Aghia Roumeli is built over the ruins of ancient town of Tara, the root of the name of which has the meaning of the gorge with a river in it. There was a Tara’s colony in Caucasus and it is said that the Italian Taras was its colony as well. In this site which was a religious centre of Dorians, there was a church built after 1415 with the materials of the ancient temple which was concentrated to the Holy Mother. The mosaic in its yard is a 1st century B.C. one it is said that in Tara there were glassware workshops , as in 1959, after excavations there were found pieces of pots made of glass. There was also found a stone column marked with the double axe which shows the survival of the prehistoric religion in Crete.
The main road of Rethymni province is driving to the East to the province of Apocoronou Sfakia.
The province of Sfakia is the smallest in extent province of the Major Island, yet it has a great archeological interest. It is built on the slopes of the White Mountains and its houses are spread in a small plain at the sea shore of the Libyan Sea. This area was the hideout of those who could not bear slavery as the ground of Sfakia is poor and rough and the invaders preferred the flat and fruitful places.
This was the reason why the old manners and customs of Crete have been kept in Sfakia and also the language and the character of its people. There have also been kept the genuine features of the Cretan race, blond curled hair, red cheeks, clever severe appearance and the proud walking.
The Byzantine times were for Sfakia a period of wealth and prosperity. In 1650, Sfakia were captured by Turks under the command of Gazi Housein pasha who compelled the people to pay 5000 piastres per year to the cities of Mekka and Medina as a tribute tax. This amount was paid only a few times and was not for long.
In 1770 the hero Ioannis Daskalogiannis roused the people of revolution which ended with his horrible and unheard of torture which made him a symbol of sacrifice for Freedom. In 1821, the heroic Sfakians took again the arms first, forming also a sort of Parliament known as “Sfakia’s Chancellery” and their contribution to the revolution against the Turks of all Crete was a big one.
The unique beauty and the wildness of the nature as well as the historic fights of the Sfakian people made them proud and tameless but also hospitable, generous and gallant. The visitor to Sfakia is under protection and hospitality just because he is a foreigner.
Nature and people welcome him so warmly that when he leaves the place he is really fascinated. Many foreigners were charmed by the Sfakian soul, the Sfakian mentality, their manners and customs, the way they face both life and death.
The first and one of the most important places one can se on his way to Sfakia is Douda(6.5km) with its quite gulf, one of the biggest and safest gulfs of Mediterranean Sea. It has a perimeter of 12 miles and an average width of 1.6 miles. Its depth is from 10 to 30 meters and in its inlet from 1 to 5 meters. This is a naval station of our Navy and a naval repair base. The Venetians first built a fortress on the small island at the entrance of the gulf. At the point where today is the Radio Station (ERT) there was salt works in the past.
During the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries the gulf of Souda was a pirate’s hideout. During the last years of the occupation by the Turks the businessman Ligounis asked permission from the Cretan Parliament for a railway from Chania to Souda to set up the harbour of Chania, a work that was never done. Although the gulf of Souda is considered as one of the safest gulfs in all the Mediterranean Sea, there were also unhappy events there.
On April 23, 1913, on the day of St. George, the little church of St. Nicolas on the small island was to change its name into St. George after the name of King George 1, who was assassinated at that time in Salonika. The boat that was sailing to the small island was turned and six out of the eleven persons who were in the boat were drowned. The people imputed the tragedy to the anger of St. Nicolas because the church consecrated to him, was meant to another Saint. So, the church remains consecrated to St. Nicolas . During the WW1, the 27.000 ton steaming ship ´Minevaska’ was attacked with torpedoes while she was laid in the gulf. During WW2, the gulf of Souda was used for refuelling and Churchill wanted it ‘an amphibious acropolis’ as he said...
Leaving Souda and after a short distance turning to the right, we reach the ancient town of Aptera (14.6km) and its remains. There is also a Turkish building destined by the Turks to be a hospital for the Navy. The view from this place to the gulf of Souda is a magnificent one. Going back to the main road, at 13.9km we see at the left side the village of Kalami. There, in 1872, the Turks built the fortress Itzedin which was used as a jail by the Cretan State and it was there that Eleftherios Venizelos was imprisoned after a trail, in 1902, when he was in conflict with the High Commissioner of Crete Prince George.
Ancient Aptera in Chania
A little further from Kalami there is a superb beach called ‘Kiani Akti’ with country tavernas. After a distance of 17.6km, on the left side of the river Xidas, the traveller comes to the sea side village named Kalives (17.6km) where there is a hotel, tavernas and a magnificent beach extended in several kilometers.
The name of this village is related to the landin of Arabs in 826, where they put up their sheds. At the landing of Egyptian troops on September 24, 1822, the rebels of that area chased them and 150 Mamelukes were killed by the beach, where as many others were drowned on their way back to their ships.