Saturday, 8 July 2017
A morning by mountain springs
and the shores of Lake Kournas
I spent Friday morning [7 July 2017] in the mountains above and west of Rethymnon, travelling through some beautiful villages and small towns, along river banks and gorges and through olive groves, visiting Argiroupolis, with its springs and waterfalls, Kournas, which was briefly the capital of revolutionary Crete in the 19th century, and Lake Kournas, the only freshwater lake in Crete.
Argyroupolis (Αργυρούπολις) is 27 km south-west of Rethymnon, about 260 metres above sea level between Mousselas and the River Petres. The upper and lower village are well preserved, and many Venetian mansions, with their beautiful doorways, are still used as family homes.
The lintel in the Venetian house that was once the villa of the Clodio family preserves the Latin inscription: Omnia Mundi Fumus et Umbra, ‘Everything in the world is smoke and shadow.’
The town has about 700 inhabitants, who are mainly farmers and stock breeders, but is known for its springs and waterfalls that create lush vegetation and provide a green background for the many tavernas.
The main attraction for visitors to Argyroupolis is these springs. Water gushes from a cave at the chapel of the Aghia Dynami, where the water is said to be miraculous. These springs and waterfalls appear throughout the village, behind the tables in the many tavernas or even on the roadside. The springs are also the sources of the River Mouselas, and once powered large mills for grinding grain.
Argyroupolis covers the ancient city of Lappa, a Doric city state that was founded by Agamemnon according to the Mycenaean tradition.
Ancient Lappa spanned a large part of the region of Rethymnon from the Cretan sea in the north to the Libyan coast. In the 2nd century BC, Lappa allied with Lyttos and other cities in the wars against Knossos.
During the Roman civil war, Lappa sided with Octavian against Antony. With Octavian’s victory at the Battle of Actium, Lappa gained special privileges and autonomy, and flourished and grew.
The Diocese of Lappa was one of the oldest on Crete and is said to have been founded by the Apostle Paul’s disciple, Saint Titus.
Lappa prospered during the late Roman period, from the second to the fourth century, leaving many rich and impressive architectural structures across the hills between the Mousselas and the Petre. The cemetery of ancient Lappa has fine limestone tombs and a huge plane tree.
Lappa was destroyed by the Saracens when they conquered Crete in 828 AD, but recovered in the second Byzantine period. Lappa later belonged to the feudal Ηortatsis family. But when they rebelled against the Venetians, Lappa passed to Alexios Kallergis, an ally of the Venetians.
In the grounds of the Palios Mylos (‘Ancient Mill’) Taverna, we saw the remains of a 17th century fullers’ mill, looking more like the ruins of an old temple or church.
Later, under Ottoman rule, the village was known as Gaidouropoli or Samaropoli. The town was given the name Argyroupolis by the revolutionary committee in 1822, and its geographical position gave it strategic importance during the revolutionary activities in the 19th century.
We could have spent more time in Argyroupoli, exploring the excavated parts of the ancient city and Roman remains or visiting the large church of Aghios Ioannis., and we passed one old Byzantine church that has a mosaic floor from a Roman bath.
As we continued on the road,travelling with Talos Road Tours, we stopped briefly to watch a beekeeper tending his hives and feeding his young bees.
Our next stop was Kournas, a pretty traditional village 12 km further west. Despite the attractions of nearby Lake Kournas, the village is virtually untouched by tourism, with its old houses, village square, pottery workshop, kafeneion, taverna and traditional bakery.
Today, about 500 people live in Kournas. The town prospered from the 16th century on and is linked to many battles for freedom from the Turks. It was the seat of the Revolutionary Government in the Rising of 1866 and the seat of the Cretan General Assembly in 1897.
From Kournas it was a short journey down on Lake Kournas, the only freshwater lake in Crete. The lake used to be called Korisia after ancient Korion, a city thought to be in the area with a temple to Athena.
The lake was once full of eels but today it is better known for its terrapins, tavernas, tourism and the pedalo rental shops that line part of the shore. The White Mountains above are reflected in the mirror-like waters.
After a short drink on a balcony overlooking the lake, it was a short journey down to the coast to spend an afternoon in Georgioupoli.