Man and Nature at Neapolis municipality

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MAN AND NATURE in Neapoli’s municipal area, Lassithi Crete

Editors Kaloust Paragamian Ioannis Nikoloudakis Hellenic Institute of Speleological Research. Layout Ilias Kourtessis Printing Graphic Arts TYPOKRETA G. Kazanakis S.A. Industr. Area of Heraklion Crete Š Copyright: Municipality of Neapoli, Lassithi ISBN 978-960-88971-2-0 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, used or republished without the permission of the Municipality of Neapoli and the authors.

Book reference: Paragamian K. and I. Nikoloudakis. 2007. Man and Nature in Neapoli’s municipal area, Lassithi, Crete. Municipality of Neapoli - Hellenic Institute of Speleological Research. Heraklion, 160 pp.

Kaloust Paragamian

Ioannis Nikoloudakis

MAN AND NATURE in Neapoli’s municipal area, Lassithi Crete

Municipality of Neapoli Hellenic Institute of Speleological Research







Authors' note Introduction






The landscape



Geological setting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .23 31

Life in the distant past


Climate and vegetation


Flora Fauna

35 45




Villages and farmsteads



Historic monasteries . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .99 Archaeological sites



Drives and walks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .115 Afterword



Appendix . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .156 Further reading






eople, Nature, Life and Culture are very closely intermingled concepts, forming a blend whose limits are hard to define. Everyday, well-known concepts, but ones which are often misunderstood or misidentified. The more we understand our environment, whether natural or manmade, and the more we approach it in a serious, scientific way, the more we come to respect, appreciate, love and protect it. Environmental awareness is an international value in every age. This is exactly what the Municipality of Neapoli is trying to promote through this book. The landscape of our home is like the weather-beaten face of an old man who has been sorely tried and has much to tell us… if you approach him in the right way. This guidebook is such an approach. It is a small attempt to get to know the world around us, our own land, our own home, which we so often neglect in our rush to explore faraway countries. This guidebook is a start. The second step is up to you. Proposals… views… knowledge are all welcome. We thank everyone who has contributed to this effort in any way. Nikos Kastrinakis Mayor of Neapoli




e would like to thank the members of the Municipal Council of Neapoli, Mayor Nikos Kastrinakis in particular, for entrusting us with writing about the place they know and love. They have given us the opportunity to study, learn more about and describe a place we too have loved, roamed and explored for years. We hope that this book will meet their expectations. The Eastern Crete Development Organisation (OANAK) managed the research programme resulting in this publication. George Kostakis was the project mannager and Michalis Lipakis, GIS expert, prepared the maps we used in this book. The Cretan Department of the Hellenic Speleological Society has provided us with information on the area from its unique archives on the caves of Crete. Our speleologist colleagues from the Cretan Department, Ioannis Nathenas, Andreas Papadakis, Stavros Patramanis, George Zervakis, Katerina Kopsari and Sophia Avgeri accompanied us on our speleological expeditions at the area. Kostis Spithas from Neapoli, a man who truly knows and loves the area, helped us with information and suggestions on places unknown to us. The Greek text was translated in English by Rosemary Tzanaki We would like to express our warmest thanks to them all.




he Municipality of Neapoli is an area of Crete in which man and nature have coexisted and interacted closely for at least eight millennia. This long relationship has been stamped clearly on the environment, creating a complex mosaic of rocks and minerals, varied terrain, vegetation, flora and fauna, towns, villages, sacred places and changes in land use down the ages. Visitors to the area will be struck by the changing faces of the landscape, leaving them with lifelong memories. Yet nothing is as simple as a glance or a photograph might suggest. There is far more beneath the surface, hidden treasure awaiting discovery by the inquiring mind, the result of processes and interactions as old as the land itself. The visitor who wants to get to know and understand the area must first grasp the relationship of its human inhabitants through the ages with the far more ancient natural features around them. We hope that this book will prove a useful guide.

K. Paragamian I. Nikoloudakis Hellenic Institute of Speleological Research


Vrysses with Neapoli in the background.



This publication was undertaken with the aim of providing basic information in order to help visitors decipher the natural environment of the Municipality of Neapoli. Extensive bibliographical research for scientific publications on the area did not provide the expected results. The human and especially the natural environment were little studied. We therefore had to rely on field trips, focussing on a different subject each time. The photographs presented here are selected from a much larger number of pictures taken on the spot. Much of the information provided is original. Our many targeted data-collection visits allowed us to discover and evaluate many facts, either ignored hitherto or entirely new. It took much thought before we decided to publish some of our “discoveries� such as the seasonal wetlands, those extremely vulnerable ecosystems which are now an environmental protection priority for Greece and the European Union. We have not mentioned the whereabouts of certain paleontological and archaeological sites of great cultural and scientific interest, as we believe that they need to be studied further and protected before they are made known to the public. Readers who would like to find out more about the natural and manmade environment of Crete are invited to use the bibliography provided at the end of this book, which mentions some of the most important works on the island. We have approached the area as part of the natural environment of Crete, with human activity as an important element of this. In other words, we see man as one of the hundreds of species which live and do their best to survive here. In


this context, we have tried not to prettify certain situations, but we have also tried not to grumble, except perhaps a little bit in the afterword. We have focussed on presenting and providing photographs of species and ecosystems which are easily identifiable by the average visitor. We do not give detailed descriptions of plants and animals which are only of interest to the specialist, except when they provide useful means of interpreting certain phenomena. We have tried to avoid using difficult scientific terms. However, in some cases where we could not avoid doing so an explanation is provided in the text. The common name of each plant or animal is followed by its international scientific name in brackets. The book is divided into two parts. The first provides all the basic information drawn from the bibliography and field trips. The location, terrain and geology of the area are described, with reference to geological history and long-extinct species. All these, together with the climate, plant and animal adaptations and human activity, are linked in order to explain plant distribution and condition, and the composition of local flora and fauna. Finally, the exclusively manmade environment is described, including towns, villages and farmsteads, monasteries and archaeological sites. In the second part of the book, we propose three main tours by car which will allow you to enjoy the landscape and give you a fairly comprehensive picture of the area. Each route also includes several walks, both long and short, which will help you understand this picture.

Translator's Note: In the transcription of Greek place-names, “ch” is always soft as in “loch”.



The Landscape

The Drassi-Lagada valley and Kavallaras.

The Municipality of Neapoli forms an administrative part of Lassithi Prefecture. It borders on the Municipality of Agios Nikolaos to east and south and on the Community of Vrachassi to the west. Its northern coast is washed by the Sea of Crete. The municipal seat is Neapoli, a town with a recorded population of 2,767 at the latest census. The fertile valley of Neapoli forms a long, accessible passage between the plains and bays of Malia and Agios Nikolaos. It has always had great economical and strategic importance, as it is both the main route of communication and the midpoint for people, goods and ideas flowing between central and eastern Crete. From antiquity to the present, people have striven to exploit useable land and even control the passes to some extent. The strategic position and natural resources of the area led to the gradual development and political reinforcement of Dreros, an important city of the post-Minoan period which flourished from the 8th century BC and for the next two centuries. Its rise would undoubtedly have been aided by the exploitation of smaller vales lying below the valley, which did not have the necessary resources to be selfsufficient and therefore independent. These vales include those of Lagada Drassi - Agios Konstantinos to the southwest and those of Kourounes, Perambela and Kastelli-Fourni to the northeast. Today, the Municipality of Neapoli comprises 10 Municipal Departments. Apart from the town of Neapoli, there are 10 villages large and small and at least 28 metochia (seasonal farmsteads or monastic dependencies) scattered across the area. The municipality is bordered by a series of hills and mountains of varying sizes. To the west, the peak of Anavlochas (623 m above sea level) and the 17

The vale of Kastelli with the hill of Dreros, Kavallaras and the Lassithi Mountains in the background.


heights of Kalaritis, Moutsounas (510 m) and other smaller hills divide it from the Vrachassi-Milatos area. To the southeast and south, the peaks of Akrolakki (915 m), Lagada, Pyflari (1,184 m), Machairas (1,487 m), Achinolakki, Chionistra (931 m) and Kopranes separate Neapoli from the Municipalities of Lassithi Plateau and Agios Nikolaos. To the east, the peaks of Anemospili (552 m), Loutsi (718 m), Pyrgou (348 m), Katsiolos (549 m), Koutsoura (699 m) and Megalo Kastri (499 m) form the dividing line with Agios Nikolaos and Elounda. The terrain is fairly mountainous. The northern part of the area is made up of many hills with small isolated valleys nestling between them. Five of these are over 700 metres high: Timios Stavros (793 m), Stiromandra or Nesaki Korfi (762 m), Peza (759 m), Trapeza (732 m) and Vathylakko (701 m). Between the

Bottom right: Hills and valleys east of Timios Stavros, with Kastelli and Fourni in the background.

heights flow streams, mostly running down to the north coast and the sea. From west to east, the largest streams are: Anemalliaris in the area of Anogia and Agios Antonios, Malliaris in the Souvlos area, Chalasmata in the RomanosKoudoumalos area, Mesomouri near Dilakkos and Patsopoulos, Lagos in Karydi, and finally the Sifades stream running east to the Bay of Spinalonga. To the south is the valley of Neapoli, a relatively flat area with small dirt hills. Further south the terrain is rockier, with hills forming the foothills of the Lassithi Mountains. The major peaks are Kavallaras (767 m) due south of Neapoli, and Aginaras (574 m), the easternmost spur of the Selena range. Further south, at the border between the Municipalities of Neapoli and Agios Nikolaos, are the peaks of Achinolakki and Machairas; at 1,487 metres above sea level, the latter is the highest point of the municipality.






Geological setting

The stage on which all the other elements of the natural environment of an area exist and interact is usually the least appreciated part. Everyone's gaze is drawn to the fast-changing protagonists of the play of nature and man. And yet the geological structure, mineral composition and geological history of the area are key elements for anyone wishing to understand the play in depth. In Crete this stage is extremely complex and varied, directly affecting the variety and uniqueness of landscapes, plants and animals, and of course the people of the island, who managed to create a major human civilisation in just a few thousand years' presence on the island. The geology of the Neapoli area is simple compared to other parts of Crete. Carbonate minerals prevail to the exclusion of almost all else. Strange as it may seem, these sedimentary minerals are organic in origin. They were created by the accumulation of the inorganic remains (shells and skeletons) of marine organisms that lived and died tens of millions of years ago in Tethys, the ancient ocean which was lying between Eurasia and Africa long before Greece appeared. Generally speaking, there are two types of carbonate mineral corresponding to two geotectonic units, as they are known: platy limestone and Tripoli. The whole region north and northeast of Neapoli to the sea is composed of platy limestone. These are rocks formed 250 to 30 million years ago and then metamorphosed, i.e. dissolved and re-crystallised in the sea by high pressure



Massive limestone above Lagada, distinctively eroded by rain.

Platy limestone with layers of white silica.

and heat, forming modern marble with its distinctive crystalline structure. This limestone is stratified in plates 10 to 40 centimetres thick, often containing silica layers also formed from the skeletons of marine creatures (protozoans, sponges, etc.). This silica used to be (and to a lesser extent still is) mined systematically near Elounda, for making whetstones. It has been estimated that platy limestone in Crete is over three kilometres thick! In the south of Neapoli Municipality, the foothills of the Lassithi Mountains are mostly composed of massive limestone and dolomites belonging to the Tripoli geotectonic unit and were formed 150 to 60 million years ago. These rocks form the upper layer of the area which is no more than 350 metres thick. As opposed to platy limestone, they are not crystalline in structure, are fairly brittle and are more vulnerable to erosion by rainwater, so their surface is rough and uneven. Interposed between the two types of limestone are schist and phyllite rocks of the Phyllite-Quartzite unit. These appeared 300 to 200 million years ago and can be seen on the surface in the Neapoli valley and further south, before the Katharo plateau. Being waterproof, they are eroded very gradually, evenly and superficially, forming a more or less flat landscape. The two upper nappes (sheets of rock lying over neighbouring strata), Phyllites-Quartzites and Tripoli,


The stratigraphy of breccia layers on the north coast corresponds to climate changes and intensity of erosion during the past tens of thousands of years.

