6.1 Kalamaki- Kamares- Amari Plain- Gerakari- Spili
76 km | 2.138 vertical meters | Catégorie 1
The Haunted Palace
|In the greenest of our valleys
By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace –
Radiant palace – reared its head.
In the monarch Thougt’s dominion,
It stood there!
Never serap spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair!
(Edgar Allen Poe; April 1839)
|Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On the roof did float and flow
(This – all this – was in the olden
Time long ago),
And every gentle air that dailled,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A wingéd odor went away.
The Haunted Place: Let’s assume you are in a strange place and wake up at night from a noise – the scratching of a branch on the house wall, the call of an owl, or the rustling of the leaves in front of the window through which the moon shines brightly into your room. A peaceful night, were it not for the projection of three large crosses on the wall of the room – grave crosses, that is, each of them topped with a wreath. And amidst these black shadows stands something that dulls and liquefies the moonlight, something like a veil flowing through the window and into the room, clearly raising its hand to greet you.
The good news is: You are not travelling through Romania, so Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Dracula, cannot be the visitor. No, it is much more likely that a rather harmless ghost from the neighboring cemetery missed the entrance of the inn where you found shelter, and is now heading through your room for the bar – perhaps. One thing is for sure, you are in a haunted house.
Humanlike ghost phenomena have a considerable range of terrifying items at their command. These indispensable ghost props include a large cape which always hides the skeletonized face, and a skull that the spirits tend to carry in their hand. If they carry a scythe instead of a skull, caution is required, because these kinds of spirits have obviously lost something they are trying to regain. Everybody knows that ghosts just love to tug and tear at chains with a clanking sound, but they also play the flute or bagpipe which can be very annoying, as well. And if you remember Mrs. Rochester in Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre, you will be aware that spirits in any kind of wedding attire should raise serious concern.
Travelers will now ask themselves if there are any enchanted places on Crete. Clearly yes, and they are countless. Whether you wish to explore them or not is completely up to you. But if you perceive a moldy smell, see distorted faces, or hear someone moaning and groaning, your strange encounter will not necessarily involve ghosts but much more likely members of a bicycle tour – which brings us to the subject.
The Tour from the southcoast at Kalamaki via Kamares, the Amari Valley and Gerakari to Spili: The lush green meadows of the Amari Valley are the defining element of this tour which leads from the south coast near Kalamaki via the northern slope of Mt Kedros and its pass to Spili in the northwest.
There are many possibilities for exploring the Amari- Basin, for a round trip, climbing the ridges high above the valley. Or you open the door to the secret garden of the river plain, the magnificent natural beauty with enchanted places like the monastery of Asomatos, Byzantine churches and basilicas, springs and fruit-laden orchards, wealth of diligence with the village Amari in the center. The ancient palaces near Monastiraki and Apodoulou bear witness to the importance of the region in Minoan times. Taking you back towards the east for some 50 kilometers, the well-developed road south of Mt. Kedros runs past Akoumia, Agia Gallini and Timbaki to the Messara Plain and to the south coast near Kalamaki.
The village of Apodoulou – The Frankish Konáki
While I rested at the fountain of Apodoulou, on the opposite streetside, a formerly magnificent and large house towers up. With its broad street front and the now dark and hollow window caves, it rises proudly and venerable from the surrounding walls. A villa bearing style elements of a simple Venetian country house, built of quarrystone masonry and solid mortar. The walls are mainly plastered, but at the corners of the building you can see the characteristic exposed brickwork of coarsely hewn limestone.
The windows and the pórtella facing the street boast carefully carved limestone edgings. The crossbeam of the door is adorned with rosettes and two stylized fruits of the kermes oak. Above it, on the first floor, a high Renaissance-style window is decorated with stylized flower ornaments, the initials „K.H. 1846“, and a tympanum. There is a small balcony in front of it. The patio roof is girded by the stone ribbon of the Kordòni.
The mighty limestone steps of the staircase lead up to the entrance door and into the hall, the pórtego.
The original entrance to the kitchen with the large fireplace used to be on the left side. Facing the street, there are two more rooms to the right. The room directly adjacent to the hall forms a corridor leading into the rear part of the house, where you have access to the now collapsed wooden staircase. On each floor, there are rooms to the left at the rear of the house. Their southeast-facing window openings are specially adorned with round arches. The stairwell extends over the 1st. floor of the Anòi to the tower-like rooms of the 1st. and 2nd. floor, here with one window facing southeast and one facing the patio roof. In the rear part of the building’s narrow side, two further rooms can be found on the 1st. floor. Parts of the wooden ceilings to the 1st. floor are still preserved.
