Neapoli, one of the most beautiful towns in Crete with the annual big street festival ‘Koumissis tis Theotokou’ (Dormition of the Virgin Mary on 15 August), and with the surrounding area, including the ancient Doric hill town of Driros and the votive monastery of Selinari.
Neapoli is one of the most beautiful cities – not only of the prefecture of Lasithi but on the whole of Crete.
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The city 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 future.
The city’s most important festival is Koumissis tis Theotokou or Dormition of the Virgin Mary on 15 August, which is celebrated with a big street party and lots of music for two days.
The event always starts on 14 August in the evening and the music plays until sunrise the next morning!
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. These are criss-crossed by interesting paths and hiking trails.
More photos about Neapoli:
Video of the Skafi basin with 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.
For this reason, the monastery can receive many visitors every day, since in the past, the abundance has made sure that anyone who crosses the gorge and does not stop at Sellinari monastery is haunted by bad luck. This is why, since the Middle Ages, the travelers with their animals had stopped here to take a rest.
The gorge, which runs along the slope of Mount Selena, is the natural gate from the region of Lasithi to the north coast to Heraklion.
The Sellinari Gorge has a dense vegetation and is home to many bird species and birds of prey. Also, there was the rare Cretan wild goat Kri-Kri, but nowadays it is unfortunately not more found in the area.
According to legend, a monk from Rhodes named Nikolaos was led by God to the Gorge of Sellinari, where he found an icon of St George and built a church here.
Nikolaos lived in Sellinari until his death, and was buried in a small cave which he himself had struck at the top of Mount Anavlohos.
A few years after his death a ship from Rhodes arrived in front of the coast of Crete, and the sailors were said to have been led by a brilliant star to the tomb of Nikolaos.
The sailors interpreted this as divine evidence to bring back the mortal remains of Nikolaos to Rhodes.
More photo from the monastery and gorge of Sellinari:
The Anavlohos cave is located on the east side of the gorge, directly opposite the monastery. The exact spot can be recognized at the edge of the gorge by a large cross and the cave is also accessible, but over the steep path this is not easy.
During the Ottoman rule over Crete, the Turks were said to have attacked the monastery, which is to be proved by three bullets in the ancient icon of Saint George. Since the monastery was not destroyed in this event, this has been one more miracle since then.
A stop at the beautiful monastery and in the magnificent gorge of Sellinari is recommended. The monks are considered friendly and willing to explain the history of the monastery.
The churches and buildings have been gradually built since the 20th century, while the chapel of St George dates back to the 13th century. This was originally built by Nikolaos, but now also has later made wall paintings.
In addition to a natural science museum, a modern nursing home is also operated, which was constructed on the ruins of the ancient cells of the monks.
Directions to Monastery of Sellinari
Link to map with directions:
Click here: Directions Sellinari.
The Church of Virgin Mary ‘Keragoniotissa’ at Latsida.
Small church close to Neapoli and beautiful enclosed by oak trees they may have been here for hundreds of years.
The church of the Virgin Mary ‘Keragoniotissa’ can be found close to the village of Latsida in the vicinity of Neapoli which is beautiful enclosed by oak trees they may have been here for hundreds of years. The church is devoted to the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, a feast that is famous on August 15th each year.
A short while ago, within a restoration work, numerous tombs were discovered outside and inside the church.
It is a tiny, barrel-vaulted, single-naved church. It features a stone carved door frame having a lintel along with a projecting door crown as well as an independent semicircular relieving arch.
The church was filled with mural paintings (frescoes) nevertheless today, just fragments are visible in the arch of the altar.
The church is dated from the Fourteenth century and has now been recovered, at least two times, due to the breakdown of a major section of it.
Within the demographics of the Orthodox churches and monasteries in 1635, the hieromonk Gabriel registers the monastery of the Virgin Mary as well as its church.
Directions to Church Keragoniotissa
Link to map with directions:
Click here: Directions Church Keragoniotissa.
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.
The owner of the Amazon Park is reported by volunteers who have helped there to be a friendly person who is fully dedicated to the park. The Amazon Park is very clean and the enclosures are of a very high standard. All the animals and birds there look good and healthy and are not stressed. With birds in particular, if they are not kept well, you quickly see obvious signs such as baldness and loss of feathers in other circumstances.
Only a few miles north towards the sea is the Fino Animal Rescue shelter (close to the small village of Finokalia), which is one of the largest in the Neapoli and Aghios Nikolaos area and is run by two German expatriates.
In the loneliness on the secluded Aghios Ioannis peninsula, the two are happy about every visit, donations of food or money and voluntary work at the shelter. Probably you could found your favorite dog from Crete for adoption there!
Directions to Driros vs Neapoli
Link to map with directions:
Click here: Directions to Driros and Neapoli.