Lithophaga (rockeating mussels), incontestable proof of higher sea levels in ages past.

have been worn away and disappeared completely to the north and north-east of Neapoli, where platy limestone prevails almost exclusively. Rocks of the Tripoli unit only remain in three small areas on the north coast: Agios Konstantinos east of Milatos Beach, and east and west of Cape Drepani. On the north coast of Neapoli Municipality are much more recent rocks, formed from the cementation of either accumulated shards of limestone from steep hillsides (breccia), or rounded pebbles deposited by streams in estuaries (conglomerate). These rock strata may be from a several metres to a few dozen metres thick. At several points of the north coast the sea has exposed their stratigraphy, revealing the layers corresponding to different rates of erosion due to climate change during the Pleistocene, particularly over the last million years. Where the platy limestone bedrock is

exposed, the marks left by the changing sea level of the past tens of thousands of years can be seen, with holes made by lithophagous (rockeating) bivalves when the sea level was two to 30 metres higher than it is today. The Cretan Departmant of the Hellenic Speleological Society has recorded 43 caves in the area (see Appendix), but the true number is certainly much higher. Twelve of these have been explored; although none is really large or contains impressive formations, they provide an interesting picture of the local underground environment. The chasms of Kani Latsida (25 m deep) and Xerolimni (15 m deep) contain endemic (native) species of cave-dwelling invertebrate. Two caves on the north coastline contain vertebrate fossils. The cave of Agios Andreas north of Finokalia is one of the most beautiful cave churches in Crete.

The even contours of the Neapoli valley. Sea cave north of Agios Andreas. Datserolenia Cave near the north coast.






Life in the distant past

Fossilised Cretan deer bones (Candiacervus spp.)

Very little has been published on paleontological finds in the Municipality of Neapoli. The area certainly experienced the major upheavals of the past 17 million years. At first it was a small part of mainland Aegaeis, linking southeast Europe and Asia Minor. It then became part of the seabed, rising once more as a section of mainland, or a large or small island. Eight to 11 million years ago, giant elephant-like animals (Deinotherium giganteum) walked the land. Their fossils have been found at two separate locations in the Sitia district. At over 4.5 metres tall and weighing up to 12 tons, these were truly enormous beasts. They looked like modern elephants but their thick tusks pointed downwards. They roamed across the whole of Europe, Asia and Africa before disappearing from the face of the earth 1.5 million years ago. Much more recently (in the last million years), when Crete had become an island, the area was inhabited by dwarf hippopotami (Hippopotamus creutzburgi) and deer (Candiacervus spp.), whose fossils have been discovered in four caves north and east of Milatos. The larger of the two species of elephant found on Crete (Elephas antiquus creutzburgi) also lived in the area, as demonstrated by fossils found on the Katharo plateau. These animals colonised Crete by swimming across from the mainland, and establish large populations due to the lack of predators. Many rodent and shrew fossils were found in the same locations, and also on the north coast of the municipality. Only one species of these “recent� types of fauna survives today: the Cretan white-toothed shrew (Crocidura zimmermanni) endemic to Crete, which is the only endemic mammal in Greece.


No large carnivorous mammals from this period have been found on Crete. It would seem that for the past two million years, large mammals have been exclusively herbivores whose populations, survival and eventual extinction depended on plant availability. The major climate changes during glacial and interglacial periods in the last million years definitely contributed to their extinction. The deer were last to disappear at least 20,000 years ago, long before humans colonised the island.

A brief summary of a natural history lasting millions of years The changes to both landscape and nature over geological time are dramatic and impressive. The most important of the events playing a decisive role in the creation and development of Greece is the collision of two tectonic plates, the African and the Eurasian Plate. This collision began tens of millions of years ago and will continue for a few million years more, until the two continents eventually merge. The geologic and natural history of Crete has been extremely active. Sixteen million years ago, Crete formed the southernmost part of Aegaeis. Fifteen to 6.5 million years ago, in the Upper Miocene, Aegaeis split up and large tracts of land were flooded by the sea, mainly in the west. By the Messinian Age (6.5 to 5.3 million years ago), Africa had come very close to Eurasia, forming an inland sea, the Mediterranean. The warm climate caused most of the water to evaporate (some researchers believe it all did!) and land masses reunited due to the drop in sea levels. The story of the Neogene, a period lasting over 21 million years (23.3 to 1.8 million years ago) ends with the opening of the Straits of Gibraltar in the Pliocene. The waters of the Atlantic rushed into the Mediterranean, and the Aegean gradually formed a series of islands which met and separated over time. Many species disappeared, as they were unable to adapt to different ecological conditions in small areas of land. In Crete, for instance, no mammal fossils from the Pliocene have been found, showing that almost all must have disappeared. Dramatic upheavals have continued in the last two million years. This whole period has been stamped by major tectonic events (Crete has


Stratum containing fossilised mammal bones in sea cave breccia deposits.

risen by about 800 m) and climate change (three basic glacial periods). Crete, like several other Aegean islands, was colonised by mammal species which could either spread easily (bats, rodents) or swim well (deer, elephants, hippos, etc.) Thus, although mainland Greece had a good faunal balance of carnivores and herbivores with low endemicity, islands were inhabited by herbivores which developed into endemic species. Gigantism and dwarfism are two impressive phenomena observed in insular populations at this time. Rats were the size of small hares, while hippopotami were the size of pigs. Elephants were only 80170 cm high and the dwarf deer were goat-sized. While geographical and climate changes continued to affect the flora, fauna and ecosystems of the wider area, humans - at least from the Neolithic period onwards - had a marked effect on natural history, bringing about widespread and unnaturally rapid changes to their world.



Climate and vegetation

Shrubby vegetation dominates the municipal area of Neapolis

Three main factors have determined local vegetation: climate, intensive grazing and man. Here, as in most of Crete, plant species are extremely resistant to arid conditions, as their biological cycle and features have adapted to the Mediterranean climate of hot, dry summers and cold, wet winters. A glance at the landscape might lead one to the conclusion that the extensive areas of heathland are the result of grazing by sheep and goats. Although this is partly true, the theory does not fully explain the composition of the vegetation. It should be noted that overgrazing is not something “foreign” to the area. Several large species of herbivore (elephants, hippopotami and deer) grazed here for hundreds of thousands of years, and in the absence of predators their populations reached maximum levels, limited only by the availability of food. If the local vegetation had not already adapted to overgrazing, it would have disappeared completely when sheep and goats appeared, as is the case on many large oceanic islands where no plant-eaters existed before their introduction by humans. Over at least the last 8,000 years, man's attempts to survive and thrive had such a major impact on what we call the “natural environment” that its composition is to a large extent due to human impact. This impact has become perhaps more pronounced than ever over the last few centuries. Almost the whole area (even inaccessible mountainous regions) has been cleared,


Grazed and ungrazed side of a hill near Kourounes.

a. Phrygana growing in abandoned fields near Dreros. b. Typical phrygana with hemispherical bushes. c. Tree spurge in phrygana near the north coast


landscaped and cultivated, both to cover human needs and for animal fodder, as nearly every family kept not only sheep and goats, but also oxen, donkeys and mules. Dozens of small villages and monasteries, countless terraces, kilometres of stone walls and a widespread network of cobbled roads divided up the landscape. Heathland was systematically burnt off in order to produce fresh vegetation in areas where sheep and goats were farmed. In recent decades, however, there has been a dramatic drop in the population of the countryside. Most farms have been abandoned, domesticated animals have almost disappeared, grazing has fallen and it seems that a new age is dawning for the local “natural� environment. Plants once restricted to craggy hillsides are recolonising the area. Scrubland is spreading at a relatively rapid rate, while maquis vegetation is becoming tree-like in areas. Even deciduous oaks are repopulating the south of the municipality. Average local rainfall ranges from 1,200 mm in the southern highlands to 400 mm on the north coast. The temperature falls to a few degrees below zero in the winter and often rises to over 38oC in the summer. Generally speaking, an annual cycle begins in October with the first scattered b.



There is a wide variety of phrygana plants in many areas.


Kermes oaks find it hard to grow into trees in windy areas..

Maquis near Keramos Monastery.

a. Overgrazed olive leaves become small and round..

b. An overgrazed, bushy kermes oak..




Olive, almond and kermes oak trees near Kastelli.

and often torrential rains, increasing towards late November and peaking in January. The whole area becomes green, as the plants respond almost immediately. Woody evergreen trees and shrubs lose the small leaves which ensured little loss of moisture in the summer and produce larger ones. Annuals sprout in their millions from the seeds lying dormant in the soil, while bulbs put forth their new leaves. In spring the rains gradually decrease, almost ceasing altogether in April or May. The south-southeast winds now blowing from distant Algeria and Libya bring fairly large amounts of Saharan soil which falls on the area with the last rains, painting the snow on the mountains a characteristic ochre colour. On sunny spring days the whole area pulses with life, especially in April. Most of the plants have flowered and masses of insects (pollinators and others) buzz around searching for food and mates. The streams and seasonal wetlands contain enough water to support aquatic and semi-aquatic plants which will trigger the further development of life, forming as they do the base of the food chain for many aquatic animals. The seasonal wetlands also welcome the tired and hungry migratory birds coming from Africa, which stop here to rest before continuing their journey north. In June the rainfall stops and the temperature starts to rise. Most plants have already fruited and gradually wither or grow smaller leaves. All the adaptations developed by native plants and animals since their original establishment in the area are now tested severely. Perennials aestivate while annuals die, leaving their seeds on the soil to sprout the following winter. Hot, arid July and August are in fact the cruellest months. In warm, windless September with


Maquis trees near Keramos Monastery.