On the ground floor of the northeastern narrow side of the house you’ll find the rear entrance that leads from the courtyard to the kitchen wing, which is separated from the house. The cistern is located in the courtyard to the right of the entrance. The rear entrance takes you to a small hall with brick cupboards, and the kitchen is located to the right.
The house has obviously been divided into two parts in modern times, and this area now features a concrete staircase leading to the 1st. floor. Its stairwell cuts brutally through the window opening, the original wooden ceiling, and even the supporting wooden beams. Around the same time, a new window opening was built into the northeastern outer wall of the 1st. floor, reinforced concrete stilts and girders were inserted at the rear, and the partially collapsed patio roof was replaced by a reinforced concrete ceiling. In the area that is the sála, the concrete ceiling has collapsed again.
Travelling back in time – As I walked up the big, hewn limestone blocks of the stairs and entered the villa through the double-winged entrance door, I daydreamed hundreds of years back in time.
I imagined the large family sitting at the long table, drinking with their friends. Stories came alive, children played, and I heard voices, music, noise and laughter. The Laouto sounded, and the deep red Liatiko – Mandilari sparkled in the glasses. Then a chair was pushed back vigorously. The air condensed to a liquid and out of this, a denser zone in human form cristallized, which approached me in fast, fluent movements. There was a cold touch on my cheek and a something whispered into my ear. – And everything swirled around me, raging and roaring like waves crashing against rocks, growing louder and louder, voices, music, noise and shouting, saw ghosts from a bygone era dancing around me until I was dizzy and staggered backwards into the garden.
Now, if this house is not an enchanted place where spirits meet, it certainly has an adventurous and tragic, yet unique and beautiful story to tell.
Kalitza Psaraki [*1802 – † 1885]
During the Greek War of Independence [1821-1829], Turkish soldiers of Ibrahim Pasha’s troops moved from Timbaki to the Amari Valley of Crete in 1823, plundering and burning the villages. The inhabitants of Apodoulou fled to the mountainous region in horror, but four of the old people who remained in the village were instantly beheaded by the troops. Off the road, Turkish soldiers discovered and captured several children and their mother from Apodoulou. Among them were Kalitza Psaraki, the daughter of the chief magistrate of Crete, and her siblings. In order to be sold at the slave market in Cairo, they were brought to Chania and embarked to Alexandria.
But Greek freedom fighters attacked the ship and took the kidnapped people to the isle of Kasos where the Greek rebels’ fleet was located. Shortly afterwards, in 1824, the Turks conquered Kasos and enslaved nine hundred local women and children, including Kalitza.
Robert Hay [*1799- † 1863] of Linplum
was 25 years old when he first travelled to Egypt for study purposes. Shortly before that, he had inherited his family’s estate in Scotland. So he was a man with some fortune, able to employ artists who, like himself, had outstanding skills in documenting and drawing Egyptian antiquities, temples and tombs. Among his friends and companions were pioneering Egyptologists and orientalists such as Gardener Wilkinson, Edward William Lane (nephew of the painter Thomas Gainsborough), as well as artists such as Joseph Bonomi and Frederick Catherwood.
In December 1824, Hay set off from Cairo on a journey up the Nile in order to visit and document the historic sites of Abu Simbel, Kalabsha (Beit al Wali), Philae, and Thebes. He produced comprehensive architectural plans as well as detailed copies of the murals and inscriptions. His panoramas are particularly impressive.
When he returned to Cairo in February 1825, he took up quarters with Edward Lane, who had come to Egypt in 1825. Lane had rented a house in Cairo where he worked as a Turkish Bey, drawing and writing. In Hays company were two young women, dressed as Turkish men. One of them wore a huge turban, mischievously smiling – Kalitza Psaraki. In 1824, Robert Hay had bought her and some other Greek girls’ freedom at the slave market in Cairo and supported them from then on.
From November 1824 to 1828 and from 1829 to 1834, both of them travelled Egypt. They went along the Nile, up to the 3rd. cataract and to Nubia, where Hay and his companions created a fantastic image of the historical sites, Egyptian everyday life and written testimonies. Their work comprises portraits of many sites in Egypt which are now destroyed and are only preserved thanks to their records. Today, you can view these testimonies of the past at the British Museum.
