A Tour Of Crete
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Crete lies between the parallels of 35 degrees and 36 degrees, not much farther removed from Africa than from Europe, and its climate, consequently, is intermediate between that of Greece and that of Alexandria. In the morning it was already visible, altho some thirty miles distant, the magnificent snowy mass of the White Mountains gleaming before us, under a bank of clouds. By ten o'clock, the long blue line of the coast broke into irregular points, the Dictynnaean promontory and that of Akroteri thrusting themselves out toward us so as to give an amphitheatric character to that part of the island we were approaching, while the broad, snowy dome of the Cretan Ida, standing alone, far to the east, floated in a sea of soft, golden light. The White Mountains were completely enveloped in snow to a distance of 4,000 feet below their summits, and scarcely a rock pierced the luminous covering. The shores of the Gulf of Khania, retaining their amphitheatric form, rose gradually from the water, a rich panorama of wheat-fields, vineyards and olive groves, crowded with sparkling villages, while Khania, in the center, grew into distinctness—a picturesque jumble of mosques, old Venetian arches and walls, pink and yellow buildings, and palm trees. The character of the scene was Syrian rather than Greek, being altogether richer and warmer than anything in Greece.
Khania occupies the site of the ancient Cydonia, by which name the Greek bishopric is still called. The Venetian city was founded in 1252, and any remnants of the older town which may have then remained, were quite obliterated by it. The only ruins now are those of Venetian churches, some of which have been converted into mosques, and a number of immense arched vaults, opening on the harbor, built to shelter the galleys of the Republic. Just beyond the point on which stands the Serai, I counted fifteen of these, side by side, eleven of which are still entire. A little further, there are three more, but all are choked up with sand, and of no present use. The modern town is an exact picture of a Syrian seaport, with its narrow, crooked streets, shaded bazaars, and turbaned merchants. Its population is 9,500, including the garrison, ac-cording to a census just completed at the time of our visit. It is walled, and the gates are closed during the night.
Passing through the large Turkish cemetery, which was covered with an early crop of blue anemones, we came upon the rich plain of Khania, lying broad and fair, like a superb gar-den, at the foot of the White Mountains, whose vast masses of shining snow filled up the entire southern heaven. Eastward, the plain slopes to the deep Bay of Suda, whose surface shone blue above the silvery line of the olive groves; while, sixty miles away, rising high above the intermediate headlands, the solitary peak of Mount Ida, bathed in a warm after-noon glow, gleamed like an Olympian mount, not only the birthplace, but the throne of immortal Jove. Immense olive trees from the dark-red, fertile earth; cypresses and the canopied Italian pine interrupted their gray monotony, and every garden hung the golden lamps of its oranges over the wall. The plain is a paradise of fruitfulness.
In the morning, the horses were brought to us at an early hour, in charge of a jolly old officer of gendarmes, who was to accompany us. As far as the village of Kalepa, there is a carriage road; afterward, only a stony path. From the spinal ridge of the promontory, which we crossed, we overlooked all the plain of Khania, and beyond the Dictynnaean peninsula, to the western extremity of Crete. The White Mountains, tho less than seven thousand feet in height, deceive the eye by the contrast between their spotless snows and the summer at their base, and seem to rival the Alps. The day was cloudless and balmy; birds sang on every tree, and the grassy hollows were starred with anemones, white, pink, violet and crimson. It was the first breath of the southern spring, after a winter which had been as terrible for Crete as for Greece.
After a ride of three hours, we reached a broad valley, at the foot of that barren mountain mass in which the promontory terminates.
To the eastward we saw the large monastery of Agia Triada (the Holy Trinity), overlooking its fat sweep of vine and olive land. In the deep, dry mountain glen which we entered, I found numbers of carob-trees. Rocks of dark-blue limestone, stained with bright orange oxydations, overhung us as we followed the track of a torrent upward into the heart of this bleak region, where, surrounded by the hot, arid peaks, is the Monastery of Governato.
We descended on foot to the Monastery of Katholiko, which we reached in half an hour. Its situation is like that of San Saba in Palestine, at the bottom of a split in the stony hills, and the sun rarely shines upon it. Steps cut in the rock lead down the face of the precipice to the deserted monastery, near which is a cavern 500 feet long, leading into the rock. The ravine is spanned by an arch, nearly fifty feet high.
At Agia Triada, as we rode up the stately avenue of cypresses, between vineyards and almond trees in blossom, servants advanced to take our horses, and the abbot shouted, "Welcome," from the top of the steps. We were ushered into a clean room, furnished with a tolerable library of orthodox volumes. A boy of fifteen, with a face like the young Raphael, brought us glasses of a rich, dark wine, some-thing like port, some jelly and coffee. The size and substantial character of this monastery at-tests its wealth, no less than the flourishing appearance of the lands belonging to it. Its large court-yard is shaded with vine-bowers and orange trees, and the chapel in the center has a facade supported by Doric columns.