Almost exactly one year ago, we visited the island of Crete. The “crisis” was in full tilt, demonstrations were plenty in Athens and around Greece, and we were just into the shoulder season (mid-October). It seemed like we had much of the island to ourselves, including lonely little Arkadi Monastery perched on a hill in Crete’s Amari Valley.
The monastery facade you see in the panorama below dates back to the 16th century. Look closely, though, and you’ll see that it is strewn with bullet holes from a 150 years ago, a symbol of Cretan resistance and independence.
In 1866, almost 1,000 people, mostly women and children, took refuge at the Arkadi Monastery during the Cretan revolt against their Ottoman rulers. After three days of heavy fighting, the Cretans chose to die fighting rather than to surrender. As the story goes, when the Turkish forces tried to force themselves into the wine cellar-turned-rebel munitions room, the abbot set fire to all the barrels of gunpowder, wiping out the Cretan rebel forces and taking as many Ottoman soldiers as possible with them along the way.
When we paid a visit to Arkadi, the monastery’s tragic history was only a backdrop. There was an air of jovial hospitality as cheerful caretakers brought out local wine in plastic bottles to share with us in the late morning. We exchanged today’s stories, toasted to everyone’s health, and hoped for the young man of the group to find a good wife.
Some things are universal, timeless.
Thankfully, you could say the same of life on Crete. It seems that life has never been easy on the island, but Cretans have carved their way through it, enjoying their slice — and the little things — along the way.
When we departed, the caretakers insisted we take a bottle of wine — a taste of the Cretan spirit — with us for the road.
Panorama: Arkadi Monastery, Crete