Live The Myths of Chania

Chania conjures an array of captivating images in the minds of travellers. Some of the Mediterranean’s most celebrated beaches, dreamy villages, countless tiny churches, and dramatic gorges are located in this western part of Crete. Apart from its natural beauty, Chania is also a magical tapistry of myths dating even earlier than the Minoan era. Crete was the birthplace of Zeus, the king of Olympian gods and a central figure in the Greek mythology, both directly and indirectly.

 

Zeus’ son was Minos after whom the Minoan civilization was named. His daughter, Akkali, was impregnated by another Olympian god Hermes (or Apollo) giving birth to Kydon (meaning “glorious” or “proud” in Greek). Kydon founded  Kydonia, one of the most important and powerful cities of Western Crete, built at the site of the modern-day city of Chania.

 

Kydon’s fate was quite tragic. Wishing to build strong strategic and diplomatic relations with neighboring cities, Kydon decided to marry his daughter Eylimene to the king of the city Aptera, called Apteros. On her side, though, Eylimene was secretely in love with Lycastus, king of a less prominent city in Western Crete. Despite Eylimene’s objections, Kydon insisted on betrothing her. A few days before the wedding takes place, war broke out between Kydonia and its neighboring cities. King Kydon turned to the Delphi Oracle and asked what he should do in order to prevail in the battlefield against the enemy cities. They Oracle’s response was that a virgin coming from the city should be sacrificed. The lot fell on Eylimene. Hearing this and wanting to spare his beloved, Lycastus revealed his secret affair to Kydon, but the mob of Kydonia decided, in a rage, that Eylimene deserved to die since she had dared to fall in love with an enemy of the city. Kydon sacrificed his daughter. Upon examination of her dead body, it was proved that Eylimene was pregnant to Lycastus’ child. Apteros, out of shame and fearing Lycastus revenge, murdered him in an ambush and fled in self-exile to Minor Asia’s city of Lycia. The two murdered lovers joined, according to the myth, in the Underworld.

 

At Kastelli hill, the citadel of Chania’s Old Harbour, archaeological excavations confirm the systematic habitation of Kydonia dating back to Neolithic era and early Minoan period revealing ceramic sherds, walls and ground floors of houses, sanctuaries and significant corpuses of Linear A and B tablets. Similar findings can be traced in ancient Aptera, in a site located 15km East of Chania, on a plateau of 200m altitude above Souda Bay.

Aptera was comparable to ancient Kydonia in terms of power and wealth since it was a prominent trading center thanks to the city’s two ports, Kisamos (today’s village of Kalyves) and Minoa (the present day region of Marathi in the Souda Bay). The residents of Aptera were peaceful people who were music and art entusiasts, unlike their eternal rivals, the residents of Lappos who were aggressive and military-oriented. This contrariness to Lappians was the main reason for the great, high walls surrounding the city which are visible even today.

The origin of the city’s name is believed to refer to Apteros, the king of Delphi who built the second temple of Apollo. Yet, a more charming version comes from the mythology of the area. Being a center of musical arts in ancient Crete, the city’s temple of Muses was chosen by the goddess Artemis for a music competition between Muses and Sirens. The two groups of deities sat respectively on the two sides of the Souda Bay and sang as beautifully as they could. The decision of the goddess was in favor of the Muses and the Sirens felt so distressed by their defeat that their feathers fell off into the Bay forming the small white islands one can see jutting out from the water. The Sirens were since left wingless (“Apterai”), turning into the female creatures we see in Odyssey, that allured sailors on their island with their singing, before devouring them.              

Another myth associated with Chania was the story of the mythical figure Talos, the first automaton that provides us with the first ancient blueprint for science fiction. The myth has it that Hephaistus, god of fire and technology, had offered king Minos the absolute defence system for his island kingdom, Crete: he divised a defender in the shape of a gigantic robot made of gleeming bronze, endowed with super-human strength, and empowered by “ichor”, the life fluid of gods that run his body in a single vein starting from the neck and ending in his ankle. This automaton was named Talos. Three times a day the bronze robot marched around the island’s perimeter searching for invaders. When he identified ships approaching the coast, he would hurl massive boulders into their path. If any survivors made it ashore, he would heat his metal body red-hot and crush victims to his chest. Talos was intended to fulfill his duties day after day with no variation before he goes back to his cave in Stalos, opposite of the Thodorou islets in Chania.

