Isthmus of Crete

On the isthmus of Crete at Istro and surroundings.
Monastery Moni Faneromeni, Minoan city Gournia in front of Pachia Ammos and the imposing Ha Gorge on the way to Ierapetra.

Ha Gorge
View from the Ha gorge to the isthmus at Pachia Ammos. In the background Aghios Nikolaos can be seen across the gulf of Mirabello.

The isthmus of Crete

The freeway heading south from Aghios Nikolaos is not particularly interesting at first, because it leads through between barren hills, past newly built settlements, villas and hotel castles above the occasionally recognizable bays with sandy beaches. However, the construction of the new highway, which is still under construction, is breathtaking in places.

Apart from the reed-lined beaches of Almiros and Amoudhara shortly after Aghios Nikolaos along the old national road, there are few reasons to stop. 6 miles (10 kilometers) after the city, you reach the growing settlement of Kalo Hario with tavernas and mini-markets. Here some paths wind steeply down to the coast with excellent small beaches.

The next village is Istro, where shortly after there is a turnoff to the remote mountain monastery of Moni Faneromeni. The route then passes a remarkable Minoan site at Gournia.
After about 12 1/2 miles (20 kilometers) you reach Pachio Ammos, where the narrowest point of Crete is located. The route across the isthmus to Ierapetra on the Libyan Sea is only 7 1/2 miles (12 kilometers) here.


Pachia Ammos is a rather windy cluster of houses about 1 1/4 miles (two kilometers) east of Gournia. There are a few cafés, mini-markets and several restaurants here behind the stony beach. In one of them the musician Eddy Winter, who immigrated from Germany, regularly performs live.
Here you can also make a detour to another important early Minoan site in Vasiliki and the ancient village of Episkopi with its magnificent Byzantine church or to the Ha Gorge nearby.

Moni Faneromeni

Monastery of Moni Faneromeni at the isthmus of Crete.

Monastery of Moni Faneromeni
View of the Gulf of Mirabellou above the Monastery of Moni Faneromeni located on the right edge of the picture.

3 miles (5 kilometers) after Istro, you take the signposted exit and drive up a dusty, partially paved dirt road dizzyingly inland. The 3 3/4 miles (6 kilometers) stretch is a bit challenging to drive up to Moni Faneromeni, but when you finally arrive, you have one of the most beautiful views on Crete.

The monastery was already built at the beginning of the second Byzantine era. The ethnic Christian order had great power and played a prominent role in the resistance in the subsequent periods of foreign domination.

In summer, the two monks now living in the monastery receive guests and prepare meals for them in their kitchen. However, if the rather gloomy-looking monastery building is locked, you can knock loudly to gain entry. The monks lead visitors into the chapel, which was built as a cave shrine after a holy icon of the Virgin Mary was miraculously discovered there. This discovery was also the reason for the foundation of the monastery.
The frescoes, although made quite late in the seventeenth century, are impressive – especially by Panayia Theotikou, the Mother of God.

Directions to Moni Faneromeni

map creteLink to map with directions:
Click here: Directions to Moni Faneromeni.


Gournia, the best preserved city of the Minoans on the whole of Crete, located on the highway from Aghios Nikolaos to Ierapetra on the Gulf of Merabellou.

Streets and building floor plans in Gournia.

Gournia, which is situated in a saddle between two low hills along the highway from Aghios Nikolaos to Ierapetra, is the best preserved city of the Minoans on the entire of Crete.
The original name of this Minoan city is not known, and the present name comes from small, ancient hallows, which belonged to the houses of the settlement.


It is not to determine when Gournia was originally founded and only the ruins tell us the story. From the graves of Mochlos, however, we know that as early as the 3rd millennium BC, the merchants at the Gulf of Merabellou were rich people, since, beside the gorgeous stone-vessels, also dainty gold-jewelry was attached to the robes of the dead.

It is thus presumed that Gournia was already founded in the third millennium BC., but the remains to be seen today date from the time of the Neopalatial period around 1,500 BC.
As in other places in Crete, Gournia was also destroyed around 1,450 BC. Restricted reconstruction took place in the era of Mycenaean rule in Knossos and the shrine was constructed at this time. However, the city was finally abandoned after a fire – about 1,200 BC – and disappeared into oblivion.

However, a look at the map reveals Gournia’s former strategic location. Here lay the control of the isthmus and the shortest connection by land to the south coast at Ierapetra. The land route avoided the dangerous sea voyage around the Eastern Cape of Crete, which is covered with shallows and cliffs.

Here you can see the position of Gournia (right) at the southern end of the Gulf of Merabellou.

Arthur Evans suspected, as usual one of the first, that Minoan remains had to be present in this area. Finally, a young American, Harriet Boyd-Hawes, began to search for it in 1901. By 1904, Gournia had been completely excavated.

The excavated Minoan city

The town was crossed irregularly and without a fixed plan, with stone-paved uphill, narrow streets running from north to south. In addition, many horizontal roads intersected the settlement. These roads were clearly designed for pack animals rather than for carts.

The settlement is not very large with its size of 160,000 sq ft (1.49 ha) by comparison to the Minoan palaces, which can be visited. However, Gournia would have been just as good or poor as an average village on Crete 50 years ago.

The houses were one-storey or two-storey with a door on a stone threshold to the street and often consisted of only one room. The walls were made of bricks, which were plastered with light gray. The floors were made with mortar, with tiles and slaked lime.