Vegetation on the Moutsouna hillside near Latsida.


its few rains, nature prepares for another yearly cycle. There are two main types of vegetation in the Municipality of Neapoli: Phrygana (garigue) scrubland and maquis. Both are comprised of shrubby plants, but maquis species can grow into large trees, even forming true woods. The two types also share some common features which are either adaptations to the Mediterranean climate (e.g. an extensive root system, evergreens, hard leaves, seasonal dimorphism of leaves), or adaptations to overgrazing (e.g. spiny leaves or shoots, unpleasant taste, ability to grow even in little soil on vertical rocks). Phrygana is the commonest type of vegetation in the area. This is open scrubland composed of low, usually sparse shrubs which generally have small leaves, are often hairy and occasionally have thorny shoots. The most representative forms of Phrygana are found in the coastal regions of the municipality and in the arid interior. The shrubs are characteristically hemispherical in shape, to minimise their surface area. Typical species include thorny burnet (Sarcopoterium spinosum), headed savory (Thymus or Coridothymus capitatus), spiny spurge (Euphorbia acanthothamnos), Jerusalem sage, (Phlomis lanata), rockrose (Cistus spp.), Greek sage (Salvia fruticosa), false dittany (Ballota spp.), oregano (Origanum spp.), “curry plants� (Helichrysum siculum), hairy thorny broom (Calycotome villosa), spiny broom (Genista acanthoclada), etc. At first glance Phrygana appear to be poor ecosystems, but this is not the case. A greater variety of plants and animals is found in Phrygana than in almost any other Cretan ecosystem. Among the perennial woody shrubs of Phrygana grow a huge number of annuals and many herbaceous bulbs, of which the commonest are asphodel (Asphodelus aestivus), sea squill (Urginea maritima) and many species of orchid. Phrygana made up of shrubs less typical in shape but containing more or less the same variety of plants predominate in the area. All abandoned cultivations and degraded kermes oak copses have been colonised by these plants, coexisting with sparse

The Livadi wetland in Agios Konstantinos.



maquis vegetation (kermes oak, wild olive and so on). Typical maquis, with tall, dense broad-leaved evergreens and lacking herbaceous plants in the underbrush, is limited to small areas, mainly in the south of the municipality. The commonest species is kermes oak (Quercus coccifera), forming both shrubs and trees. Degraded maquis with shrubby kermes oak and wild olive (Olea europaea oleaster), and more rarely lentisc (Pistacia lentiscus) and carob (Ceratonia siliqua), always coexists with Phrygana across most of the area. However, in certain areas such as the region east of Kremasta Monastery, around the Drassi valley, on the hill of Dreros and between Peronides and Adravastos, maquis is making a comeback. Almost everywhere, visitors can admire the impressive adaptation of the wild olive tree and kermes oak to tens of thousands of years' overgrazing. When the new shoots are grazed, their tips dry and harden to form sharp thorns. Two or three new shoots immediately sprout from the eyes further down the stem. The kermes oak or wild olive is gradually transformed into a compact bush with thorny shoots to prevent grazing. The leaves also become smaller and multiply. A “katsoprini�, as stunted oaks are called in Crete, grows slowly for many decades until it is tall enough for a branch to grow where the grazers can't reach it. Only then does it develop into a tree. Water-loving and aquatic plants are restricted to riverbeds (plane trees, canebreaks) and seasonal ponds, or temporary Mediterranean ponds as they are known. The latter type of aquatic biotope is very important to the area. The basic species are rushes, bulrushes, pondweed, buttercups and the smallest angiosperm in the world, lesser duckweed (Lemna minor). The largest ponds, covering from 500 to 7,000 square metres, are located in Agios Konstantinos, east of Kastelli, between Kastelli and Fourni, in Kourounes, south of Syrmeso, and north and south of Dories. There are also dozens of large water cisterns in the area. Aquatic plants in the Kourounes wetland.




Spiny broom (Genista acanthoclada), with its sharp thorns, prefers areas which have been grazed for a long time.

One out of two Greek plants is found only in the Mediterranean and nowhere else in the world. Many places have a wide variety of plants; Crete, with its 1,735 native species, is a true botanical paradise. It also boasts more endemic plants (over 200 endemic species and subspecies) than any other Mediterranean island.The flora of Crete is extremely poor in forest species, but extremely rich in small annuals or perennials with various adaptations in order to avoid, resist or recover from overgrazing. The flora of the Neapoli area is typical of middle and low elevations. Visitors from central and western Europe are always amazed at the great many thorny plants. Some are perennial Phrygana species, such as thorny burnet (Sarcopoterium spinosum), spiny spurge (Euphorbia acanthothamnos), hairy thorny broom (Calycotome villosa) and spiny broom (Genista acanthoclada). There are also many edible annuals which protect themselves from grazers with very sharp spines; these include cornflowers (Centaurea idaea), milk thistle (Silybum marianum), donkey thistle (Onopordum bracteatum), Syrian thistle (Notobasis syriaca) and others. Other species have an unpleasant taste. Mullein (Verbascum macrurum), false dittany (Ballota pseudodictamnus, B. acetabulosa) and Jerusalem sage (Phlomis lanata) have very hairy leaves and shoots. When desiccated, the hairs (especially those of the latter) irritate the mucous membranes, throat and eyes. Spurges (Euphorbia characias, Euphorbia dendroides, etc.) have far more effective protection. Herbivores leave them


The yellow flowers of hairy thorny broom (Calycotome villosa).


alone because their stems and leaves contain poisonous, milky sap. This is why tree spurge is abundant along the hilly coasts of Neapoli and in the hills and dry riverbeds north of Latsida. Some plants, such as rockrose (Cistus spp.) excrete sticky resinous laudanum from glands in their leaves. In Sisses in Rethymno, where Cretan rockrose (Cistus creticus) flourishes, this resin used to be an important source of income, as laudanum was used in making incense and in distillation. Herbs are another typical feature of Cretan flora. In last spring and particularly in summer, the air is flooded with the essential oils released by Greek sage (Salvia fruticosa), Cretan oregano (Origanum onites) and Mediterranean thyme (Thymus capitatus). In spring the whole landscape is transformed into a multicoloured carpet of flowering plants. The blazing yellow of Jerusalem sage and broom covers many areas, but north of Kourounes as far as Nofalias it is so intense that it is actually visible in satellite images. There are flowers of every hue, but the most colourful are undoubtedly the bee and other orchids (Ophrys spp.) Some plants prefer to grow in cracks in the walls and floors of ruined houses. The most typical of these are spreading pellitory (Parietaria judaica), squill (Urtica spp.) and wild fig (Ficus carica), while there are also many rock plants. At least 8% of plants in the Neapoli area are endemic to Crete, with a far higher percentage on craggy hillsides. Some of the most impressive and easily recognised species are rock lettuce (Petromarula pinnata) and campanula (Campanula spp.) Man has unwittingly or deliberately introduced several plant species, but very few have adapted to their environment and can propagate without human help. Exceptions include the prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica), which spreads slowly through deserted villages, and the distinctive yellow Bermuda buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae). This plant arrived in Crete from South Africa about a century ago, possibly in earth containing bulbs. Today it is everywhere, a feature of nearly all Cretan ecosystems.




d. a. Spiny spurge (Euphorbia acanthothamnos). b. Two similar plants, thorny burnet (Poterium spinosum) on the left and spiny spurge (Euphorbia acanthothamnos) on the right, fighting for the same spot. c. One of the largest species of donkey thistle on Crete (Onopordum bracteatum). d. Cornflowers (Centaurea idaea) are a common endemic plant of Crete.




a. Mediterranean spurge (Euphorbia characias). b. The endemic Jerusalem sage of Crete (Phlomis lanata) Bottom left: Sharp thorns protect the precious flower of the Syrian thistle (Notobasis syriaca).

Right: Mullein (Verbascum macrurum) is relatively common in the area.


Cretan rockrose (Cistus creticus), from which laudanum is harvested.

Sage-leaved rockrose (Cistus salvifolius) with its white flowers.

Tree spurge (Euphorbia dendroides) can grow to over 2.5 metres tall.

Flowering oregano (Origanum onites).

Thyme (Coridothymus capitatus).

Sage (Salvia fruticosa).

Right: The endemic yellow bee orchid (Ophrys cressa).


Ophrys heldreichi bee orchid.


Late spider orchid (Ophrys holoserica).





a. Impressive rock lettuce flowers (Petromarula pinnata) b. Endemic campanula (Campanula tubulosa).

c. Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum)


Four-spotted orchid (Orchis quatripunctata).

Left: Endemic rock lettuce (Petromarula pinnata).





Salsify flower (Tragopogon porrifolius).

Left: a. Impressive dragon arum flower (Dracunculus vulgaris). b. Field gladiolus (Gladiolus italicus), the only gladiolus species on Crete. c. The papery flowers of wavyleaf sea-lavender or statice (Limonium sinuatum).

Βρυώνια (Bryonia cretica) η μοναδική αγριοκολοκυθιά της Κρήτης.

Sea squill (Urginea maritima), a common bulb.

Yellow horned poppy (Glaucium flavium), a common flower of the coast.


Chamomile (Anthemis chia).

Thread-leaved water-crowfoot (Ranunculus trichophyllus), a tiny freshwater plant found in local wetlands.

Cretan cyclamen (Cyclamen creticum) grows in shady spots, usually in kermes oak woods.

Left: Fields of asphodel (Asphodelus ramosus) grow in systematically overgrazed areas.


Prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica).


Duckweed abounds in local cisterns and wetlands.

Lesser duckweed (Lemna minor), the smallest angiosperm.

Bermuda buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae), the most successful invader.



Spring marks a population explosion of dragonflies and many other insects in wetlands

Except for some insects (bees and wasps) and of course scorpions with their painful sting, no animal on Crete is dangerous to man. Visitors can therefore stroll around the countryside at their leisure. Cretan fauna is rich in endemic and stenoendemic species (species with a very limited habitat), especially invertebrates. Some groups of the latter are up to 30% endemic to Crete, and the wider area of Neapoli Municipality is one of the “hotspots� for these. As most visitors are unlikely to be interested in invertebrates, we will not provide a detailed account but simply note that if you lift any of the numberless rocks around, you will find a large number of different species of snails, isopods, arachnids, insects, etc. On average, at least one in four of the species you see is only found on Crete. In some ecosystems such as caves, invertebrate endemicity is much higher, over 80%. Many groups of animal fully adapted to living in harsh cave environments are stenoendemic. The caves of Neapoli contain species found in caves across Crete (e.g. the orthoptera Trogophilus spinulosus and Discoptila lindbergi), species only found in east Crete (e.g. the blind, colourless isopod Schizidium perplexum), and species restricted to the caves of the Lassithi Mountains and the Merambello area (e.g. the Cretan cave cricket Dolichopoda paraskevi). With the exception of flying species such as birds and bats, modern Crete is poor in vertebrates. This is mostly due to the long-term isolation of the island and its relatively great distance from the nearest mainland.


Flatworms in the Drasi springs.


Today, however, vertebrate species are far more evenly balanced than they were tens of thousands of years ago, when large herbivores predominated in the absence of predators. Two of the three amphibian species of Crete are found in Neapoli Municipality: the green toad (Bufo viridis) and the tree frog (Hyla arborea). Both species share the same habitat and visit streams and seasonal wetlands in spring to give birth. In late spring the ponds are full of tadpoles, a rich source of food for many migratory birds. The endemic Cretan water frog (Rana cretensis) has not been found in the area, but there may be small, hidden populations. If it is absent, this is due to water pollution in the recent past. There are, however, water frogs in nearby areas south and east of the municipality, and recolonisation is probably just a question of time. The species is very sensitive to pollution, so its reappearance will prove that the water is clean. There are only small reptile populations in the area, as in most of Crete. At least eight of the eleven species found on the island are present here. The Mediterranean house gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) is common in every village and even in the town of Neapoli itself, while the rarer Moorish gecko (Tarentola

Large Egyptian locust (Anacridum aegyptium).

mauritanica) prefers ruined houses and windmills. The largest lizard on Crete, the Balkan green lizard (Lacerta trilineata) is probably the only lizard you will actually spot, thanks to its colour and size. It is very active in the summer, in the dry riverbeds and hills north of Neapoli and as far as the coast. Yet even Crete, which lacks poisonous reptiles, has its myth. A harmless lizard, the occelated skink (Chalcides occelatus), which spends most of its life hiding under rocks, is the most misunderstood animal in Crete and other parts of the Mediterranean. Local people believe it to be extremely poisonous. An old folk rhyme about it is preserved to this day: “If it bites you with its mouth look for a doctor and a bed, if it bites you with its tail find a coffin and a priest�. In fact, of course, the skink is not poisonous and lives on worms and insects. Three of the four species of snake on Crete have definitely been identified in the area, all in very limited numbers. The dice snake (Natrix tesselata) is relatively common wherever there is water (cisterns, springs, streams, seasonal ponds) and mainly eats amphibians. It also hunts mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis), formerly introduced to the area to deal with mosquitoes. The colourful leopard snake (Elaphe situla) and the cat snake (Telescopus fallax), the only rear-fanged snake on the island, are less common. The Balkan whip snake (Coluber gemonensis) is probably also present. The only Cretan land turtle actually lives in the water. The Balkan terrapin (Mauremys rivulata) is common in the Neapoli area. You can see dozens of them at any time of year on the banks of the stream north of Latsida and in the many pools among the reeds. Fifteen of the sixteen land mammals of Crete, all nocturnal, are found in the area. The symbol of Cretan fauna, the agrimi or Cretan wild goat (Capra aegagrus cretica) once lived here, mainly in the mountainous south of the municipality. Introduced by Neolithic man, the agrimi was found across the whole island until at least the 18th century. It was last seen on Mt


