The charmingly situated mountain village of Kritsa near Agios Nikolaos with the Panayia Kera, the most famous church in Crete, the Doric ruined city of Lato and hike through the Kritsa Gorge.
The most famous church near the ‘largest village’ on Crete, which became famous through the film adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis novel ‘Greek Passion’.
The ‘traditional’ village of Kritsa, 5.6 miles (9 kilometres) from Aghios Nikolaos towards the mountains around the Lasithi Plateau, is a popular destination for tour buses and day tourists.
Despite the commercialization of the ‘largest village of Crete’, which has been in place for quite some time now, it is well worth a visit, not only to avoid the crowds of people on the coast at Aghios Nikolaos during the summer months. From the bus station in the city, buses run regularly to Kritsa.
By rental car you drive from Agios Nikolaos about 1 miles (1.7 kilometers) towards the big intersection with the highway. To the left you go to Ierapetra and Sitia, to the right to Elounda and Heraklion and directly straight ahead at the big Lidl supermarket to Kritsa, which is 5.5 miles (9 kilometers) away.
0.6 miles (1 kilometer) before Kritsa on the right side at the place Logari is the old Byzantine church Panayia Kera. Kritsa itself has become known worldwide through Jules Dassin’s movie shooting of Nikos Kazantaki’s novel Greek Passion with locals as actors and has since been considered a typical, traditional Cretan village.
Of course, it hasn’t been for a long time, but the magnificent panoramic location on a terrace of the Lasithi Mountains overlooking the Gulf of Mirabello is still magnificent, especially from the nearby ancient Dorian mountain city of Lato. Due to mass tourism the ‘showcase village’ has lost its original appearance, but especially in the evening it is still contemplative.
Panayia Kera church
Old Panayia Kera church at Kritsa with the most complete and most famous palette of Byzantine frescoes preserved in Crete.
The Panayia Kera church is a three-aisled and dome-shaped church, with fantastic Byzantine frescoes. It is located along the road from Aghios Nikolaos about 0.5 miles (0.8 km) before Kritsa. The excursion is then also very practical with the adjoining, ancient Doric mountain town of Lato.
The church was constructed in three sections and the present center nave with the dome hall was built in the 12th century. The construction of the dome is unique in Crete since it clearly shows the Venetian influence.
On the other hand, the southern nave, consecrated to Saint Anna, as well as the northern nave, which is dedicated to Antonios, are covered with barrels of single-chambered chapels.
Within the beautiful church of Panayia Kera is perhaps the most complete and certainly the most famous palette of Byzantine frescoes preserved in Crete.
They are originally from the 14th and early 15th century. But since all were so often re-painted and reworked, it is impossible to accurately date them.
The frescoes at the southern entrance, through which one enters the Panayia Kera Church, show the life of Anne, the mother of Mary: her marriage and the birth of Mary, as well as the early life of the Virgin herself until her journey to Bethlehem.
The wall to the central nave is decorated with a long series of pictures with saints.
In the center of the church is the central nave, which is the oldest part. The frescoes originally date back to the 13th century. The story of Mary is continued and there are scenes from the life of Christ, including the birth of Christ, Paradise, the banquet of Herod, and an excellent representation of the Lord’s Last Supper. In the vault of the altar room, the Ascension of Christ as well as the Mother of God, the proclamation and the church fathers are depicted.
Near the main portal in the west are Saint Helena and her son, the Byzantine Emperor Constantine and the north-western pillar graces a portrait of Saint Francis of Assisi.
In the north side, there are quite fragmentary but lively scenes from the resurrection and the Last Judgment, together with the joys of paradise and chronological excerpts from the life of the saints (especially Saint Anthony). There is also a picture of an unknown saint in Cretan nationality clothes.
In the course of time, the large scenes were portrayed with small portraits of saints and apostles.
Panayia Kera church in 2004
Opening hours during the season: Tuesday to Sunday from 9 am to 4 pm, admission 3 Euros in the past. For an extra fee you can often have the frescoes explained by a guide.
Photos can not be made in the interior unfortunately and it’s a good idea to have flashlight ready to illuminate the frescoes and also the rather uneven ground during the visit.
Directions to Kritsa and Panayia Kera church
Link to map with directions:
Click here: Directions Panayia Kera church.
Lato, the best preserved mountain city of the Dorian’s on Crete.
The archeological site with its ruins from the old warrior’s town dated from 5th and 4th century BC and located just outside Kritsa.
Location and history of Lato
Lato was originally founded by the Dorians and existed until the classical age. The ruins are not much visited, as tourists and archaeologists are more concerned with the remains of Minoan culture in Crete.
But this is the reason for, that there is the lucky opportunity to be almost alone here in the beautiful landscape and to breathe the atmosphere of the Greek classical period on Crete.
However, that Lato was not an insignificant place, is already clear from the mere extent of the ruins of the old city, which spread in all directions.
The mountain town has a magnificent location and lies between two twin peaks of a heavily rugged hill. The city was surmounted on the peaks by a double-acropolis encircled by walls.
The design of the mountain town clearly shows the desire for security of the Dorian warriors, who had migrated from Greece to Crete. From here they were able to defend themselves well and at the same time had a good overview of the surrounding area in order to carry out their own raids.
From the southern hillside you can see the white buildings of the present city of Aghios Nikolaos, which were in classic times only the port of Lato.
Further north you can see the Gulf of Mirabello and the Bay of Elounda with the sunken port town of Olous, which was the largest competitor of Lato during its heyday.
