Sunday, 28 April 2019

Easter embers still
glow in the Venetian castle
ruins in Panormos

A hush had descended on cobbled streets of Panormos on Easter afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

A friend who lives in Thessaloniki reminds at this time of the year that if the Turks ever invade Greece they are going to do it on Easter Day.

Nothing moves on this day in Greece, or so it seems to many visitors.

After all last night’s bell-ringing, bonfires and firecrackers, a hushed calm descends on every town and village. The only movement seems to come from families visiting each other, stopping on the way to buy highly decorative cakes or elaborate flower arrangements to bring with them.

I wondered whether any taxis or buses would operate in Rethymnon today. But because this is also a resort area, the taxi rank in Platanias had a few white taxis every time I passed by, and an hourly shuttle bus was running between the bus station in Rethymnon to Panormos 20 km east, serving the hotels that stretch along the coast and beachs in the suburbs and on the fringes of the town.

Two of us spent Saturday night at the Easter celebrations in Tsesmes, the small village above Platanias, and as families were preparing for their Easter meals together, we caught the bus out to Panormos, once a fishing village but now a pretty resort, with boutique accommodation, three small horseshoe-shaped beaches and an old harbour.

Christ Pantocrator in the dome of the Church of Aghios Georgios in Panormos on Easter afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Few of the restaurants were opened this afternoon, but we were delighted to have a lazy, long, lingering lunch on Easter afternoon in Porto Parasiris, overlooking Limanaki, the middle of the three beaches.

There was time to finish a book, walk on the beach and around the harbour with its crystal-clear waters, stroll through the back streets, stop to pray in the Church of Aghios Georgios, with its splendid dome and majestic fresco of Christ Pantocrator, and seek out the mediaeval castle of Milopotamos.

Crete has been a crossroads of civilisations since antiquity because of its geographical position between Asia, Europe and Africa. It is believed that Panormos stands on the site of the Roman city Panormus.

The fifth or sixth century Basilica of Aghia Sophia, which I visited two years ago [2017], was once the largest in Western Crete, indicating how Panormos was an important Church centre in early Christian times.

Looking out on the harbour of Panormos from the ruins of the Castle of Milopotamos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Panormos is also known as Kastelli of Milopotamos or the Castle of Milopotamos because the castle of Mylopotamos (Castello di Milopotamo) above the harbour was built by the Genoese pirate Henry Pescatore ca 1206-1212.

Within decades, the castle had passed to the Venetians in their conquest of Crete. The egg-shaped fort was oriented from north to south and was equipped with seven towers and two gates, one on the sea side and one on the south side.

The castle was besieged by the Kapsokalives family in 1341, when it was held for the Venetians by Alexios Kallergis, but the failed to capture it. Hayreddin Barbarossa (1478-1546) and his pirates attacked the castle and set it on fire in 1538. But the Venetians restored it immediately because of its strategic location.

Venetian rule came to an end here in 1647 when the castle was seized by the Turks as they marched from Rethymnon on Iraklion (Candia), although the Venetian General Gildasi (Gil d’Has) tried in vain to retake it in.

Today, all that is left of this once strategic Venetian fort is a small part of the wall that looks like a pile of stones on a rocky outcrop above the beach and harbour, with the ruins of a church, where the emblem of the Kallergis family can still be seen.

Within the walls of the castle and church ruins, the embers of last night’s Resurrection bonfire were still smouldering late this afternoon, as I peered through the last remaining arch out across the harbour below.

Looking down on the beach from the balcony of Porto Parasiris, with the ruins of the Castle of Milopotamos to the right (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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