Cretan tree frog (Hyla arborea)


Dicte in the early 20th century. Today this animal, which has had such a marked influence on Cretan art, is restricted to the White Mountains. Insect-eating mammals include three species of shrew - the Etruscan shrew (Suncus etruscus), the lesser white-toothed shrew (Crocidura suaveolens) and the Cretan white-toothed shrew (Crocidura zimmermanni) - and the Eastern European hedgehog (Erinaceus concolor). The Etruscan shrew is one of the smallest mammals in the world, usually weighing up to three grammes. The Cretan white-toothed shrew is the only mammal endemic to Crete and Greece and the last survivor of the Quaternary Period. There are five species of rodent: the Cretan spiny mouse (Acomys cahirinus minous), the broad-toothed field mouse (Apodemus mystacinus), the wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus), the house mouse (Mus domesticus) and the black rat (Rattus rattus). The most exotic species is the Cretan spiny mouse, until recently considered endemic to Crete. The hairs on its back form coarse spiny bristles. House mice and rats are definitely the commonest species in the area. Another species, the fat dormouse (Myoxus glis), may live in the woods in the

The common chequered blue butterfly (male Pseudophilotes vicrama).

south of the municipality. The brown hare (Lepus europaeus) is common in the area despite being widely hunted, while there may also be wild rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in the southern foothills of Mt Dicte. Of the carnivores, beech martens (Martes foina) and least weasels (Mustela nivalis) are very common in the area, while the Eurasian badgers (Meles meles) are rarer. Cretan wild cats (Felis silvestris cretensis) were discovered on Mt Dicte a few years ago, and they may have spread as far as the southern borders of the municipality. This “ghost animal� was introduced to Crete by humans in times past and is more closely related to North African wildcats than the European wildcat found in mainland Greece. The bats of Crete comprise 17 of the 33 species reported in Greece. There is no reason why all seventeen should not be present in Neapoli Municipality at various times of year. The many caves and ruined buildings in the area are vital for nesting bats. Greater (Myotis myotis) and lesser (Myotis blythi) mouse-eared bats have been found nesting in sea caves in the municipality, the first time the former have been reported on Crete. Small populations of three further species have been discovered in caves in the interior: the Schreiber's longfingered bat (Miniopterus schreibersi), the greater horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum) and the lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros). Many European free-tailed bats (Tadarida teniotis) have been spotted on their afternoon flights, south of Vrysses. We know very little about the bird life of the area (with the possible exception of the Elounda salt-marshes). About 200 species are estimated to nest in or pass through the area. With over 420 bird species, Greece is one of the richest countries in Europe, especially for breeding species (at least 243). However, this number falls when moving from north to south: there are 219 species in Macedonia, 153 in Central Greece, 104 in the


Mediterranean house gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)

A Balkan green lizard (Lacerta trilineata), the largest lizard on Crete.


Peloponnese and only 85 in Crete. One of the commonest species near human habitations is the house sparrow (Passer domesticus), while Eurasian collared doves (Streptopelia decaocto) are particularly numerous in the town of Neapoli. The latter like living in close proximity to man; originally from Asia, they colonised European cities in the 1930s and soon spread throughout the world. They have nested in Crete for about 30 years. Other common resident species living in and around towns and villages are blackbirds (Turdus merula), Sardinian warblers (Sylvia melanocephala) and great tits (Parus major). In late spring the barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) arrive to nest. Wherever you go, you can see and hear the migratory birds abundant in the area: small charms of colourful goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis), more solitary greenfinches (Carduelis chloris), and larger groups of grey-brown chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs) with their distinctive white wing-bars. The crested lark (Galerida cristata), a resident in the area, is more common in the north, mainly in coastal scrubland. The woodchat shrike (Lanius senator), a colourful summer visitor from central Africa which comes here to nest, also prefers bushy scrub. As soon as they arrive in April, the nesting pairs define and vigorously defend an area of several dozen square kilometres to hunt insects and small reptiles in. White wagtails (Motacilla alba) with their distinctive black-and-white colouring and grey wagtails (Motacilla cinerea) with their grey head and back and yellow or yellowwhite breast are common, while yellow wagtails (Motacilla flava) are summer visitors and/or passing migrants which generally prefer wetlands. There are also many species of bird of prey. Look up and you will see common buzzards (Buteo buteo), the commonest raptor, and kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) hovering in the air. In the summer, peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) circle round dry riverbeds. These are the fastest

Mediterranean chequered scorpion (Mesobuthus gibbosus), the rarest local scorpion.

In late spring the wetlands of Neapoli Municipality are full of tree frog and green toad tadpoles.


There are no native freshwater fish on Crete. Mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis) were imported to deal with mosquitoes.

Balkan terrapin (Mauremys rivulata) near Latsida


animals in the world, diving at speeds of up to 400 km/hour! In the springtime, Eleonora's falcons (Falco eleonorae) arrive from distant Madagascar. These travellers come to nest in the rocky cliffs of the Greek islands, their preferred destination - 70% of the world population (3,000 breeding pairs) come here! In late spring and all through the summer, you can see many individual Eleonora's falcons flying over the valley of Neapoli as far the north coast. Griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus) are also commonly seen. This majestic vulture nests in Neapoli Municipality. The nearest nest, where you can admire them up close, is under a crag in Selinari gorge, opposite the Monastery of Agios Georgios. You will be very lucky indeed to see the other vulture of Mt Dicte, the lammergeier or bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), as only seven are left across the whole mountain. Lammergeiers used to be quite common in Greece, but their population has dropped dramatically over the past century and today they only breed in Crete, where about 30 individuals remain. At night the quiet is broken by the long purring call of the nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) and the distinctive “dyoo� call of the scops owl (Otus scops), which sounds like a monotonous monosyllabic duet between these small owls. The largest nocturnal local predator is the common barn owl (Tyta alba). With its pure white belly, yellowish back and heart-shaped face, the barn owl is the most impressive nocturnal bird on Crete. It flies soundlessly and nests or roosts in the many

a. Great tit (Parus major).





b. Crested lark (Galerida cristata) on the north coast.

c. Colourful goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis). d. Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs).

Sardinian warbler (Sylvia melanocephala).

Male woodchat shrike (Lanius senator) monitoring his territory in Kourounes.

windmills in the area, and also in caves. It chiefly eats small ground mammals such as mice and shrews. It plays a very important ecological role, as it can consume over 1,500 mice a year! It regurgitates the indigestible fur and bones in black pellets. From an analysis of many owl pellets we found in a cave in Xerolimni and a windmill in Nofalias, we discovered that they mainly eat house mice (60%) and to a lesser extent the other local mice and shrews. April and May are the best months for bird-watching in Neapoli Municipality, as this is when migratory birds arrive from Africa. Seasonal wetlands in particular draw a large number of species, as they are full of weeds, invertebrates and tadpoles. In the winter, these rare ecosystems prepare to welcome their exhausted visitors and offer them valuable places to rest and eat. Here you can see many large birds such as grey herons (Ardea cinerea) and little egrets (Egretta garzetta), and smaller species including little ringed plovers (Charadrius dubius) and wood sandpipers (Tringa glareola). Even very rare birds such as glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus), which ceased to breed in Greece years ago, visit the shallow wetland waters of Neapoli.

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica), the best-known urban summer visitors.

Yellow wagtail (Motacilla flava).

A sparrow (Passer domesticus), the commonest town bird

The Eurasian collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto), an Asian invader

Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) from the mountain zone.

Jackdaw (Corvus monendula).


a. Wood sandpiper (Tringa glareola).





b. Little egret (Egretta garzetta) in Agios Konstantinos. c. Rare glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) in the wetland east of Dreros. d. Little ringed plover (Charadrius dubius) in Agios Konstantinos.

Bottom: Grey heron (Ardea cinerea) in Kourounes.

Raptors often circle over the area looking for carrion.

Common buzzard (Buteo buteo), the most common bird of prey in the area.

The griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) nest on Selinari.


Top: Dolichopoda paraskevi, a cave cricket endemic to the Lassithi Mountains and Kato Merambello.



a. The cave-dwelling isopod Schizidium perplexum. b. Cretan cave cricket (Discoptila lindbergi) c. Dolichopoda paraskevi, a cave cricket endemic to the Lassithi Mountains and Kato Merambello.



The greater mouseeared bat (Myotis myotis) was first discovered in Crete in a local sea cave.

Lesser mouse-eared bats (Myotis blythi) reproduce in local sea caves.



Villages and farmsteads

The Municipality of Neapoli contains one town and a relatively large number of villages and metochia (seasonal farmsteads or monastic dependencies), many of which have been established to farm the series of small, fertile valleys. Today many of these are almost wholly deserted, giving the impression that time has stopped at some point in the last century. Inhabited or not, both villages and farms are open museums of an invaluable cultural heritage, which both visitors and locals should treat with respect. Today the Municipality of Neapoli has a population of 6,765 in 10 Municipal Departments, while the town of Neapoli itself has 2,767 inhabitants. The town, villages and major farmsteads of the Municipality of Neapoli, according to municipal department, are as follows:

Panoramic view of the main square of Neapoli.


Neapoli Municipal Department

Neapoli at dusk, seen from the slopes of Kavallaras.


The town of Neapoli is situated 55 km from Heraklion and 15 km from Agios Nikolaos. It lies more or less in the centre of the Merambello valley, the breadbasket of the prefecture in centuries gone by. The town is strategically placed on the pass linking east Crete to the rest of the island from antiquity. To the north is the peak of Timios Stavros (793 m), its skyline spoiled by television masts, while to the south is Kavalaras (740 m), its slopes covered in kermes oaks. Kenourgio Chorio (New Village), as Neapoli was known during the Turkish occupation, was mentioned in 1577 as the second-largest village in Merambello District after Kritsa. The original village, however, had existed since at least the Second Byzantine Period, near the Vigli spring on the border with Voulismeni. The name Neapoli (New Town) was bestowed on it in 1868 by the Christian Governor, Adosides Kostis Pasha, who transferred the seat of the Turkish administration here from Kastelli Fournis. The new town flourished. Many public works were undertaken and beautiful buildings constructed which still adorn it today. There are three characteristic types of building: the beautiful Neoclassical houses with their wonderful balconies and flowering gardens; the simple stone houses built of hard grey Merambello limestone; and the concrete structures of the 1960s and '70s. The development of Agios Nikolaos, Hersonissos and Malia depleted the town's population and finances in

The building housing the Environmental Education Centre, the Heliakios Library and the Historical Archives of Neapoli.