To the west is the inland with its valleys and the steep peaks of the Dikti mountains with the Lasithi plateau.
The name Lato derives from ‘Leto’, the mother of Artemis and Apollo from mythology. Homer tells in the Odyssey how Eileithyia (the Minoan goddess of birth) visited Leto when she bore the god Apollo on the island of Delos. It is therefore fitting that Eileithyia became the guardian god of Lato, confirmed by coins found here.
Undoubtedly, Lato was founded already in the first half of the first millennium BC by the Dorians. The ruins now visible are from the 5th and 4th century BC. They were already excavated shortly after the year 1900.
Visit of Lato
One enters the place about 200 yards (ca. 183 m) below the first ruins and reaches after a walking path a rectangular area with a gate, where once the original entrance by a city gate had been.
When you are walking up the steps of the old main road you can see the remains of shops and workshops, which stood on the city wall on the right, as well as defensive towers and access to the residential areas on the left.
Further up is the five-corner market square Agora, which was the meeting place for the citizens. On its northern side are a series of steps, which remind of a theater square of the Minoans as in Knossos or Festos.
The steps lead between the remains of two towers to the Prytaneion, the town hall. Here the councilors met and held receptions. On the hearth, in the middle of the room, the sacred fire burned. On the back are smaller chambers containing the city archives.
In the center of the Agora is a deep, square cistern and a shrine. Here stood a temple without pillars, where numerous statues from the 6th century BC were found. On the western side was a shaded and protected square, flanked by colonnades, the Stoa or the colonnade. The southern end of it was intersected by a modern, circular threshing-site, which was used by the peasants until the middle of the last century.
The nearby Exedra was a kind of public seating area, similar to a grandstand. In the south-east corner of the site is another Exedra and another wide staircase in Minoan style, which is officially referred to here as the ‘theatrical area’. This leads to an elevated terrace with a well-preserved temple from the fourth century BC dedicated to Apollo. The foundations and the altar have been restored.
Admission fee: 2 Euros; opening hours during the season from Tuesday to Sunday from 8:30 am to 3 pm.
When you are visiting Lato or the town of Kritsa, don’t forgett to have a look for the Panayia Kera church or a hike in the Kritsa Canyon.
More pictures about Lato:
Link to map with directions:
Link to map with directions:
Click here: Directions Lato.
One of the most impressive gorges on Crete is the Kritsa Canyon close to Aghios Nikolaos.
Hiking and climbing over rocks is often necessary.
The circular route is one and a half hours long, but can also be doubled with a small detour. Often you can also meet other hikers here and hundreds of stone men live in the gravelly canyon bed.
From Aghios Nikolaos, the best way to reach Kritsa Gorge is from the southern edge of the city, at the large junction where the new expressway to Ierapetra branches off. But here you go straight to Kritsa, 5 1/2 miles (9 kilometers) away. At the entrance of the village there is a roundabout that one leaves to the right in the direction of the ruined city Lato. Two hundred meters after the town sign at the end of Kritsa, after a bridge, turn left on a dirt road marked ‘Gorge’. This leads directly to the entrance of the gorge and after 300 meters you can park your car.
Kritsa can also be reached by bus from Aghios Nikolaos, and it is a 15-minute walk from the bus stop to the ravine.
In Kritsa itself there is the most important Byzantine church on Crete, the Panayia Kera. There are also numerous shops and restaurants.
The difference in altitude within the Kritsa Gorge is up to 150 meters, and climbing over rocks is often necessary. Since the stones in the river bed have been washed out and kicked smooth by many hikers, it is advisable to put on good shoes with a good grip sole. The way back is completely easy on agricultural roads.
From the place where the car was parked, you walk down the path on the left and shortly after that at a metal gate again down to the left through an olive grove terrace into the canyon bed. Follow the path into the gorge over stones washed by the water.
On the way there is a large boulder in the path, which can be crossed on the right side with the help of metal brackets. Shortly after, a carob tree stands in the middle of the gorge.
Then there are fascinating narrow passages in the gorge, where the cliffs, which rise up to 150 meters high, leave only a narrow passage. A washed-out spot, which already looks like a pipe, can again be overcome with the help of two metal brackets and a rope.
After that some boulders have fallen into the gorge and further boulders of rocks and washed out steep places can be bypassed, where arrows mark the right path.
Now the Kritsa Canyon is a bit wider and an old fence can easily be crossed because it has already been torn down. After about half an hour after the washed out pipe, you reach the exit of the gorge, which is indicated by a sign with the inscription ‘Exit’.
This was the most fascinating part of the hike. Now it is possible to double the hike to three hours by going straight on towards Tapes.
On the usual route, however, one leaves the bed of the canyon on the right on a path marked by a stone man. Immediately afterwards there is a square foundation of wooden blocks on the side of the path, which widens into a gravel path with holm oaks and bushes on its sides. After climbing up the path, another path from the left meets it and after another 5 minutes you reach a gravel road that crosses it.
Follow the gravel road to the right and after another five minutes the gravel road leads to the left. Attention – don’t miss it: Here you don’t follow it any further, but continue straight ahead on an old mule track, which after a short time is surrounded by walls of boulders. From here you have a beautiful view over the wide valley with its olive trees below Kritsa.
A gate follows and the path descends and meets a dirt road that should lead directly through an olive grove back to the parked car.
Directions to Kritsa Canyon
Link to map with directions:
Click here: Directions Kritsa Canyon.