At Kapsaliana village, “The olive culture is one of the focal points with emphasis on its symbolism, its importance in religions, its role in Cretan life, diet and art.” (http://www.kapsalianavillage.gr/photo-galleries.aspx)
What started out as an anniversary get-away in November, ended up being a surprise visit back into the essence of old Crete. Kapsaliana village was once a small but thriving settlement that existed purely for the art of pressing olives. The nearby Arkadi Monastery was famous for it olive production and the monks and their families lived and worked at the monastery’s massive olive press on site in Kapsaliana. It flourished for over 100 years until, in the mid 1900’s, the monastery quit the business of pressing olives and one by one the residents of Kapsaliana dwindled. The deserted village eventually fell into the demise of ghost towns and crumbled into ruin.
Fast forward to present day, Kapsaliana has undergone painstaking restoration after years of neglect to become one of Crete’s most distinctive and idyllic retreats. The 300-year old hamlet set amid the vast olive groves of the Arkadi Monastery holdings has been converted into comfortable guest bungalows, a main house with a restaurant, gardens and a relaxing pool with a view of the sea . The historical integrity of the village has been carefully preserved and the old olive press and surrounding workshops present like a museum. Its location up in the hills above Rethymno puts it close to the famous Arkadi Monastery.
The monastery played an active role in the Cretan resistance of Ottoman rule. During the Cretan revolt in 1866, a terrible massacre by the Turks occurred at the monastery where 964 Greeks, mostly women and children sought refuge. On November 8th, the assault began with the Turks having the clear advantage – thousands of Turkish fighters with 30 cannons against less than 200 Cretan men armed only with rifles and knives. After three days of battle the last of the Cretan fighters were defeated and the 80 year old abbot of the monastery Konstantinos Giaboudakis, gathered up the remaining people, mostly women and children, and together they hid in the powder room. When the Turks arrived at the door, the abbot set the barrels of gunpowder on fire, choosing to sacrifice themselves rather than surrender. Reminders like this of the brutal occupation by the Turks are everywhere on Crete. (Remember the old Turk-hating granny in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding?”)
On Sunday, we took our bicycles to explore around the hills and stumbled upon a tiny little pedestrian-only village nestled down in a creekside ravine.
At first blush, Pirkis seemed to be a nondescript typical Cretan village (even the guidebooks miss it) but we discovered remnants of Venetian influence in the architecture indicating this town had been around for quite a while.
The biggest surprise was an old treasure tucked back into one of its alleys in an obscure spot – an old Venetian gate to the city with the Latin inscription, “Pateat Bonis” translated, “Be open to good.”
We got a lot of stares from the locals – the sight of two Americans on bicycles just doesn’t happen every day – but they were engaging, speaking rapid Greek to us like we could understand. As we were waiting for the bread man to deliver the morning’s goods, I asked these two if I could take their photo. The woman on the right was very shy but her friend grabbed her and made her chuckle. Of all the photos I take for my blogs, my favorites are of sweet smiles like these.
On our way back to Hania and home, we stopped at Georgioupolis for a surprise horseback ride through the surf on the beach. Perfect ending to a beautiful weekend!