Trip to Frangokastello in Sfakia area in Southern Crete

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frangocastello in south crete

Trip to Frangokastello

by Vicki S. Nikolaidis

Crete has never had a reputation for building walls or fortresses, as they do in other areas such as in northern Italy. Here in the city of Chania we have the Venetian Walls, built during the Turkish occupation. Inside what remains of these walls concerts and plays are preformed. During the Venetian occupation one of the most famous fortresses was built in southern Crete, the Frangokastello.

Our family decided to take a short vacation in the area of Sfakia to see the famous Frangokastello. I secretly had hopes of awaking early enough while there to catch sight of the elusive “Drosoulites“, soldiers from the past marching near Frangokastello.

The month is May, the day near the end of the month when the dawn is still full of humidity and the sun is fairly high in the sky before all the dew has been burned from the air. The Drosoulites phenomena is a spirit sighting of the Hadzi Michalis Dalianis‘ soldiers; their shadows revisiting the scene of the terrible battle at which they died trying to free Crete from the Turkish occupation.

We drove west on the National Highway from Chania until we reached Vrisses and then headed south. Crete contains five different ecosystems; so the landscape varied from the Askifou Plateau to the rocky, windy Imbros Gorge within an incredibly short distance. The Lefka Ori (White Mountains) through which we travel are named Madares, meaning the bare mountains, by the locals. And, Madares is an apt name; the greenery becomes sparse as we reach the southern end of our journey traveling the seemingly perpendicular mountain sides to the Libyan Sea.

Our winding road to Chora Sfakion became increasingly steep and full of hairpin curves as we traveled down towards the shore. Surprisingly, all of a sudden we found ourselves stopped in a traffic jam!

road to chora sfakion
. . . so near to the shore at Chora Sfakion but stopped by a traffic jam! (Photo by VSN)
 

I hopped out of the car and could see very little of the road. Parked on the road to the east was the beginning of a traffic jam that would become much longer in a few short minutes. There below us parked across the hairpin turn was the top of a large truck.

As the truck had tried to negotiate the turn, the load became unbalanced and part of the shipment of bottled water being transported was thrown into the road! No worries though. Drivers and their passengers understood immediately this was a problem easily solved. All would be moving to their destinations soon.

Without harsh words or arguments a line formed to reload the water bottles.

filling water bottles on the way to chora sfakion
Travelers work together quickly reloading the spilled shipment of bottled water. (VSN)

The fortress of Frangokastello

Very soon we were back on our way to the historical fortress of Frangocastello. From the road we could see the wide flat plateau next to the sea and knew we would arrive soon at the solid rectangular walls of the fortress. Originally built by the Venetians about 1374 C.E. the fortress has undergone many reincarnations.

 

frangokastello
Frangokastello. Originally built by the Venetians about 1374 C.E. the fortress has undergone many reincarnations.
The Venetians had a challenging job building the original structure; the work probably took from three to four years as each night members of the Papadopoulos family would undo the day’s work!

The name, Frangokastello, is from the label, Franks, referring to Catholics, and was not meant in a kind way. Kastello is for Castle.

By the end of the fourteenth century the fortress barely existed as a pile of rocks and ruined walls. The Venetian Provveditore of Sfakia rebuilt it in 1631. During the occupation of the Ottoman Empire the fortress again fell into disrepair and ruin. Finally during the Cretan Uprising (1866 – 1869) against the Turkish Empire the fortress was rebuilt under order of Pasha Mustafa.

Situated on a wide empty plain the rectangular fortress has four square towers at each corner and is built with very thick walls.

view from inside Frangokastello fortress
A view of the sea from barred window
inside the fortress. Photo by VSN

Rough gorges and mountains border the northern side, the sea borders the southern side of the plain.

Originally the Venetians planned to subdue the Sfakians from the fortress, but neither the Venetians nor anyone afterwards has been able to dampen the independence of the local residents living in this rugged landscape.

We walked throught the fortress imagining the fierce stand that Hadzi Michalis Dalianis and his men had made against the Turkish army.

This vacation I didn’t see the brave soldiers as they visited their last stand early with the morning dew. But their three day battle has passed into legend and the Drosoulites remind us to honor their courage each Spring, early in the morning, on a day towards the end of May.

References

  • The Frangokastello at Sfakia, Michalis Andrianakis, Archaeologist, 1998, Archaeological Receipts Fund Direction of Publications, Panepistimiou 57, 10564 Athens
  • Crete Tourist Guide, text by Maria Lamprou, Marmatiakis Brothers Edition, Pazinos Akrotiri-Chania, 73100 Crete tel. 28210 66290
  • Frangokastello, information about Frangokastello and its history
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2 COMMENTS

  1. We loved Crete and especially Fraggokastello and its beaches but it is necessary to warn tourists of the dangers of Taverna Drosoulites are thieves and they charged us 95 euros to eat 4 people (two adults and two children Maccarone, chicken, moussaka and meatballs , 2 fantas, and 3 ice cream)

  2. I live in New York City and have been in Crete many times. But this is the first article that made me want to venture south to Frangokastello. I loved the writer’s sense of history, nature, and daily Cretan life.

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