From promontories overlooking the sea and mountain ridges dominating valleys, the intriguing ruins of the Venetian castles in Chania immerse in the rugged Cretan landscape. Each monument has its own mysterious legend, its own controversial and compelling tales, many coming down to us almost intact but their allure derives from the history and the human drama played inside and outside their walls. Though the stories of heroic battles, sieges, treasure hunts, betrayals, love affairs might have been distorted from generation to generation, all of them though bear a grain of truth.
There is a plethora of castles to exlpore in the Chania region: in Fragkokastelo, in Aptera and Varypetro, the Ingedin fortress in Souda are just a few. However, the picturesque castle cresting the craggy islet of Gramvoussa, two miles nortwestern of Balos Lagoon, lays claim to being the most impressive, located in an area where myth and magic lurk at every turn.
It was designed by the Venetian architect Latino Orsini and its building began around 1579, so that the Venetians could guarantee more control over merchandise sea routes that had been infested pirates at that time. Its capacity was estimated around 3000 men for whom the water supply came from two wells and five large cisterns found in the fortress. In 1630, a decade after the completion of its building, the fortification of Gramvoussa included 24 canons of different bore, 4000 cannon-balls, and 20 tons of gunpowder.
After the occupation of Crete by the Ottomans in 1669, the fortress along with the forts of Souda and Spinaloga would remain under Venetian control. The Ottomans, however, bribed the officer in charge, Captain de la Giocca, who opened the gates and let them inside the Gramvoussa castle. The story has it that the officer boarded a vessel to Instabul where he lived a lavish life for many years.
During the Greek Revolution of 1821, the Cretan rebels chose Gramvoussa as the headquarters of their operations against Ottomans for three main reasons: its strong fortification, its protected harbour, and for being close to Peloponnese, the main scene of the revolutionary struggle. It was twice that the rebels attempted to conquer the castle. The first time, the Cretan leader Bouzomarkos managed to climb the walls of the fort, sneaked to the main gate where he found the guard sleeping in the arms of his beloved. He stabbed him, but spared the woman’s life only to hear her signaling the alarm a few moments later. Bouzomarkos was killed before having the chance to open the gates for the rebels awaiting outside.
The second attempt took place some years later, in 1825. Three men disguised as Ottomans approached the opposite shore, lit their pipes, and fired two shots in the air, the signal for the boatman to come to the shore and pick them up, which he did. The sentry at the fort opened the gates to let them in, the opportunity the 700 men who were hiding at the nearby chapels of Agios Sostis and Agia Irini were waiting for. They stormed in the fort and took it over.
Since then, Gramvoussa had become synonymous to piracy and its reputation had spread all across Europe. Unable to sustain themselves due to the lack of food, the 3000 members of the Revolutionary Committee started attacking British and French merchant ships. Their raids were so succesful that, besides the daily bread, they managed to gather gold, silver, and other riches which they hid inside the islet’s caves. Soon though, their victims decided to join forces and extinguish this pirate lair. In 1828 a naval squadron made a surprise attack on the islet, seized all the ships in the harbour, bombarded the fort, and finally took it over. All the pirates were captured and part of the eastern walls of the fortress were torn down. After the end of the Greek Revolution and following the London Protocol of 1830, Crete (including the fort of Gramvoussa) was given back to the Ottomans until the liberation of the island in 1898.
Besides being a time trip back to a bygone age, visiting the islet of Gramvoussa is a feast for the eyes. The islet juts out over the water covered with greenery and wild flowers, a granite monolith rising 137 meters above the surface of the sea. This bare rock sculpted by the wind and the water has escaped the touch of civilization. It stirs the soul and fascinates in an atmosphere of enchantment and wonder. Walking to the top on the old paths of pirates, rebels, and soldiers, overlooking the bright Cretan Sea on one side and the looming mountains of mainland Crete on the other is an unparalleled experience that transforms beauty into ecstasy and energy.
From the top, the view of the blue water and the dreamy white and pink sand at the feet of the islet is an inestimable treasure, a work of art in nature. This color made of miniscule fragments of coral, granite and shells welcomes the turquoise sea water on the shore with the color and the scents of the Mediterranean vegetation in the background. The area is protected by the Natura 2000 program being one of Mediterranean’s most well-known ecological wetlands – a sanctuary and route for many different species of birds, as well as a safe environment for Monachus (‘monk’) seals and Caretta (loggerhead) turtles to nest. Here they find food and shelter in the warm waters constituting a special ring in the area’s ecosystem chain.
Interstingly, in the northern waters of Gramvoussa lies a rusty shipwreck from the ’60s, being a prominent part of the area’s history. The cargo ship, ‘Dimitrios P’, had anchored in the south side of the island to hide from the stormy weather in the Aegean Sea. However, around noon, the chain of the starboard anchor broke and the vessel ended up on the islet’s rocks. Since then the wreckage had been the host of an entire underwater world, rich with aquatic flora and fauna. The vitality of the sea brings it back to life colonizing it with fish, red and yellow sea fans and expanses of seagrass that vibrate as the water flows through them, stimulating the emotions of the divers who visit it.
Gramvoussa is an inmitable location and despite the thousands of tourists who come to explore its merits, its nature has remained unspoilt and wild – a combination of the strength and splendour of the sea with the energy of the rugged rocky scenery.
At Chania Yachting, we always feel special joy when we cruise the waters of Gramvousa and we would be happy to have you onboard with us.
We embrace your holiday vision and expectations by:
- Speed and Comfort
Elegant, spacious, and powerful, our Princess 55 is the yacht of our choice.
Not only is she our gorgeous stage, she allows us to to plot the flexible and far-reaching itineraries that are so essential for you
- Safety First
Apart from the standard Safety Regulations we commit to, we have a newfound understanding of safety when it comes to chartering during the pandemia
- Expert Local Knowledge
Our team knows their whereabouts.
They will let you know about sites worth visiting and walk you through a heaven of possibilities and options
- Tailored Options
By understanding your needs and offering tailored tips and suggestions, we will make your private cruise a memorable experience
- Leisure Combined with Luxury
We take pride in taking the extra step: our unwavering standard of excellence is only the beginning, as it is our passion that connects us to you
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