The Cathedral of Megali Panagia in the main square.

the late 20th century, but now Neapoli is recovering again, as ease of transport has allowed many people to stay in their birthplace. Neapoli also offers a peace, gentility and quality of life hard to find in other more urbanised or touristy towns. There is a police station, a hospital, a court of law, a Citizens' Service Centre, a children's activity centre, a Community Centre for the elderly, banks, an extremely interesting Folk Museum with a wealth of exhibits, an Archaeological Collection, the Heliakios Municipal Library and a very active Environmental Education Centre. Neapoli is also the seat of the Metropolitan See of Petra and Herronissos, which does many good works at its various establishments. In the main square stands the imposing Cathedral of Megali Panagia (the Great Virgin), which instantly draws the visitor's gaze. Adravastos A small village north of Neapoli, with 14 inhabitants according to the 1981 census but none today. Access is via the village of Nofalias. Amygdalea A small village of 11 inhabitants according to the 2001 census, near the north coast, just before the Souvlos farmstead. Dilakkos and Agia Sophia Two tiny neighbouring farmsteads on the road to Koudoumalos and Finokalia. There were 26 inhabitants in the 1981 census, falling to 12 in 2001. 200 metres northwest of Agia Sophia are four very old, large cisterns 3-5 metres in diameter, where there is water all year round. 83

Right: Makrygennisa, a small farmstead on the banks of the Chalasmata stream.

Koudoumalos A small village of 12 inhabitants according to the 1981 census, with 14 in 2001. A dirt track heads north from the northern end of the village, leading to the retreat of Agios Andreas and the Chalasmata stream. Kourounes A village east of Neapoli, on the road to Nofalias and Koudoumalos. There were 104 inhabitants in the 1981 census and 66 in 2001. The village was formed by the amalgamation of neighbouring farmsteads. 500 metres south of the village stand two imposing windmills, with another in excellent condition 800 metres to the east. The most important natural feature is a wetland of 2.5 sq. km at the south end of the village. In the spring it draws many migratory and other birds, forming a veritable oasis in an otherwise dry and arid landscape. Makrygennisa A small village north of Neapoli and 1.5 km northeast of Nofalias village, on the bank of the Chalasmata stream. There were eight inhabitants in 1981 and five in 2001. Nofalias A village north of Neapoli, about midway between the town and the north coast. It is built on a saddle between two hills and its name, meaning “navel�, is probably due to its central position on daily routes in centuries past. It is recorded as Omphalias in the 1881 census. There were 66 inhabitants in 1981 and 38 in 2001. The surrounding area is wooded, with large kermes oaks.

Nofalias and the hill of Anydros with its dense kermes oak copses.


Patsopoulos A small village with a population of 17 in the 2001 census. Perambela A small village comprising three farmsteads, with eight permanent residents in 1981 and 13 in 2001. Access is from a crossroads about midway between Kourounes and Nofalias. The village is believed to have been founded by the people who worked the lands of the nearby Monastery of Panagia (the Virgin Mary). Perambela, a small dependency of Panagia Monastery, in a little-farmed area with recovering maquis.

Peronides Reached by a road from the south end of Nofalias village. There were 11 inhabitants in 1981 but the village was reported abandoned in 2001. About halfway along the road from Nofalias is a large copse of kermes oaks, lentiscs, wild pear and olive trees. Petros A small village reached along a dirt track from Kourounes. There were seven inhabitants in 1981 but none in 2001. Romanos A small village accessible along a road from Nofalias. There were 14 inhabitants in 1981 and eight in 2001. 86

Souvlos Very close to the north coast of Neapoli Municipality. 14 inhabitants were reported in the 1981 census, with just two in 2001. Finokalia A small village on the north coast, mentioned in the 1881 census. There were 35 inhabitants in 1981 and 14 in 2001. Lithomandra A tiny ruined farmstead on the borders of Neapoli and Agios Nikolaos Municipalities, with only seven inhabitants in 1961 and now completely abandoned.

Agios Antonios Municipal Department Agios Antonios A village north of Neapoli near the coast, with 17 inhabitants in 2001. Amygdalolakkos A small village accessible from Nofalias. There were five inhabitants in the 1981 census and three in 2001.

The small farmstead of Amygdalolakkos close to Anogia.



Anogia A small village just before the north coast of Neapoli Municipality, with 29 inhabitants according to the 1981 census and 16 in 2001. Kounalio 1.5 km distant from the historic Milatos Cave. There were 44 inhabitants in 2001. Tsabi A village very close to Kounalio, on the road to Agios Antonios. It had a population of 17 in 1981 and nine in 2001.

Voulismeni Municipal Department Voulismeni A village of 342 inhabitants (2001 census), 1.5 km west of Neapoli. It was recorded in 1248 as a deserted dependency of the Metropolitan See of Hersonissos. The name of the village, meaning “sunken�, probably refers to the instability of the earthen hills on which it is built. Like the other villages of the Neapoli valley, it has rich orchards and vegetable plots, although they are not particularly well tended today. Most young people are no longer interested in looking after the family vegetable garden.


The hills south of the village, running east to the borders of Neapoli Municipality above Houmeriako, are covered with large kermes oaks forming a wood which has now unfortunately been largely destroyed by fire. Xerolimni The village, first mentioned by name in the 1920 census, used to be part of Latsida Community. There were 18 inhabitants in 1981 and 24 in 2001.

Vrysses Municipal Department

Vrysses with Neapoli in the background.

Vrysses A village southeast of Neapoli, on the road to the Lassithi Plateau. It is built on the northeast slopes of Mt Kavallaras, and most of the stone houses have a panoramic view of Neapoli and the valley to the east. 315 inhabitants were recorded in the 2001 census. Just outside the village is the little church of Prophitis Ilias (Prophet Elijah), commanding an even better view of the mountains round the Lassithi Plateau and part of the Drassi valley. The whole hillside on which the village stands, forming the eastern end of the Selena mountains, is blanketed in rich maquis vegetation. An archaeological excavation near Prophitis Ilias has brought to light the second-largest postMinoan city after Dreros.


Drassi A small farmstead after Vrysses on the road to the Lassithi Plateau. Only three inhabitants were recorded in the 2001 census. Recently the municipality established a picnic area next to the large cistern where the spring water collects. The abundant running water is used to irrigate the many local orchards. West of Drassi rises a hilly saddle occupied by a small farmstead, Lagada, which has given its name to the area.

Karydi Municipal Department Karydi The village, with a population of 103 in 2001, lies 1 km south of the historic Areti Monastery on the road to Kastelli Fournis. Its name, meaning “walnut�, is variously said to be derived from the name of the founder or from the dozen or so walnut trees growing in the village, a rarity in the area. In the small valley between the new village and the old, now abandoned, are five large cisterns, still preserved in good condition and full of water today.

Kastelli Fournis Municipal Department Kastelli A village of 202 inhabitants in 2001, lying east of Neapoli at an altitude of 300 Panoramic view of the small valley and village of Karydi.


The large cistern and picnic area at Drassi, with the Lagada saddle in the background

The stone cisterns at Karydi, used down the ages


Kastelli Fournis.

Ruined windmills in the Galaropetra area, with Kastelli Fournis and the Lassithi Mountains in the background.


metres above sea level. It is mentioned by this name in 1571, while as early as 1415 the traveller Cristoforo Buondelmonti referred to “Kastelli sti Fourni”, i.e. the “Castle on Fourni”, meaning that there was a fortress here in Venetian times. Together with Epano and Kato Fourni, it now forms the larger village of Fourni. All three villages are set in a small depression with fertile fields; if only there were more water for irrigation they would be even more productive. There are many cisterns in the area. Some are particularly interesting, being cylindrical with a spiral staircase, similar to the central water cistern of nearby ancient Dreros. 1.5 km before the village is a small valley which is transformed

into a little lake with rich flora and fauna in the winter and spring. Its abundance of water and relatively large surface attract many migratory birds, including endangered species. Here and near the other seasonal ponds in the wider area, visitors must be very careful not to disturb the wild birds.

Latsida Municipal Department Interior of the church of Panagia Keragoniotissa, Latsida.

Latsida The village lies at the western end of the Merambello basin and had 279 inhabitants according to the 2001 census. It was mentioned in 1305 in a document drawn up by the notary public Pietro Pizolo. There are many stone houses in good condition, tempting visitors to explore its narrow streets. A few hundred metres south of the village is the Byzantine church of Panagia Keragoniotissa, set in a verdant landscape.

View of Latsida from the neighbouring hill to the west.

Agori A village north of Latsida with just two inhabitants in 1981 and 21 in 2001. It is close to the historic Milatos Cave. Zourva A small farmstead north of Latsida village, with no permanent residents for the last twenty years. 93

Nikithianos Municipal Department Nikithianos A village east of Neapoli, with a population of 88 according to the 2001 census. Although it is only a few metres from the new Heraklion-Agios Nikolaos national road, there is no access to it from the latter. You can reach it only via Neapoli, on the old national road. The road from the centre of the village leads to Kastelli, Fourni and Areti Monastery. At the north end of the village, next to the national road, are the ruins of 15 windmills used to mill the once-abundant provision of grain from the valley of Neapoli. Today the main cultivar is the olive.

An alleyway in Nikithianos.


Platypodio An old farmstead near Houmeriakos village, with a population of 23 in the 1981 census and 12 in 2001. It is mentioned by name by Francesco Barozzi as early as 1577. In Venetian times the village had far more inhabitants, and still comprised 160 families in 1834. Today only a few stone houses remain, and any ruins are buried under the olive groves.

Fourni Municipal Department Epano (Upper) and Kato (Lower) Fourni These two villages, only 70 metres apart, are practically one. They are just one kilometre east of Kastelli Fourni, the third village known as Fourni. All three villages are set in the same depression, with fertile fields. Lack of water is the main obstacle to more intensive cultivation, which is why there are so many cisterns in the area. There were 203 inhabitants in 2001. Kato Fourni was also known as Abramochori, after the great Venetocretan Abrami family who once lived there. It is mentioned by that name from 1577 onwards.

The villages of Epano and Kato Fourni.

Dories A village northeast of Neapoli on the road to Karydi and Areti Monastery, with 78 inhabitants in 2001. In the winter and spring there is a seasonal wetland to the south. In the summer the only water in the area is that in the cisterns, and in the 2.5-sq. km reservoir at the north end of the village. The stone-andconcrete sides of the reservoir are steep and it is surrounded by a fence.


Right: Syrmeso, a small farmstead. Houmeriakos with its fertile olive groves.

Syrmeso A tiny village northeast of Neapoli, reached from a junction about midway along the Fourni-Dories road. In 1981 there were just three inhabitants, doubling to six in 2001. It is recorded as “Simerson” in a contract dated 1590, in which the monk Nicodemus Kalochryssos donated land for the foundation of the Monastery of Megalos Antonios. The earliest mention of the name is in the list of fiefdoms of the Merambello turma (administrative district) in the 13th14th century. Havgas The easternmost village of Neapoli Municipality, just 2 km from Plaka, Elounda. Only one inhabitant was recorded in the 1981 census, rising to four in 2001.

Houmeriakos Municipal Department

Agios Konstantinos, the small church of Konstantinos kai Eleni.

Houmeriakos A village 3 km southeast of Neapoli, with a population of 273 in 2001. During the Venetian occupation it was the second-largest village in the area after Neapoli. It was a rich place, as its inhabitants cultivated the fertile valley of Neapoli, growing grain and olives, a fact recorded as early as 1700. Two 16th-century churches are preserved: that of Agia Triada (the Holy Trinity) and the church of Agii Nikolaos kai Ioannis (Ss Nicholas and John). The village was mentioned by the traveller Joseph Pitton de Tournefort in 1700 as “Commeriaco”. Agios Konstantinos A small village on the road to Agios Nikolaos via Mesa and Exo Lakonia. There were eight inhabitants in 1981 and 28 according to the 2001 census, but today there are no permanent residents. The houses are built along a bend in the road, concealing the small green valley with its seasonal lake of 7 sq. km northeast of the village. A visitor standing on the banks of the lake loses all sense of direction, surrounded by dense vegetation and rich bird life. At the north end of the village is the church of Agii Konstantinos kai Eleni (Ss Constantine and Helen) with its wonderful wall paintings, many of which are unfortunately lost.