One can well imagine the community living in a narrow space, which lived here 3,500 years ago. However, the buildings were not quite as narrow as it might appear, as many of the structures to be seen today were only the basements and cellars, which were accessible from the main room above stairs. And the basic plans of the main rooms do not have to match the basements.


Among the discoveries that the excavations carried to the light of the day were saws, chisels, needles, various kinds of hammers, etc., which gave us a complete picture of the way of life and the occupations of the inhabitants, who were lived as simple people from craftsmanship, agriculture and fishing during this period.

On the top of the hill is a larger building structure, the ‘Palace’ of the governor, with a square in the middle. In principle, it is practically a small mini-copy of the palaces of Knossos and Festos with magazines, courtyards and living quarters.
However, the building was in no way clearly defined by the houses in the neighborhood, which is a good sign that the inhabitants lived peacefully together in their community. Nor did the entire city have any protective walls, as the Minoan fleet offers the safety.

20 yards (ca. 18 m) north of the ‘Palace’ is a shrine. It is easily visible through the sloping path, paved with a complex pattern of evenly tuned stones. The Shrine itself, three steps high, is a small room with a bar for cult objects. Here a series of terracotta goddesses with raised arms were excavated, as well as snake totems, double axes and other cult objects, which are now to be seen in the Archeological Museum of Heraklion.

Shrine of Gournia
The Shrine of Gournia.


If you drive from Aghios Nikolaos on the highway to Ierapetra, you will see the excavation site on the right near the road, just a short distance before you reach the southern tip of the Gulf of Mirabellou.

Here you can see the highway leading from Aghios Nikolaos (white, small buildings in the center) to Gournia.

Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm; Entrance fee 2 Euros.

Tip: Gournia is not too far from the Ha Gorge and Ierapetra or Agios Nikolaos (depending on where you start the tour), where a visit could be well-connected.

Directions to Gournia

map creteLink to map with directions:
Click here: Directions Gournia.

Ha Gorge

The imposing Ha gorge near Ierapetra on Crete.
Location and the area around, pictures and video of the spectacular crossing of the canyon.

entrance to the Ha gorge
The entrance to the Ha gorge with the water-trough in the center below.

A particular major characteristic around the city of Ierapetra, ahead of the lovely town of Vassiliki certainly is the Ha Gorge. It is undoubtedly one of the wildest gorges on Crete, an uncommon morphological sensation of mother nature herself, most likely a result of tectonic earthquake.
It continues as a pure ecosystem, unchanged by humans, who nevertheless realizes its structure beyond reach for discovery or expansion.

Not many skilled climbers have surpassed the Ha gorge. Virtually any effort with no knowledge or even the tools could prove deadly, as it occurred previously.

The entrance of the Ha gorge is quite slim, regarding 3 meters and starts at the top. Its size in several places is just 30 cm (c. 1 feet) as well as in others a maximum of 3 meters. To the left and right stand massive rock walls 200 meters to 400 meters huge. Its distance is approximately 1 km.

Prior to the entrance there is a groove, made by a tiny fountain, which comes away from an additional pond above. This isn’t observable from the basement of the mountain however, you could view at it after you climb up several stones with care.

The brilliant simultaneous colors on the stones are remarkable, as well.

While you get hiking to the inside one could see numerous such tiny ponds as well as waterfalls, mainly in winter, the best idea for a period to explore the gorge.

While you move forward inside you are stuffed with amazing, as massive stones, decline in square or quadratic pieces darkness the little area, you merely abandoned.
Some time ago, the mountain of Thrypti had been overgrown along with pinus radiata forests, a genuine decoration to all of Crete. The biggest section of the woodlands was burned down in the past. Nevertheless, the potential of the particular species (pinus Brutia) in order to regrow quickly as well as withstand shortage would certainly rapidly provide complete recovery, if it was not for the outlawed herding of sheep along with goats.

In addition to the pinus radiata forests, in addition there are all kinds of other species, trees, plants and good smelling flowers. Numerous uncommon and vulnerable flower kinds tend to be protected within the gorge.

The location inside and around the gorge is an extremely essential wild animals’ habitat. The tiny ponds attract numerous migrant birds, but additionally native to the island wild birds as well as animals, insects and serpents providing them food and housing.

Ha gorge in winter
The Ha gorge in winter with threatening clouds appearing above.

The Cretan rabbit, weasel as well as the badger are usually common. A mouse from the African wildlife may be discovered: the spiny mouse, that appears just like a well-known mouse, along with brownish hair, white-colored around the belly along with spikes on its rear and sides much like the hedgehog. The hedgehog is additionally typical and is protected by Greek animal welfare law. Within the gorge numerous kinds of bats are also located.
A good deal of hunting wild birds and vultures inhabit the region of Thrypti, not to mention tinier wild birds, such as the duck hawk, the partridge, the quail, woodcocks, red-colored nightingales and crows.

The quantity of species is important, however the amounts of the individuals tend to be reducing, because of the progressive control of human within the natural environment. Outlawed hunting, fast driving cars and harming from pesticide present a critical risk to every one of them.

Pictures Ha Gorge


Video about the Ha Gorge


Directions to Ha Gorge

map creteLink to map with directions:
Click here: Directions Ha Gorge.

Please share this:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top