Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Crete - The Lasithi Plateau

The last time we were on Crete we hired a car and drove up to the Lasithi Plateau, a large, scenic plain located in the Eastern part of the island. You'll also see it spelled as Lassithi is some texts and it's about 70km from Heraklion, lying at an altitude of roughly 840m. What makes it unusual is the fact that it's one of the few permanently inhabited areas at such an altitude around the Mediterranean and the Winters can be very harsh with snow often persisting until mid Spring. Anyway, we didn't have a camera last time so we went back again…

Lasithi PlateauPanoramic View Of The Lasithi Plateau

The surrounding mountains make the place a natural bowl and alluvial run-off from melting snow has made it an extremely fertile place, continuously inhabited from 6,000 B.C. aside from a couple of hundred years when the Venetian rulers prohibited cultivation and kicked the natives out. Those same Venetians, once they'd relented and let the farmers back in, ordered the construction of a large system of drainage ditches, still in use today, that transfer the water to a sinkhole on the Western edge of the plateau. The Lasithi plateau is most famous for the thousands of white-sailed windmills that were used to irrigate the land for centuries. However, most of them have been abandoned and fallen into disrepair having been superceded by modern diesel and electrical pumps. That doesn't stop the tour offices promoting visits to see the windmills of Lasithi though but be aware that you won't see very many of these now at all now. Still there is some interest in renovating and restoring some of them so maybe in time, the plateau will again be home to a horde of white sails.

WindmillsOnce you get up onto the plateau, the road winds round the edge of it as that's where almost all of the little villages are and even these are perched on the edge of the rocky slopes so as to give every last bit of good land to farming. There's the odd little farmhouse dotted around here and there but it's mostly all fields and fields of vegetables. However, it's also famous for one other thing and that's being the birthplace of Zeus, mythical king of the gods.

If you follow the road around to the South-Western end of the plateau, then you'll reach the little village of Psychro and it's from there that you can trek up the path to the Diktaean Cave, which is where the legends say that Zeus was born. It's a fairly steep path but you can hire a very expensive donkey ride up if you're feeling unable to manage it, although I thought it was just too pricey.

Well, we're still fit enough for a plod up a mountain path so off we went and it was worth the trek up as the views out over the plateau are amazing. Add to that an abundance of wildflowers beside the path and enough butterflies to keep me chasing around with the camera to little avail made it an excellent walk. After about twenty or thirty minutes climbing, we eventually reached the cave entrance with its obligatory archaeological representatives. One to sell you a ticket to the cave and one to take it from you again as you enter or should I say descend…

Dikteon CaveWhat you get is a fairly big hole in the ground with steps going down and down and down into the darkness. These days the cave is lit up a bit so there's no need to take a torch and a guide as was once advised. The drawback of all that modernization is that it's now a major attraction and you almost have to queue behind the trail of like-minded tourists as you wander down those steps.

According to the legend, Zeus' father Kronos had sworn to devour all of his children at birth to avoid falling foul of a prophecy that one of them would overthrow him as leader of the Titans. However, Zeus' mother Rhea tricked Kronos at the birth by giving him a stone wrapped in swaddling to swallow instead and left the baby Zeus in the Dikteon Cave. Here the goat nymph Amalthia nurtured him and the Kuretes protected him by dancing and clashing their spears against their shields to drown out the baby's crying.

NB: The cave is called by many names, probably due to translation differences from the Greek so you'll see it called any of Dikteon Cave, Diktaean Cave, Diktean Cave, Dikteon Andron, Diktaion Antron or any variation of these.

As I've already said, the cave is reasonably well lit these days so there's really no need to worry that you'll fall over your own feet. What's more likely is that you'll slip on the steps as they can be a bit wet in places so some care is still needed while wandering around down there. That's really about it and after wandering down to the bottom of the cave with its little pond, it's time to wander all the way back up again. Of course, the cave itself is full of the stalactites and stalagmites normally associated with such places and some of them have been been very nicely illuminated with coloured lights to add to the mystical atmosphere of the place.

Dikteon CaveDikteon Cave

Once you get out of the cave, it's an easy stroll back down the path to Psychro, or Psichro as it's often referred to, enjoying again the views out over the plateau. There are several caf├ęs at the bottom of the path and we had a reasonably tasty lunch in one of these. We fancied eating out on the balcony as the views were lovely but it was bit on the windy and chill side so we ended up inside close to an open and roaring fire of all things.

We then had a slow drive, following the road round the plateau, until we eventually found the way off down to Agios Nikolaos with a thought of visiting there for a while but it was getting late by then so we headed back to Hersonissos for the night.

No comments: