have always been part of my life and probably of everybody’s life – maybe without noticing – as they can hide and show very well emotions and feelings.

 

 

Saint Nicolas Splantzia Chania

This is a unique church that was built during the Venetian occupation and was used as a Catholic church. The Ottomans built a minaret next to it and today it is a Greek Orthodox Church.

 

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Spinalonga

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Everything started here hundreds of years ago when fortifications were built on the island during the ancient Greek period. These fortifications were built to protect the port of the city Olous that was built during the Dorien occupation 500 – 69BC.

During the Venetian occupation (1204 to 1669) the fortresses and fortifications that you can see today we’re built, together with baracs for the soldiers, water cisterns – so the rain water could be gathered as there is no water source on the island -, as also a Catholic Church.

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In 1669 the Ottomans occupied Crete but they could not occupy Spinalonga as it was too well fortified so they took it by contract in 1715 after having put an embargo on the island. They built a village, some more water cisterns, a mosque and a minaret. The Ottoman inhabitants of Spinalonga handeled in salt and as there was no electricity at that time they had a very good commerce.

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In 1898 Crete is liberated from the Ottomans with the help of the 4 major forces of that time, England, France, Italy and Russia. They could not liberate Spinalonga as it was still too well fortified. So the independent state of Crete had to find a way to liberate Spinalonga from the Ottomans.

At that time around 200 lepers lived on the island Crete, these people had no rights, they were not alowed to get married, they could not work and were not alowed to live or enter the villages or cities. They had to live in baracs that were built outside of the cities and villages and received only 1 meal a day. So you can imagine that these people did go to the cities and villages, to ask for some food or money, or to visit their family.

As the Cretan politicians did not want this situation anymore they decided to look for a place where they could take care of the lepers, and ideal place for the politicians was the island Spinalonga because on this island the lepers could live in the houses that were built by the Ottomans, and as everybody was afraid of this desease they were also quit sure that the Ottomans would leave as soon as the first lepers were brought to Spinalonga.

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And that is what happened, in 1903 the first lepers of Crete were taken to Spinalonga. Together with the lepers also a doctor, nurses and housekeepers were brought to the island to take care of the lepers, these people were healthy people so they were not allowed to stay during the night on Spinalonga. Every evening they had to leave the island and before leaving it they had to pass from the desinfection room to desinfect themselves as also their belongings. They had to pass their belongings through a steam kettle that you can still see there.

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So in 1903 the first lepers are taken away from their baracs and are brought to the village Plaka from where they were taken with a small boat on the island Spinalonga.

And that seemed to them the end of their life. Because once they were on the island, there was no going back. They knew that they would never see their family, friends or neighbours again! They were not alowed to have visitors, there was no medication for the desease so they also knew that they were going to die there all alone without their family.

Most of the lepers of Crete were farmers and sheperds, people with a low education so it was very hard for them to organise their new live on the island. It’s true that they had the help of the housekeepers during the day but imagine the mental force they needed to start a new life on a place they did not want to be, that was as a prison to them.

For the new lepers live on Spinalonga was even harder. Imagine yourself having a disease, you go to the doctor and he tells you that you have leprosy. The doctor has to call the police, the police takes you to your house, they tell you to take some personal things with you because you will be taken to Spinalonga. The policeman puts you in chains and brings you to the village Plaka where you are put in a small boat and taken to the island. There is now way back!  Also young children who had the disease were taken away by their family and were taken all alone to Spinalonga…..

Only houses were available on the island and most of the houses had no running water, some of them even did not have a toilet, every day they had to go to the watertanks to get water to use in their house, to wash themselves, to do the dishes, to wash their clothes etc.  And as they had nothing to do there the lepers were bored during the day what made their live even more unbearable.

In 1913 some small changes are made on the island when also some lepers of the mainland of Greece are taken there. These people had got a higher education and they started to organize a kind of community on the island, they opened a bakery, a buchery, a grocery store as also some cafes. So life starts to be a bit more interesting on the island.

It was later in 1918 that a hospital was built, on the place were the Ottomans had built their mosque, it was the doctor who insisted on having a hospital so that he didn’t had to do the medical examinations and amputations anymore in the houses were the lepers lived.