Historic Monasteries

Visitors are often surprised by the relatively large number of monasteries in the Municipality of Neapoli, especially the eastern part. Monasticism began to thrive shortly before the Turkish invasion, thanks to the increased privileges and the (albeit belatedly) tolerant attitude of the Venetians towards Orthodox Cretans. Most of the monasteries were founded between 1550 and 1650, while those of Kremasta, Kardamoutza and Areti were particularly famous and wealthy, even during the period of the Turkish occupation. Several monasteries have been restored in the past decade, mainly on the initiative of the Metropolitan See of Petra and Herronissos. Whether restored or not, however, all are well worth a visit to admire their beautiful carved wooden icon screens, ancient icons and unique wall paintings.

Detail of the carved wooden icon screen of Keramos Monastery.

Left: Inside the cave church of Agios Andreas.


Right: Retreat of Agios Andreas

Retreat of Agios Andreas (St Andrew). An isolated retreat with a cave church dedicated to Agios Andreas. It is reached from the northern end of Koudoumalos village, along a rough dirt track running north downhill nearly to the sea. The church and the nearby buildings were built in the 19th century by monk Ioannis Lambrakis, who came here to live away from the world. At the back of the cave are three clay basins, set there to collect the water dripping from the stalactites. This “holy water” is considered medicinal by the faithful. Monastery of Agios Georgios (St George) at Xera Xyla. A dependency of Epanosifi Monastery. It lies north of Neapoli and is reached by a dirt track from Kourounes village. The first recorded reference is dated 1635. The icon of St George with the “unsleeping lamp” that is never allowed to go out, now in Epanosifi Monastery, comes from here. The monastery is preserved in relatively good condition, as the monks' cells are tended by shepherds and farmers who rent the monastery land.

Keramos Monastery.


Keramos Monastery. A partially restored monastery reached by the dirt track forking off just before Kastelli Fournis. It was founded by the Kantzaras family in 1644, shortly before the Turkish invasion of Crete. Abandoned in the early 20th century, it soon fell


The twelve cypresses in the courtyard of Areti Monastery, symbolising the Twelve Apostles.

Right: Elegant monastic simplicity at Areti.


into ruin. The repair of the north cells, the church and the courtyard has restored some of its former glory. Outside the main entrance, visitors can refresh both body and soul in the deep shade of a huge oak tree. Areti Monastery. This is the most important monastery in Neapoli Municipality and the one with the greatest history. It was founded in 1600 by Markos Papadopoulos, who funded both the buildings and the monks. It remained in operation throughout the Turkish occupation and was accorded the privileges of a stavropegiac monastery (i.e. exempt from the episcopate, under the direct control of the Patriarchate). Today the monastery has been fully restored on the initiative of Nectarios, Metropolitan Bishop of Petra and Herronissos. Visitors can thus admire the large building complex and the monastery church with its carved wooden icon screen and icons, all restored to their former grandeur.

Left: The beautiful carved wooden icon screen of Keramos Monastery.

The exquisite icon screen of Areti Monastery.

Kardamoutza Monastery.

Kardamoutza Monastery. The monastery was founded between 1570 and 1580 by the Kantzaras family. The buildings are particularly ornate, embellished with large carved archways and high-ceilinged rooms, second only to those of nearby Areti Monastery. The monastery is currently undergoing restoration. South of the monastery church, an inscribed plaque marks the spot where the priest-monk Manassis Kantzaras was laid to rest in August 1617.


Inside Kardamoutza Monastery.

Kardamoutza Monastery church with the tomb of founder Manassis Kantzaras, laid to rest in August 1617.


Well-made stone arches at Kardamoutza, currently in the process of restoration.

Koufopetra Monastery. Founded in 1866 by the nun Irene Chlapoutaki, 400 metres north of Kremasta Monastery, probably on the site of an earlier monastery. The church is dedicated to the Annunciation of the Virgin. The monastery was a special place of pilgrimage until the death of the last monks in the early 20th century. Kremasta Monastery. The monastery commands a strategic position on the road to the Lassithi Plateau. This meant that it was both enriched by passing Christians and troubled by passing Turks. The monks' position was rendered even more precarious by the fact that a secret school was run there from 1840 to the end of the 19th century. Over the entrance to the church is inscribed the date 1593 and the name of the founder, Metrophanes Agapetos. Today the Monastery has been restored and visitors can cool off in the shade of its many trees. The following monasteries are also located within the administrative district of the Municipality of Neapoli: the Monasteries of Agios Antonios and Agia Varvara in Syrmeso, the Monastery of Kardiotissa Kerapolitissa, that of Panagia Korasani, those of Agios Antonios and Prophitis Ilias in Karydi, the Monastery of Konstantinos and Eleni in Dories, the Monastery of the Theotokos in Perambela, that of Agii Pandes in Houmeriako and that of Panagia in Vigli.


Archaeological sites

One of the few remaining walls on the east hill of Dreros.

The post-Minoan city of Dreros is the most important archaeological sites in Neapoli Municipality and the only one open to the public. Set on twin hills only 3 km east of Neapoli, it is well worth a visit. Other local archaeological sites, such as the important post-Minoan site at Vrysses and the necropolis of Dreros, are still in the process of excavation. Instead you can visit the archaeological collection in the main square of Neapoli. The ruins of Dreros are scattered across two hills facing each other. The traveller Cristoforo Buondelmonti referred to an ancient ruined city here in 1415. The name probably means “wooded area�. It is strategically positioned on the pass linking central and east Crete, controlling the fertile valley of Neapoli. Finds indicate that its ancient inhabitants enjoyed a relatively high quality of life and had commercial relations with other cities. The first archaeological find to come to light was a square stone bearing a Doric inscription, found by farmers in 1855. This is the famous Oath of the 180 Youths of Dreros, taken on their initiation into manhood, and swearing enmity to the Lyctians and Miletians and friendship to their Knossian allies. The inscription, dated to the mid-4th century BC, was removed by the Turkish authorities and taken to Constantinople, where it remains today. The first excavation was undertaken by Stefanos Xanthoudides in 1917. The most important finds were a bronze gorgoneion (Gorgon face) and the Classical Temple of Apollo Delphinios, now restored, on the level area below the saddle between the two hills. Another excavation by Spyridon Marinatos in 1935 revealed three bronze statues, one male and two female, now in Heraklion


Inside the restored Temple of Apollo Delphinios.

The path leading to the Archaic agora of Dreros.


Archaeological Museum. The statues are made of beaten copper sheets, before the invention of bronze casting. Dreros flourished from the 8th to the 6th century BC. There were two acropoles (citadels), one on each hilltop, and an Archaic agora (marketplace) in the saddle between the two. Next to the Temple

The church of Prophitis Ilias, Vrysses. Nearby is the second post-Minoan settlement of the area.

Panoramic view of the west hill of Dreros.

of Apollo Delphinios is a large cistern, similar to those still found in the municipality. The cistern contained two inscriptions on schist in an Eteocretan dialect, discovered in 1936. Unfortunately they were looted from Neapoli during the Italo-German Occupation, leaving our knowledge of the city the poorer. After the 2nd century BC the city fell into decline. In the Roman period there was only a fort with a tower on the east hill, where the little church of Agios Antonios stands today. The last evidence of habitation, dated to the 12th century AD, is a half-finished cross carved on the central cistern and coins of the Comnene period.





Drives & walks

1 2 3

Neapoli - Koufopetra and Kremasta Monasteries - Vrysses - Drassi - Agios Konstantinos Neapoli and environs

Neapoli - Nikithianos Keramos Monastery - Kastelli Fournis - Epano & Kato Fourni Syrmeso - Dories - Karydi Areti Monastery - Patsopoulos Finokalia - Koudoumalos - Agia Sophia - Dilakkos - Nofalias Kourounes - Neapoli

Neapoli - Kourounes - Xera Xyla Monastery - Agios Antonios Anogia - Agios Nikolaos (north coast) - Anogia - Agios Antonios - Tsabi - Kounalio Agori - Latsida - Neapoli


Drives and walks


Neapoli - Koufopetra and Kremasta Monasteries - Vrysses - Drassi Agios Konstantinos - Neapoli and environs

Perennial oaks, craggy mountains, solitary pebble beaches, historic monasteries, the ancient city of Dreros, villages and farmsteads, all contribute to the rich tapestry of Neapoli Municipality. No matter how many times you visit this favoured land, you will always discover something new, providing you with an excuse to visit again. The three proposed drives give an initial idea of the area. The first is a route through the relatively inaccessible and sparsely populated mountain countryside of the southwest. The second is a circular drive around a large section of the northern part of the municipality, from the valley of Neapoli to the north coast and back again. Perhaps the most comprehensive tour of the area, it includes many villages and A tall plane tree drinking deep from the cistern at Drassi.

farmsteads, historic monasteries, dense groves of kermes oak and seasonal wetlands. The third route crosses the west of the municipality, ending at the magical, secluded beach of Agios Nikolaos, due north of Neapoli.


Neapoli - Koufopetra and Kremasta Monasteries - Vrysses - Drassi Agios Konstantinos - Neapoli and environs The Cathedral of Megali Panagia in the main square. On the left are the buildings of the Metropolitan See of Petra.

Ornate carved doorway of a Neoclassical house.

Right: Traditional cafes in the main square of Neapoli.


Starting from Neapoli, a fascinating tour leads to the two monasteries of Koufopetra and Kremasta. You then continue to the mountainous, verdant valley of Drassi, the highlight being a visit to “Livadi� near the village of Agios Konstantinos, an enchanting seasonal wetland rich in bird life in the spring. You can make it a daytrip, stopping for lunch at the Drassi public picnic area, or just a few hours long - in which case it is preferable to go in the afternoon, so you won't have the sun in your eyes while driving. Neapoli is the first stop, for coffee or breakfast in the large main square with its traditional cafes and tavernas offering modern comforts. You can relax in the shade of the tall pine trees and admire the imposing Cathedral of the Panagia (the Virgin Mary). The road to take leads from the upper lefthand side of the square, past the excellent Folk Museum, the Environmental Education Centre and the Heliakios Municipal Library - all well worth visiting - and uphill to the two historic monasteries of Koufopetra and Kremasta. The route is very pretty, running through olive groves and wide expanses of aromatic herbs and wildflowers which more than make up for the many bends of the narrow road. Soon you can make out the tall trees in the courtyard of Kremasta Monastery. The monastery was founded by Metrophanes Agapetos in 1593


Vrysses with Neapoli in the background.

The ruins of the Franciscan Friary of Agios Antonios of Fraro, as it is known today.


in a strategic spot on the ancient and modern pass to the Lassithi Plateau, with a view over almost the whole valley of Neapoli. A few hundred metres to the west is Koufopetra Monastery, built on the site of an older monastery in 1866. Above the monastery rises the peak of Kavallaras, 767 metres above sea level, the easternmost point of Mt Selena. The area is ideal for walks in the kermes oak wood, which has unfortunately been badly burned further west. The vegetation in many places is lush, with kermes oak, common oak and wild olive. This wooded area continues as far as Vrysses, a village built parallel to the road. Most of the picturesque stone houses have a stunning view of the Merambello valley, as the valley of Neapoli is also known. Just past the east end of the village, the left-hand fork leads to the little church of Prophitis Ilias. This offers an even more impressive view, including part of the Drassi valley and the Lassithi Mountains. Archaeologists have discovered a postMinoan site here, apart from neighbouring Dreros, but it is not yet open to the public.