Kalitza and Robert got married in 1828 while passing through Malta on their way to Scotland. Together with several artists and architects they had employed, they travelled Egypt again from the end of 1829 to May 1833, this time recording the extraordinary grave decorations of the rock tombs of Beni Hasan in the Middle Kingdom in detailed colored copies. They continued their work in Amarna, Asyut, and Nubia. In 1834, shortly after the birth of their daughter Henrietta Maria Hay, they travelled Crete to visit Kalitza’s family. Later on, in 1835, they returned to Scotland, where indispensable tasks regarding the family property awaited them. The couple had three more children, Kalitza Janet Erskine Christian Hay, Robert James Alexander Hay and James William Hay.
Due to purchasing Nunraw House, Robert Hay had meanwhile become Esquire of Linplum and Nunraw, and was so occupied with the management of his estate that further journeys to Egypt were no longer possible, to his great regret. In 1840 he published his unfortunately only book of a planned series of publications [Robert Hay, Illustrations of Cairo, published in 1840].
Built in 1846 in the style of a Venetian country house, the holiday home in Apodoulou bears evidence of this beautiful Cretan-Scottish love story.
The sympathic and friendly relatives of Karlitza Psaraki, Aristides and his wife, are still inhabiting the property. So they worked in the 60’s in northern Germany near Lüneburg, they speak very good german.
From our starting point in Kalamaki, or from wherever you come, the first stage of about 16 kilometers and 550 meters in altitude takes you via Kamilari – past the minoan palace complex of Festos, and crossing the Messara plain in a northerly direction – and then via Vori up to the village of Kamares.
At Kamares, you will reach the picturesque mountain road featuring a connection to the Amari Valley. On the southern slope of the Psiloritis mountain range, it winds itself uphill and downhill through the villages of Platanos, and Apodoulou, and to the junction of this tour at Nithravi, before it proceeds further to Thronos in the northwest. Providing views of Mt. Kedros [1,777m] and across the valleys, more and more breathtaking panoramas are to be enjoyed. Their houses tucked away under rocky ledges, the villages are nestled on the steep cliffs of Mt. Psiloritis [Timios Stavros 2,456m], and high above all this the mountain of Zeus with its snow-covered peaks sits enthroned.
Two more roads to explore the Amari Valley
South of the Amari Valley, coming from Nithravi, you’ll ride downhill into the valley of the river Platis via Agios Ioannis, before you proceed to climb the steep serpentines on the northern slope of Mt. Kedros, hairpin bend by hairpin bend, all the way through the villages of Chordaki, Ano Meros, Drigies, Vrisses, and Kardaki, until you reach the village of Gerakari at 600 meters of altitude and cross the pass of Mt. Kedros towards Spili at 850 meters of altitude.
In the valley bottom, the road runs through the rift zone between the Pindos limestones of Mt. Kedros and Mt. Samitos as well as the Tripolitzakalk of the Psiloritis mountain range. Via Amari and Monastiraki, it takes you from Meronas to Fourfouras or Agios Ioannis (partly unpaved).
Here, the sycamore trees are already in bloom in April. Along the course of the stream, they are soon to be joined by the bell-like, pale pink blossoms of the oleander, as well as water lobelia, hyssop, monk’s pepper, and the occasional light pink blossoms of the Judas tree.
Covered with maidenhair fern, the shady, damp rock walls show themselves off in their most splendid garb. With purple loosestrifes lining its banks, the brook gurgles merrily, and a pleasant coolness surrounds you.
This lavishly equipped fairytale world is filled with the bubbling sounds of the rivers, and the wind sweeps across the reeds of Geropotapos, Amarinos, and Platis with a soft hum, almost like a flute melody, for all the shepherds and nymphs to enjoy.
The roads leading down into the valley are lined with broom glowing in yellow and filigree flowering myrtles, while red and blue anemones make for a splash of color in the fields. The surrounding mountains protect and feed this water-rich, fertile valley. Thanks to the cultivation of grain, fruit and olives, it is famous for its cherries, morellos and apricots, as well as delicious apples and peaches.
The hospitable inhabitants of the small villages of the Amari Valley are known for their calm, balanced, and friendly nature. In Crete, they are regarded as exemplary for their diligence and their uncomplicated, straightforward manner.