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It was although only from 1936 on that their life changed for the much better, that was when Epaminondas Remoundakis at the age 21 went to the island.

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Some say that he had the disease already at the age of 12 and as he had heard terrible stories about Spinalonga he was afraid to be taken their so he hide himself from the police and doctors.  In 1931 he left Crete with a boat, stayed for a while on the small island Koufonisi and managed from there to go to Athens where he started his studies of Law at the University.  It was later in 1936 that he could not hide his disease any more and he was taken to the hospital in Athens from where he asked to be transported to Spinalonga where his sister was taken to.

Epaminondas was in his third year of law school at the University when he went to Spinalonga. He knew what rights the lepers had so he organized elections on the island.   Once the lepers had their own mayor the could demand for their rights.  They first of all asked for a higher monthly contribution because what they received until then was just enough o survive.  They also asked to be alowed to have visitors and to have the right to get married.  So new laws were made and now they where nearly equal with the ‘others’

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At that time only the large cities on Crete had electricity, most of the villages on Crete have electricity only since the 1960’s.  The Mayor and the doctor insisted also on having electricity so generator was built on Spinalonga and for the first time in their life they had something the ‘others’ didn’t, they could switch on the light, have a radio and listen to the news from Crete and Greece, they rented a movie from time to time, so also a bit of culture to place in their life.  All this gave them a lot of courage to go on.

Also during the second world war the island was not attacked, the lepers were save and even some soldiers brought them food as food was very hard to find during the German occopation

The lepers continue their live, some of them get married and in some cases lepres from the mainland of Greece marrie a leper from Crete so that they also have visitors from time to time.  Women get pregnand and babies are born, a few of these babies had the disease, most of them are healthy and the lepers start living a close to normal life on the island.

The doctor on the island was in research for a medication for the disease together with another Greek doctor and from time to time the asked lepers if they wanted to test a new medicin, only lepers with a quit strong health were aksed to do so and most of the lepers agreed on testing medication because they knew that they were going to die anyhow.  But non of the medication that was tested on them cured them, some even killed lepers.

In 1945 the medication Dapsone is used for the first time in the world as a cure for leprocy and with succes!  In 1950 this medication is brought to Spinalonga so no more tests are done and the lepers start taking the medication that will cure them.  After a months of taking this medication some of the lepers are diagnosed to be healthy and they may leave the island!  Before they leave the doctor gives them a document that says that they don’t have the disease any more, that they are not a danger anymore for others and that they may live wherever they like.  So the lepers start leaving the island, they go back to their family and start again a new life, but now it is a good life, with hope and health!!

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in 1957 the leper colony is closed and the few lepers that are not cured yet are brought to a hospital in Athens, the Saint Barbara Hospital, where they receive further medication and from where they can also go when they are cured.  But not only the last lepers are taken to the hospital, also the people that were born on the island have to go there.

From 1936 on approximately 30 children were born on the island, a few of them had the disease,  the others were healthy, but as they were born from 2 lepers they were not allowed to leave the island so they were raised among the lepers.  So also these people went to the hospital where several tests were done on them and when after a few months the doctors saw that they are 100% healthy they were also allowed to leave the hospital, and as they never had the disease they were not given any document.  Now these people had to start a new life too, they had never left the island before, they had never lived in a normal community so this was not easy for them.  Another problem they had was that on their passport was written as place of birth Spinalonga, so when they went looking for a job and their passport was asked for they were not given the job.  It was also hard for them to find a partner because people were still afraid of this disease and people who had been in contact with it.  Most of them returned to the hospital and asked for a room and a job there and that is where they stayed for the rest of their life.  As totaly healthy people who never had the disease they could not have a normal life, get maried or have a family….

This is my version of what happened on Spinalonga, I know that this is only the general story  and that is what I wanted to give you, for more details you can always contact me.  Or if you have something to bring into my story then I’m all ears.  Enjoy your visit on the island and have in mind what you read here when you set foot on it.

There are vessels going to Spinalonga from Agios Nikolaos, Elounda and Plaka.  The prices of the boat differ and the entrance for the Archaeological site of Spinalonga is 8€pp, students from the EU and children younger than 18 y do not pay any entrance fee, disabled people with document do not pay either and senior citizens of the EU pay 4€pp.