The verdant mountain valley of Drassi.

Detail of a door with its knocker.

The route continues south to Drassi, a tiny farmstead; no sooner have you seen the sign than you are past it! You will have to turn back a few hundred metres to the first steep bend, and turn left up the cement-surfaced track leading to the farmstead. Only the ancient olive trees and ruined stone houses remain to welcome visitors. A little further on is a large cistern with running water all year round and a huge plane tree. Next to this is the Drassi public picnic area. There are shelters and seats for dozens of guests, barbecues and even a small oven for would-be bakers! You can use this as a starting point for walks along the local paths, making them as long or as short as you like. Behind the neighbouring ruined farmstead of Lagada, Mt Selena rises 1,558 metres, before Krassi and the villages of Mesa and Exo Potami on the Lassithi Plateau. The whole valley of Drassi is green with olive trees, while the slopes to north and south are covered by a blanket of kermes oak, wild olive, carob trees and lentisc. The real ecological paradise, however, is a little further east, near the village of Agios Konstantinos. At Drassi, turn into the junction to Mesa and Exo Lakonia. Although it isn't visible from the road, behind the first houses of the village is a seasonal wetland of 7 sq. km, called Livadi (“meadow�). It is


The Byzantine church of Panagia Keragoniotissa with its tall oaks.

The icon of Saints Constantine and Helen with offerings of wildflowers and a few coins left by passers-by.

a small depression, similar to many others in the municipality, containing water in winter and spring. The surroundings are magical, with a wide variety of plants, animals and, above all, birds. You must be very careful, especially in the spring, not to disturb the migratory birds which rest here after an exhausting journey of hundreds of miles. After walking round the lake, you can wander through the narrow streets of the village, which no longer has

The Monastery of Panagia at Vigli, with Voulismeni in the background.

Panoramic view of the seasonal wetland at Agios Konstantinos.

any permanent residents. The small church of Agii Konstantinos kai Eleni (Ss Constantine and Helen) contains the remains of beautiful wall paintings. Then it's back to Neapoli for lunch and a short rest, before a drive to the nearby villages of Latsida and Voulismeni, Vigli and the post-Minoan city of Dreros. Take the junction from the Agios Nikolaos-Heraklion national road, heading towards Heraklion. Latsida is a quiet village, first recorded in 1305


Detail of the unique wall paintings of Panagia at Vigli

Left: The ornate entrance of the church of Panagia at Vigli. Over the door is the name of its builder, the nun Strianopoula.

in a document drawn up by the notary public Pietro Pizolo. It has lots of traditional stone houses with lovely neat gardens full of flowers. A few hundred metres away, near the village access road, is the Byzantine church of Panagia Keragoniotissa, in a verdant landscape of large oaks, cypresses and olive trees. The hills south of the church offer a good opportunity for a walk. Just 1.3 km to the southeast and 150 m higher up is Vigli. Here is the restored and well-looked-after Monastery of Panagia, containing unique icons including that of the Panagia Kardiotissa (“Virgin of the Heart”). The abundance of spring water all year round, combined with the fertile if steep land, means that the area has been inhabited since the Second Byzantine Period, as archaeological evidence shows. It is thought that the town of Neapoli originated here, with the second village being built on the site of the modern town after the destruction of the first. Neapoli (New Town) was in fact previously named Kenourgio Chorio, or “New Village”. The Monastery of Panagia offers a panoramic view of the nearby village of


The west hill of Dreros with the saddle of the Archaic agora.

Left: The inviting ancient path from Vigli to Neapoli, shaded by kermes oaks..

Voulismeni. A steep but well-tended cement path with tasteful wooden benches leads down to the village. Just before the first houses, a wooden sign informs visitors of the ruined Franciscan friary of Agios Antonios of Fraro (St Anthony of the Friars), which is open to the public. Three kilometres east of Neapoli, in the opposite direction to Vigli, is the archaeological site of Dreros, situated on the hill of Agios Antonios. To reach this major site, take the first junction on the right, on the road to Kourounes and Nofalias. Leave your car in the car park and walk up the path to the Agora and the restored Temple of Apollo Delphinios, at the centre of the post-Minoan city of Dreros. Once past the central cistern and the temple, the only visible features are the low stone walls. The most important finds are in Constantinople (the Dreros Inscription) and Heraklion Archaeological Museum (the three unique bronze statues from the temple). Nobody knows the whereabouts of the two inscriptions in the Eteocretan dialect on schist, which were stolen from Neapoli during the Italo-German occupation.

Laurel in dense woodland at Vigli.


Drives and walks


Neapoli - Nikithianos - Keramos Monastery - Kastelli Fournis - Epano & Kato Fourni - Syrmeso - Dories - Karydi - Areti Monastery - Patsopoulos - Finokalia Koudoumalos - Agia Sophia - Dilakkos - Nofalias - Kourounes - Neapoli

A carved trough.

This tour is the longest of the three, covering about half the area of Neapoli Municipality. To do it all in one day, you will need to calculate stops carefully and not delay too long. However, the tour is so interesting that you may prefer to complete it in stages over several days. It circles the whole northern part of the municipality, as far as possible, allowing you to enjoy the peace and quiet of an ancient farming landscape and explore abandoned villages. From Neapoli, take the old national road in the direction of Agios Nikolaos. After driving about 2 km through the fertile and well-tended olive groves, you will see the windmills of Nikithianos, two of which have been restored. In the centre of the village is a crossroads, the left-hand fork of which leads under the new national road and joins a narrow road up the hill of Agios Antonios, with a panoramic view of the town and valley of Neapoli and the Lassithi Mountains. Just to the north is a small valley which is partially flooded in winter and spring, forming a small seasonal lake of 4-5 sq. km. Many birds flock here in the migratory season. This is followed by a larger valley, that of Kastelli, Epano Fourni and Kato Fourni. On the saddle between the heights from which you can just see the villages, a junction on the left leads to Keramos Monastery, just 1 km away. The area around the monastery is green with perennial kermes oaks and tall oak trees, thanks to the sanctuary and care accorded to both trees and persecuted humans over the centuries. Like most monasteries of Neapoli Municipality, this is an oasis of trees in an arid landscape of bare platy 127

The windmills of Nikithianos rise behind the olive groves.

limestone and scrubland. The monastery provides visitors with a welcoming area to eat and rest in, using a huge millstone as a table, just outside the precinct. The restoration work is good but unfortunately unfinished, as only the cells on the north side have been repaired; the rest are still in ruins. The monastery church contains an exquisitely carved wooden icon screen. The area east of the monastery is ideal for a walk among the common oaks, kermes oaks and olive trees. Return to the road to Kastelli Fournis, a village with a long history, mentioned by the traveller Cristoforo Buondelmonti in 1415. As its name

Right: Seasonal wetland among cultivated fields east of Dreros.

(meaning Castle of Fourni) shows, it was once an important administrative, religious and military centre. You absolutely must go for a stroll through the village. As you explore the courtyards and alleyways with their stone houses and shops, you feel as though you're on the set of a film about urban Crete in the early 20th century! Many shops have been shut for at least fifty years, their painted signs betraying their age. After this brief journey into the past, the road east of the village leads on to Epano (Upper) and Kato (Lower) Fourni, along a long, straight avenue of eucalyptus trees. This would be a lovely place for a walk if it were not so dangerously narrow, because when it was built every yard of this fertile valley was precious. The villages of Epano and Kato Fourni are just 70 metres apart. Travellers usually stop here for a coffee or lunch, and perhaps a walk around the narrow streets to look at the little restored churches and the folk museum.


Spring beauty.

The courtyard of Keramos Monastery.


The hillsides to north (Stavros) and east (Amenospilios) are covered in withered almond trees, telling the story of the old district of Merambello. This was once full of green almond trees, which need little water and throve on all the arid hills of the region. In the mid-19th century, however, an epidemic disease laid waste to almost all the almond groves. Farmers' income fell dramatically and there was a wave of emigration from the area. Neapoli was also famous for its soumada, a traditional drink made from almond kernels, a subject on which Neapoli Municipality has produced an interesting documentary. From the east end of the village, the road continues up Stavros hill to Galazopetra, a spot with 15 ruined windmills and a panoramic view over the Kastelli-Fourni valley. From here you can see the archaeological site of Dreros, with Mt Selena and the Lassithi Mountains in the background. After the saddle between the hills north of Stavros, two successive valleys open before you, those of Syrmeso and Dories respectively. In winter and spring two seasonal wetlands form here, and the precious water is used in summer to irrigate the orchards and olive groves. The surrounding hillsides are covered in wild olive trees, withered almond trees and a few healthy ones, carob trees, kermes oaks and a scented heathland of sage, oregano, thorny burnet, broom and rockrose. One kilometre north of Dories is Karydi (“Walnut�), which may owe its name to its walnut trees, rare in the region, or perhaps to its founder, Karydis. On the saddle between the new and the abandoned village are five great cisterns once used to provide water. Great kermes oaks have grown in the yards of the ruined houses in the old village, tempting visitors to go for a walk along the south slopes of Mt Peza. Near the village are the historic monasteries of Kardamoutza and Areti. Kardamoutza Monastery is 450 m to

Fields of grain north of Kastelli.

The oak of Keramos Monastery with its deep shade.


The fertile valley of Kastelli, Epano and Kato Fourni.

A row of windmills in the Galaropetra area of Kastelli.


Time has stopped in 1927, the year this windmill was built.

The road to Syrmeso farmstead, through vineyards, olives groves and maquis.

Right: The seasonal wetland of Dories.


the east, on Koutsouras hill. It is currently undergoing restoration. Visitors are greeted by the deep shade of the great kermes oak standing at the entrance. Enter by the temporary gate in the south precinct wall and admire the truly impressive architecture and good state of repair of the monks' cells and the other buildings. Beautiful carved archways and large, highceilinged rooms testify to the former prosperity of the monastery, founded in 1570-1580 by the Kantzaras family. Just south of the monastery church is the tomb of priest-monk Manassis Kantzaras, one of the founders, with a plaque inscribed with his date of death: August 1617. From Kardamoutza Monastery, a pleasant walk along a wide cobbled path leads to the neighbouring Monastery of Areti, 1 km to the north among Phrygana, olives and almond trees. In spring, the heady scent of flowering sage, oregano and wildflowers fills the air. As you approach the monastery, it looks like an island of tall cypresses and citrus trees. The harmony and beauty of the buildings draw the attention and refresh the spirit. The monastery church contains beautiful icons and a carved wooden icon screen. The monastery itself is the most important

Top and right: Inside the ruined buildings of Kardamoutza Monastery.

Both plants and animals depend on the precious water of the wetland and wells of Dories in the summer months.


Top right: Historic Areti monastery. Bottom right: Eroded platy limestone, a natural rock garden with many types of Phrygana plants in Karydi.

Top left: The village and valley of Karydi. Bottom left: The wide cobbled path from Areti monastery to Kardamoutza Monastery, ideal for walks.


The Retreat of Agios Andreas, set in a landscape of rugged beauty.

The north coast near Agios Andreas.

Right : Olive trees planted in terraces to retain the soil and precious rainwater, in Koudoumalos village.


The farmsteads of Dilakkos and Agia Sophia.

