30 April 2019
I have said often that one of my glimpses of heaven is watching the sun set behind the Fortezza in Rethymnon.
Although this is still late Spring, the tourist season is still not up and running and snow still covers the tops of the mountains in Crete, there is a feeling of summer in the air, and I went to Rethymnon last night to enjoy the sunset and to walk around the old harbour and the marina.
When I first stayed in Rethymnon in the late 1980s, I spent three weeks in a private apartment overlooking the pier at the end of the small, horseshoe-shaped town beach. There were small beach bars on the beach back then and I learned to swim in its crystal-clear waters. The pier at the east end of the beach was little used, and most of fishing, pleasure and commercial boats in Rethymnon tied up in the old harbour.
Over three decades later, the Marina of Rethymnon is a large port zone with a capacity of 176 vessels, land facilities, large car parks, and mooring for cruise ships and passenger ferries.
Fishing boats have been encouraged to move here from the old harbour, with facilities to sell their catch, mend their nets and repair the boats. Two tourist pleasure boats in the style of ‘pirate ships’ are moored here too, although I imagine they may move back into the old harbour as the high season approaches.
The new piers feature exhibitions of modern sculpture, children use the vast open areas to skate and cycle, and it is a place for families to promenade in the evening before sunset.
The old town beach, squeezed now between the Marina and the Old Harbour, has all but disappeared, the water has lost its appealing quality, and no-one would think of swimming here today. Indeed, a sign prohibiting swimming here has fallen over and is partly covered in sand.
And yet, the water in the marina must have been clean, as I spotted a sea turtle slowly swimming between the boats and raising his head.
‘There is nothing permanent except change,’ according to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who maintained that change is the only reality in nature. Of course, Plato criticised Heraclitus, arguing that if something is constantly in a state of change, it ceases to be real or meaningful.
But, amid all the changes, some things seem to remain constant. As the sun set behind the old harbour, the features that stood out against the skyline included the old Venetian Fortezza, the old Venetian harbour with the lighthouse built by the Egyptians in the 1830s after the Turks briefly handed Crete over to the Egyptians, and the Ottoman minaret of the Nerantze mosque – planned as the tallest minaret in the East Mediterranean, with the snow-capped White Mountains (Λευκά Όρη, Lefka Ori) in the distance to the east.
We walked around the harbour and below the Fortezza as darkness began to settle over the old town, and then strolled through the narrow streets with their Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman reminders, before finding a table for two at Kyria Maria, a small taverna on Moschovitou, a narrow street linking the old harbour with the Rimondi Fountain.
It is still Easter week, and after dinner we were presented with two dyed eggs, one red, one green.
We cracked them against each other and greeted one another:
Χριστός Ανέστη (Christos Anesti!, ‘Christ is risen!’)
Aληθώς Aνέστη (Alithos Anesti!, ‘He is risen indeed!’)
This is one of the earliest times of the year I have been in Rethymnon. I have been coming here since the 1980s, and have been here as late as October. And while I have been in Greece throughout the year, and in other parts of Greece for Easter, including Mount Athos and Thessaloniki, I think this is my first time in Crete in April.
One of the advantages of being here at a different time of the year, is seeing new growth and fresh growth in the flowers and the trees in the fields, in the gardens and by the roadside.
Lemon trees and orange trees are in full fruit here this year, and are being sold in abundance. But I am also noticing the wild flowers and garden flowers on my walks through the streets or down to the beach.
A little vineyard I have come to admire behind the streets of Platanias, on the way down to Pavlos Beach, is being well tended to, but a field beside it is now covered in wild flowers of different colours.
As I was growing up, I never learned the names of trees, flowers or plants, so I am totally at a loss to describe them or name them. But here are some of the flowers I have been admiring during my walks in recent days during this Easter season:
Photographs: Patrick Comerford, Rethymnon, 2019