However, besides his  robotic behaviour he posessed an internal life his victims could scarcely imagine.  When the Argonauts with Jason and Medea looked for a sheltered cove in Crete to rest after retrieving the Golden Fleece and their subsequent numerous adventures, Talos spotted them. In order to save Jason and the crew, Medea divised a clever gambit offering the automaton a bargain: she claimed she could make Talos immortal, in exchange for the safety and integrity of her companions and the boat. Unaware of his mechanical nature and human enough to long for eternal life, Talos agreed. Medea had hypnotized him or, according to others, had thrown him into a state of madness, beofre Jason had the opportunity to take the nail out of his vein, thus causing Talos to bleed to death.

 

Talos’ story appeared in Greek coins, vase painting, public frescos, and theatrical performances depicting the importance of king Minos’ empire in the Southeastern part of Mediterranean Sea and the esteem he was held with by the Olympian gods. However, the contradictory aspect of his character is also depicted in mythology, especially in the myth of Vritomartys.      

 

Diktynna was called the temple of the ancient Cretan goddess Vritomartis (‘sweet virgin or maiden’ in ancient Greek), who is believed to have later been syncretized, conflated and finally equated with with the olympian deity of Artemis. There are two versions of Vritomartis’ story according to the ancient Minoan mythology.

 

According to the former, she was the daughter of Zeus and Carme, a nymph who took great delight in wandering in the forests and in hunting. The lustful king Minos fell in love with her and pursued her for for 9 months, but she fled from him. At last, she threw herself into the nets which had been set by fishermen or leaped from mount Dikty into the sea where she became entangled in the nets that finally saved her life and gave her the name Diktynna (from “dikty”, the Greek word for “net”).

 

The latter version of the same myth has it that Britomartis was the daughter of Zeus and Corme. She was fond of solitude and had vowed to live in perpetual maidenhood. From Phoenicia she went to Argos and then Cephallenia where she received divine honours from the locals under the name Laphria. From there, she came to Crete where she got pursued by king Minos; but she fled to the sea coast where fishermen concealed her under their nets, thus receiving the surname Diktynna. A sailor, Andromedes, offered to bring her to Aegina. On arriving in Aegina, though, he made an attempt upon her chastity, but Vritomartis fled from his vessel into a grove and disappeared. The Aeginetans who sought her, found in her place a statue and decided to build a sanctuary to her assigning her the surname Afaia which means vanished.

Both myths indicate a goddess having to do with with fishermen and sailors, honoured as the protectress of harbours and navigation. It is for this reason that her temples stood unsually on the banks of rivers or on the sea coast, the most famous and wealthiest one being the Dikynnaion in the Menies area of Chania, where during the Hellenistic and Roman period worshippers came with rich offerings from all over Greece as well as other parts of Mediterranean.

 

Very close to Menies, Polirinia is another site related to Greek mythology. Polirinia is an ancient citadel, surrounded by silent valleys and ridges that has collapsed into the earth. Polyrinia (meaning “many sheep” in Greek) rises 481 meters above sea level offering an impressive view of the Cretan and Libyan Sea. It used to be one of the most fortified cities of ancient Western Crete, having developed close trade relations with Sparta, Milos, Rhodes, and Egypt. Ships with cargo docked at either Falassarna port or in Choni (toaday’s village of Nopigia).

 

Choni was the port where King Agamemnon anchored in order to offer sacrifice  to the goddess Diktynna on his return from the victorious Trojan War. But before the sacrifice was completed, he saw his ships being set alight by the rebelling captives, therefore he had to leave the place in a hurry. Ever since, blood sacrifices left unfinished for some reason were known as “Cretan Sacrifices” and today refers to “incomplete desires and goals”.

 

Although there is a considerable element of fiction, the myths of Chania have inspired and  continued to influence the language, the art, and litterature we recognize today. For those with an interest in mythology or simply love historical sites, a visit to Chania would never be complete without a visit to the aforementioned sites.

 

Seize the opportunity to live the myths of Chania by booking a cruise with Chania Yachting. Visit these mythological sites or even plan your own expedition of your choice!

Fine sand framing a green blue sea, towering cliffs, and shimmering clear waters consitute an unparalleled scenery. What makes it unique, though, is the cold fresh water that seeps between the pebbles and flows into the sea lowering thus the temperature of the sea water.
The few tamarisk trees on the beach generously offer their shade to the visitors and a small over-the-water canteen can provide them with food and refreshing cold drinks.
Tucked away from crowds, in this remote corner of Chania you can enjoy the peaceful atmosphere and detox yourself from the hustle and bustle of every day life.

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