Neapoli, one of the most beautiful cities on Crete with Monasteries and the ancient Dorian mountain town of Driros in the middle of the green Skafi basin.
Neapoli is one of the most beautiful cities – not only of the prefecture of Lasithi but on the whole of Crete. It is conveniently located in the middle of the lush, green Skafi basin on the Gulf of Mirabello and is still an important administrative seat of the region.
From here it is only 21 miles (35 km) to the Lasithi Plateau, as well as a short distance to Aghios Nikolaos and Elounda on the Gulf of Mirabello or to Malia in the west, with all its antitheses.
In spite of the importance of Neapoli in history, for example the birthplace of Pope Alexander V, and its strategic location, there are hardly any tourists in the city, except for those who sit on the main square and drink coffees while waiting for another bus.
Nevertheless, it is a charming provincial town which was once the capital of the Lasithi province before this role was taken over by Aghios Nikolaos in 1904. Neapoli is still the seat of the local administration and the provincial court and, besides many schools, also has a prison complex.
It is a friendly and peaceful place for an intermediate stop on the way to the Lasithi plateau. There is a post office, supermarkets, banks, tavernas, a good pizzeria and coffees around the large, sleepy main square where the buses stop in the direction of Heraklion and Aghios Nikolaos.
There is a large, magnificent church with great interior for the bishop’s seat in Neapoli and a folklore museum. The archaeological museum is currently closed because it is to be moved to better premises in 2018.
In Neapoli it is not quite as warm in the summer because of its higher location, but it is also colder in winter.
Regular snowfall in winter is not uncommon and it rains even more – sometimes into June and again from September – as the rain clouds, which brings the northwest wind to Crete, have to lose their water on the slopes of the Skafi basin.
On the slopes to the south of Neapoli there are a lot of trees and forests, which are more reminiscent to Central Europe than to Crete.
More photos from Neapoli:
On the route to the Lasithi Plateau are two monasteries just behind Neapoli.
The first is the Monastery of Kremaston, founded in 1593 by the monk Mitrofanis. The Nunnery of St. Michael and Gabriel ‘Kremaston’ is a center of monastic life and education and played a significant role during the Cretan revolution in the province of Mirabello. It was abandoned after WW2, but now it has been restored.
A little further, one reach the modern Monastery of Koufi Petra, when one turn right at the next junction. From here one has a magnificent view of the Skafi Basin.
On the following route to the Lasithi Plateau the road leads in the next valley at the Drasi Park with its water source and fountain. This can be reached either by turning shortly after the top of the hill into a small side road to the right – or from the other side of the valley, where the serpentine begin high on the plateau.
About 1 mile (1.5 km) northeast of Neapoli is the ancient site of Driros located on a mountain. The entrance is free and there is a car park in front of it, however the gate to the archaeological site was closed with a chain during a recent visit (beginning of June 2017). In the past, however, the place was usually open and unclosed all year round.
One leave the highway at Neapoli and follow the old road to Kourounes, Nofalias and Skinias towards the north. After about 1,000 yards (1 km), follows a signpost turn-off steeply to the right. At the next fork, one follows the sign to the right and after approximately 500 yards (0.46 km) one will reach the parking lot in front of the archaeological site.
The path with stone steps up to the old town is clearly visible behind the gate.
The earliest ruins of the ancient Driros date back to the 8th century BC. The city was flourishing during the next 700 years and was an important ally of Knossos, but a mortal enemy of Lyttos.
Only at the end of the 2nd century BC the importance of Driros diminished when many of its citizens emigrated to Miletus in Minor Asia.
After climbing the stone steps and hills of broken stones – the ruins of the old town – one finally reach a stone building protected by corrugated cardboard. These are the remains of an Apollo Delphinios temple from the 8th century BC, the oldest known in Greece.
In the middle are the sunken remains of a herd. Here, three hammered bronze statues, also the oldest known were found, and now exhibited in the archaeological museum in Heraklion. Additional, two inscriptions were found in the Eteocretan language, where Greek letters were used to write in an ancient Cretan or even possibly Minoan dialect.
The temple was dedicated to a cult that turned Apollo into a dolphin. This god was chosen by Greek seafarers to lead them at sea. The most important sanctuary of Miletus in Minor Asia was devoted to the same cult, which is further evidence of the connections between this area and the colony there.
Looking around here today, it is hard to believe that this temple once was on the edge of a populated Agora (market square). This could be reached by a staircase, which can be seen west of the cover and to the left of the entrance. A further staircase led from the east side to the temple and to the south a cistern was built in the 3rd century BC, which has now grown with fig trees.
The path beyond the temple leads to a short ascent over the scenery. Huge, polished stones on the slopes around indicate that this must have been an extended city.
As long as the old town has not been completely excavated, the thorny bushes and the dry stone walls are hardly worth mentioning.
As one climbs on the top of the hill, one will find, next to a land survey, the enchanting, vaulted chapel of Aghios Andonios, from where you have a wonderful view of the surrounding area.
The gloomy ruin landscape contrasts with the green one around Neapoli and the Aghios Ionnais peninsula.
The stunted oak in front of the chapel serves as a bell-tower with its bell-attached bell, and offers a welcome, shady place in the summer for a picnic.
If one follows the road leading into the Aghios Ioannis peninsula after reaching the junction for Driros, one will arrive at the Amazonas Park, an animal Zoo shortly before Kourounes.
Admission is 10 Euros (children up to 3 years free, 3 to 16 years 6 Euros) and for groups 8 Euros per person.