The Glory of Byzantium in Crete: Cretans, the last defenders of New Rome
“The city has fallen”: this was heard when the Ottoman Turks entered Constantinople on the morning of the 29th of May 1453. Only the Cretans kept on resisting on the 3 towers of the walls until the sultan was informed of their heroism and let them return to Crete, where they announced the tragic news. The whole island was mourning for days and since this event the Cretan people have been dressed in black. This event signifies the end of the roman/byzantine period on the island for both the scholars and the simple people in Crete. This historical period had started many centuries ago, when in 69 B.C. Quintus Caecilius Metellus conquered the island and was named therefore “Creticus”. During the Pax Romana several cities prosper and one of them, Gortys, becomes the capital of Crete and Cyrenaica. Either in 59 or 60 A.D. the Apostle Paul stops at Crete on his way to Rome. These two previous historical events form the cultural world of the island in the centuries to come. Dozens of basilicas with beautiful mosaics, dated to the early Christian period, have been excavated all over the island. Hundreds of churches are decorated with wall paintings after the liberation of the island from the Arabs and their art is attributed to either the direct influence of Constantinople or to local painters. Even later, when the Venetians conquer the island the cultural impact of Constantinople endures, especially in areas under the control of very important families of byzantine origin such as the Kallergis. Only after the fall of Constantinople has started, the blending of orthodox/byzantine with catholic/renaissance cultural elements, results in the Cretan School of iconography. Excellent examples of this school are found mainly in monasteries, which were renovated during the venetian period bearing western influence. We are looking forward to showing you all these monuments during your visit in Crete.
Day 1 Chania - Rethymno
The life of Agios Nikolaos covers the biggest part of the decoration in Kyriakoselia and dates from the 13th c. Pagomenos used to work mainly in western Crete and another example of his work can be seen in Alicambos. In Kournas there are 4 different layers of murals preserved, the oldest of which is an interesting example of the Komnenian period. On the way to Argyroupolis - lunch break - we stop to take a look at the church of Agia Kyriaki that used to be a roman bath. Scattered all over the village, there are several remains of the roman/byzantine period (tombs, mosaics, churches). In the apse of the church at Roustika, there is the “Throne of Grace” - a theme typical in the west tradition - painted in byzantine style. Rethymno is a nice place to have dinner and spend the night.
Day 2 Rethymno - Heraklion
In Kyrianna we take a look at the ideal architectural combination of the byzantine and venetian tradition. The historical monastery of Arkadi, which we visit next, combines post-byzantine, venetian and renaissance elements. During a casual stroll through Margarites we discover several churches hidden in the little allies. Lunch break in the mountains at the foot of an ancient acropolis. Axos is known for its small churches built on the ruins of early Christian basilicas. The coat of arms of the famous byzantine Kallergi family decorates the main entrance of Agios Georgios in Kamariotis, a bishop’s seat during the Venetian period. Dinner and overnight in Heraklion
Day 3 Heraklion
In Kitharida there is a very interesting monument - architecturally speaking - which consists of three aisles, a narthex and three domes, one for each aisle. An early Christian basilica in Myronas was converted into a four-pillared cross-in-square domed church in the 11th-12th c. preserving its synthronon. Paliani is considered to be the oldest convent on Crete built on the ruins of an early Christian basilica, the relics of which can still be seen today. The picturesque village of Archanes is going to host our lunch break. In the afternoon our footsteps will lead us to several byzantine monuments from the 11th – 15th c. in the village of Episkopi. We conclude our day with the beautiful collection of icons in the church of Agia Aikaterini in the center of Heraklion.
Day 4 Heraklion - Sitia
We start our day in the little village of Bizariano, where we visit a basilica from the 11th c. A.D. decorated with frescoes of the 12th c. A.D. We continue our day with the early Christian basilica in Hersonissos and we complete the morning with the beautiful church of Kera in the village of Kritsa with wall paintings from the 13th-14th c. A.D. Lunch break in Plaka by the sea, with a view of the island of Spinalonga. In the afternoon we visit the church of Agios Nikolaos, one of the few examples in Crete with aniconic decoration. We continue to Sitia, where we spend the night.
Day 5 Sitia - Zaros
in the far northeast of Crete lies the monastery of Toplou, famous for its amazing collection of icons from the 15th-18th c. A.D. A former bath was transformed into a bishop’s seat in the 11th c. A.D. in the village of Kato Episkopi. The small church of Panagia in Lithines from the 14th c. is our next stop on the way to Ierapetra, where we enjoy a nice lunch break. One of the unique examples of the life cycle of Agia Pelagia is in the mountain village of Ano Viannos on our way to Zaros. Dinner and overnight.
Day 6 Zaros - Gerakari
The first depiction of the newly introduced Agios Fanourios in Crete can be admired in Valsamonero dated from the 15th c. In the monastery of Vrontisi, we can admire the only scenes of the Menologion/Calendar and Christ’s Supper at Emmaus. In Gortyn, the capital of Crete and Cyrenaica in the roman period, there are many monuments of the early Christian times, such as the basilica of the apostle Titus. In the vicinity of the roman rock carved tombs of Matala, we will have our lunch break. In the mountain village of Gerakari, we will have dinner and spend the night.
Day 7 Gerakari - Chania
Traces of the famous byzantine family of Kallergis are found in the church of Panagia in Meronas which is beautifully decorated with wall paintings of the 14th c. and is associated with imperial workshops from Constantinople. Three different layers of mural decoration are to be seen in the church of Lambini. The monastery of Preveli, situated on the isolated south of Crete, offers an amazing collection of icons depicting scenes of the Old and the New Testament. Lunch break in Plakias. The work of the Cretan mural painter Pagomenos can be seen in the village of Komitades,on our way to Chania, where we spend the night.
Day 8 Chania
The most interesting monument of the early byzantine period, from both an architectural and a wall-painting perspective, is the Church of Archangel Michael in Episcope with pre-iconoclastic decoration and a baptistery. The second most important collection of icons in Crete is to be admired in the monastery of Gonia. Lunch break in Kissamos, with remains of the roman period, mosaics and urban villas. Back to Chania and time to explore the medieval town. Free time and overnight in Chania.
Day 9 Depart from Greece – Chania
According to the schedule of your return flight you will be taken to Daskalogiannis (airport of Chania)