Saturday, 30 August 2014

A little tremor does nothing to spoil the last day of a holiday in Crete

A stroll through the back streets of the old town of Rethymnon on Friday morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

I was in the shower in Rethymnon on Friday morning [29 August 2014] and never noticed that an earthquake was rattling Greece and was widely felt throughout Crete. The quake struck at 6.45 a.m. and had an epicentre beneath the seabed near the island of Milos. It was widely felt across Greece, from Crete to the very north.

Earthquakes are a regular occurrence in Greece, and thousands of people were left homeless in January by a quake on the Ionian island of Cephalonia. But in most cases, earthquakes cause no damage, and are seldom even commented on by local people, although they sometimes give tourists a jolt.

The most famous earthquakes to hit Crete in ancient history destroyed the Minoan palaces at Knossos, Phaistos, Malia, and Kato Zakros and contributed to the destruction of the Minoan civilisation, although it is also said the destruction was caused by a volcanic eruption on the island of Santorini (Thira) or was wrought by invading forces.

Certainly, earthquakes have been a part of the story of Crete over the centuries. There are signs of earthquake damage at many Minoan sites and clear signs of both uplifting of land and submersion of coastal sites due to tectonic processes all along the coasts.

An undersea earthquake at sunrise on 21 July 365 destroyed nearly all towns in Crete and caused widespread destruction in central and southern Greece, northern Libya, Egypt, Cyprus, and Sicily. It was followed by a tsunami that devastated the southern and eastern coasts of the Mediterranean, particularly Libya, Alexandria and the Nile Delta, killing thousands and hurling ships miles inland.

An earthquake at dawn on 8 August 1303 killed 4,000 people in Crete and destroyed buildings in Iraklion and across the island. The earthquake was felt as far away as Constantinople and Tunis and triggered a tsunami that caused severe damage and loss of life on Crete and at Alexandria.

Late on 16 February 1810, an earthquake caused extensive destruction in Iraklion, where 2,000 people were killed and damage was caused from Malta and central Italy to northern Egypt and Syria.

I had hardly even noticed Friday morning’s earthquake, and as I went out onto the balcony, morning life was getting off to a normal and busy start. All traces of Thursday’s busy market in the car park below my balcony were long gone, and it was going to be another, bright sunny day. Nobody seemed to be rattled or concerned about what passed as a tiny tremor.

The Cathedral or Mitropolis in Rethymnon, seen through the narrow streets of the old town (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

But after breakfast there were a few things to savour and revisit before leaving Rethymnon for yet another year. Two of us took a walk through the old town, by the minarets and old churches, along the cobbled streets, by the Venetian doorways and fountains and beneath the Ottoman balconies.

It had been a week with visits to more than half a dozen beaches and drives through the olive groves in the countryside and in the mountains, swimming most days, opportunities to stop and pray in cathedrals and churches, in monasteries and convents, a few boat trips, two art exhibitions, a first-ever visit to both the Kara Musa Pasha mosque and the archaeological site at Phaistos, time in coastal resorts and mountain-side villages, a walk in a forest, meals with friends, lingering sunsets each evening, and time to sit and talk, to read and pray.

Sails in the sunset seen from the Sunset Café beneath the Fortezza earlier this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

If there was anything I had thought of doing but never got around to in the past week, it was only because I was doing something else.

Before leaving, there were some small presents to buy. We also bought some good Greek olives in an old shop by the Porta Guora, and stopped outside the gate, near the Square of the Four Martyrs and the Municipal Gardens to buy bread and cheese pies in the bakery run by the Sampson family on Dimakopoulou Street.

Across the street, a man was opening his small shop where he sells and repairs hand-made lyras and other traditional Greek musical instruments.

As I strolled on through the streets, I thought about bringing home an olive tree, on sale everywhere this year for €10, all potted, packaged and ready to take on a plane … perhaps next year.

A shop front in Ethnikis Antistaseos Street, Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

We visited the Church of the Four Martyrs as the Divine Liturgy was coming to a close with the priest’s blessing, and thanked God for this year’s blessings in Greece.

We had one final coffee in Barrio, a busy café on the corner of Koumoundourou and Dimitrakaki Street. The bus to Iraklion Airport stopped at Adele and many of the beach resorts east of Rethymnon, and then gave us an unexpected if unnarrated tour of the beach resort of Bali.

Later in the afternoon, as we flew with Aegean Airways over the Aegean islands on our way to Frankfurt, the blue waters and blue skies looked calm, there were few clouds around us and as I looked at Santorini in this summer scene, it was hard to believe this part of the Mediterranean had shuddered a few hours ago or had been so violently disrupted so many centuries ago.

Blue skies and blue seas … flying over Santorini and the Aegean on Friday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)