Northern Merambello, a landscape of paths and terraces, olive and almond trees, groves of kermes oak and low shrubs.

Right : The ancient cisterns of Dilakkos, still full of water today.


Dense copse of kermes oaks, wild olive and pear trees near Peronides.


religious and historic monument in Neapoli Municipality. It was founded in 1600 by Markos Papadopoulos and remained in operation throughout the Turkish occupation, when it was accorded the privileges of a stavropegiac monastery (i.e. exempt from the episcopate, under the direct control of the Patriarchate). Today the monastery has been fully restored on the initiative of Nectarios, Metropolitan Bishop of Petra and Herronissos. According to the founding legend, Markos Papadopoulos was invited to a wedding in Venice, where he heard the father of the bride giving the groom a cauldron full of gold coins, buried at Skouras in Fourni. Papadopoulos, who knew the area well, arrived before the groom and found the treasure, with which he built the monastery. Whatever the truth of this story, travellers can now rest in the cool shade of its ancient cypresses and gather their strength for the walk to the villages of Patsopoulos, Finokalia and Koudoumalos. Just 600 metres after Areti Monastery, there is a right-hand fork which you can walk along to reach the ruined village of Chondrovolaki. This is at the limits of Neapoli and Agios Nikolaos Municipalities. A few dozen metres before Patsopoulos, the road crossed under the Lagos stream. This rises at Karydi, joins the Mesomouri stream from Finokalia, and runs through a pretty gorge to the sea on the north coast. If you want to walk down the gorge to the pebble beach at the end, remember that you will have to come back the same way. The villages of Patsopoulos, Finokalia and Koudoumalos are set in an arid landscape with a few desiccated olive groves. This is why the villages on the north coast have been almost totally

abandoned. A special place is the Retreat of Agios Andreas (St Andrew), along a rough cement road from Koudoumalos. It is a cave church with a few hermits' cells, built in the 19th century by Ioannis Lambrakis, who went on to become a hermit here himself. Few can fail to be moved by the wild beauty of this solitude, in which the stone buildings melt into their background. After Koudoumalos, on the road to the villages of Dilakkos and Agia Sophia, the landscape changes again as groups of kermes oaks make their appearance. The road heads uphill to the height of Agio Pnevma (430 m). The farmsteads of Dilakkos and Agia Sophia, almost deserted today, are just a few metres apart. At the north end is a dirt track leading to four ancient circular cisterns, 100 metres away. After these hamlets, the road continues uphill to Nofalias. Its name, meaning “navel�, is probably due to its position halfway between Neapoli and the local farmsteads. There are two pretty tracks here, one leading north to two windmills and the other west to the farmstead of Peronides, through a large grove of wild pear, almond and olive trees, kermes oaks and lentiscs. The road continues uphill to Kourounes. Just outside the village, on the way to Neapoli, stand two windmills, set in a spot where strong winds always prevail. Now the road runs downhill past the archaeological site of Dreros to the first houses of Neapoli, leaving visitors with mixed feelings: pleasure at the thought of the food and coffee awaiting them in town, and impatience to be off again on another enchanting tour of the north coast of Neapoli.

Abandoned steps on the height of Trapeza.


Drives and walks


Neapoli - Kourounes - Xera Xyla Monastery - Agios Antonios - Anogia - Agios Nikolaos (north coast) - Anogia - Agios Antonios - Tsabi - Kounalio - Agori Latsida - Neapoli

This third tour covers the northwest part of Neapoli Municipality. Starting at Neapoli, we drive up to Kourounes with its rare wetland and the historic Monastery of Xera Xyla or Agios Georgios, to finish on the north coast and its isolated landscape of wild beauty. Starting at Neapoli, go past the archaeological site of Dreros and continue up the east slope of Timios Stavros, 793 m above sea level. After the series of bends, just before Kourounes comes into view, two ruined windmills appear, among the largest in the area. At the entrance to the village is a sharp fork on the left leading to one of the most important seasonal wetlands in the municipality. If you come in the spring, you will have the chance to see pure white herons, grey herons and glossy ibis, along with other more common species such as wagtails, chaffinches, greenfinches, goldfinches, even seagulls during the rest of the year. From the village with its few remaining inhabitants, a pretty path leads 700 metres east to another imposing windmill of dressed stone, still in good condition, and then on to the Petrokalyves area. The countryside is lovely, with kermes oak groves and stone shepherds' huts. Although the path is fairly hard to see, you can even walk to Keramos Monastery, almost 1.5 km further south.


The two ruined windmills before Kourounes

From the centre of Kourounes, you can take the road to the next destination, the Monastery of Xera Xyla or Agios Georgios. Alternatively, another fork on the left leads to the peak of Timios Stavros, with a breathtaking view of the whole Merambello basin. You can just see the small vale of the monastery from here. The monastery, first recorded in 1635, is still in a relatively good state of repair today. It has been a dependency of Epanosifi Monastery for almost two centuries, and the icon of St George with the “unsleeping lamp” that is never allowed to go out, now in Epanosifi Monastery, comes from here. One of the old rooms has been converted into a storeroom for maturing cheese by the shepherd who rents the monastery land; you can buy cheese here direct from the producer. The traditional explanation of the strange name of the monastery, meaning “dry wood”, is as follows. A gang once stole a lamb and lit a fire of green wood, which burns with little smoke, to cook it on. One of the group, who had gone to fetch wine, saw thick white smoke rising from the fire and shouted, “Dry wood, you're putting dry wood on the fire!” The smoke betrayed the gang and they were caught red-handed with the stolen lamb.

The seasonal wetland at Kourounes, with the peak of Timios Stavros in the background.

Top left: Anogia in the midst of desiccated olive groves.

Top right: The steep descent to the north coast, with Dia Island in the background.

Bottom left: No organised facilities here, just peace and a calm sea.

Bottom right: The solitary pebble beach at the west end of the coastline.



The Malliaris riverbed, running uphill.

The route to Agios Antonios is a fairly solitary one, with few houses and cars to be seen. The lack of cultivable land, water and sandy beaches suitable for tourist development, as in neighbouring areas, has led to a decline in population (especially young people) in Agios Antonios, the almost deserted Amydgalolakkos and Anogia. Yet therein lies the secret charm of the area, as it has not succumbed to the tourist mentality but retains its purity and authenticity. Even nature itself has begun to recover, due to limited human intervention today, with the stunted kermes oak bushes slowly growing into trees. After Anogia, the tarmac road gives way to a cement surface, rising before the steep descent to the north coast. Few of the farmsteads in this northern section of the municipality have a view of the sea. This may be due to their fear of the pirates who roamed the Mediterranean in centuries past, pillaging coastal villages. Other reasons are the inaccessibility of the area and the lack of good anchorages for fishing boats. Shortly before the coast, the cement road becomes a dirt track and you come to a crossroads. You can take the left-hand road to a small, pretty pebble beach 2 km further on, through a landscape of low scrubland and thyme which is particularly hot in the summer months. To the south, the hillsides are covered in tree spurge, changing colour in every season, from green in winter to orange-green in spring and yellow at summer's end. The right-hand road leads to the abandoned farmstead of Argyri, crosses the Malliaris stream and ends at Agios Nikolaos. Argyri is made up of a few ruined stone houses on the right-hand side of the road and another one opposite, in a landscape grazed bare by sheep. Two lovely walks start here: the first follows the Malliaris dry riverbed upstream into a steep gorge, while the other heads


The small, neat church of Agios Nikolaos at the east end of the region

east to the solitary church of Agios Nikolaos, set in a wild landscape of rugged beauty, before following the riverbed downhill. On each side of the riverbed are ancient strata of conglomerate, i.e. pebbles deposited by the stream in times gone by, when the sea level was higher that it is today. The riverbed leads down to a pretty pebble beach. Please note that there are no eating facilities or water, so make sure you take your own provisions, especially in the summer. The whole coastline bears the imprint of climate changes over thousands or tens of thousands of years. The waves have cut vertical clefts a few metres to a few dozen metres long in the cliffs. In these clefts you can see the alternating layers of red earth containing large rocks, and red earth containing gravel, shards of rock from the northern cliffs deposited over time. The rocks were swept down during periods of heavy rainfall, while the gravel was deposited gradually in times when the climate was milder. Where the compact bedrock is exposed, you can see the former sea level, marked by the holes made by lithophagous (rock-eating) marine molluscs. You can then return to Neapoli along the road you came, as far as the village of Agios Antonios. Here you take the junction to Tsabi, Kounalio and Agori, close to the historic Cave of Milatos. The road crosses a beautiful, steep gorge between the heights of Kalaritis and Moutsouna, their slopes covered in Phrygana and maquis dominated by spurge and wild olive, carob and kermes oak. On leaving the gorge you can visit Latsida again at the end of the tour, before returning to Neapoli.




The verdant slopes of Moutsouna, an area boasting a wide variety of plants.

Man has great difficulty in considering himself a part of nature. Although he is the only species on the planet capable of grasping the need to retain the interrelationships between the elements of the natural environment, he often destroys them, both on an individual and on a collective level. In the modern world this is as easy as pressing a button. The idea that natural resources are inexhaustible and may be taken for granted is an illusion. We can now consume them all in a single generation, thereby depriving those who come after us. This selfish attitude can only be restrained by the proper evaluation of these resources and the implementation and enforcement of rules for their management. The Municipality of Neapoli has few regulatory tools at its disposal for the protection of the natural environment - our own environment. A small area in the south of the municipality is registered as part of the Natura 2000 Network, area code GR4320002, under the name “Dicte: Lassithi Plateau, Katharo, Selena, Krassi, Selekanos�. The area, south of Neapoli and west of Vrysses, includes the Kavalaras hill (767 m), the Drassi-Lagada valley and the northern slopes of Mt Machairas (1,487 m). The north coast is on the scientific list but unfortunately not the national list. There are also two Wildlife Refuges: K556 (Stavros in Neapoli), comprising 10 sq. km in the Xerolimni area, and most of K553 (Katselia, Vrouchas in Merambello), also comprising 10 sq. km from Fourni to Vrouchas. Each Municipal Authority usually does its best to provide for the daily and medium-term needs of its citizens. Today, more than ever, it is vital that further attempts be made to protect the natural resources necessary to the survival and reasonable quality of life of future generations. The education of modern society and the implementation of decrees to protect the environment should be a primary concern of all the municipalities of Greece.


Caves in the Municipality of Neapoli


(C: cave, P: pothole, S: sinkhole)




Name of Cave









Agios Antonios


Amira Spilios


Agios Antonios

Anemoliaris River

Charkidio or Siderospilia


Agios Antonios

Armyro Stream

Armyros Spilios


Agios Antonios

Chourdomanoli Stream

Toutou Spilari


Agios Antonios




Agios Antonios




Agios Antonios




Agios Antonios





Koulouridi Spilios

Koulouridi Spilios I



Koulouridi Spilios

Koulouridi Spilios II



Koulouridi Spilios

Koulouridi Spilios III




Spiliara sta Chalasmata




Spilios sta Chalasmata











Zachari Stream




Agios Andreas

Agios Andreas



Agios Andreas

Datserolenias Spilios




Karakatsani Spilios




Zoitsas or Rainas Spilios




Name of Cave



Mavrali Spilios



Kaparou Lakkos

Kaparou Lakkos




Apokato Spilios




Sopata Spilios




Roussas Spilio


























Lithomandra-Neapoli Levido-Mavro Spiliari

Mavro Spiliari




Mavri Trypa




Fonia Spilio






Romanos - Neapoli


Galanou Spilios




Omer Spilios








Kassoti Spiliari








Voulismeni Community Pera Mera



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