Exploring Loutra

Once upon a time, high in the hills to the SW of Azogires, there stood a large city, constructed originally by the Dorians some three thousand years ago, and later, after the Classical and Hellenistic ages, populated by the Romans during their occupation from 67 BC until 330 AD.

Today, if you follow the high-level path from Azogires to Spaniakos, which passes through the area, there’s little to see …. unless you know where to look, and in the right places.  The road out of the village climbs to the Cave of the 99 Saints and reaches, after 1km, a turning left marked to ‘To Spaniakos’.  Take this, and almost immediately follow the lower track, through a gate, and continue ahead.

After ten minutes you’ll reach an abandoned VW van.  Below this is an eminence on the summit of which was a Dorian “tower”, a fortification, observation/signalling post which linked similar towers at Vlithias, Spaniakos (where the Turkish fort is now) and Anidri (ref. Explore ! Jan ’17).

The tower at Anidri is in direct line of sight, 950m away across the valley, and the one above a similar distance.  Reaching the tower is feasible, though not easy, by terracing and gaps in fencing, then a short climb to the rocky summit.  Although only at 365m, it was strategically well positioned and easy to defend. 

There are still remains of stone walling, built during the Dorian years of 1,100 BC to c.500 BC.

Further along the track, fork right through a gate, and walk up to the Roman city of Loutra.

Following the Dorians came 500 years of Classical/Hellenistic Greece, before the Roman occupation of Crete.  It’s hard to imagine a large population here, as almost all the terracing and ancient walling has been destroyed to plant and cultivate olive trees.  The key is the spring of fresh water at the top of the site, which now fills a large cistern, which feeds thousands of olive trees.  This, Loutra being the Roman/Latin name for “baths, or thermal springs”, with healing properties known from ancient times, gave the place its name and subsequent importance. 

There’s a small church here, its name unknown and now in ruins, but with the bell still standing.

And below, by the left fork below the gate, are rumours and stories locally of a Roman temple, monastery and even an amphitheatre, though as yet no traces that I’ve found ….

From the spring above the church, if you pass through the ‘gate’ and climb a short distance on the track (towards Spaniakos), there’s a panoramic view of where once stood the Dorian and Roman settlements.  A feature of Dorian ‘cities’ were rock-cut tombs, or burial chambers, as at relatively nearby Kadros and Kalamyde, and here is no exception.  Look carefully to the north, possibly with binoculars, in a direction of 55 degrees, and just 0.5 km away, to see the entrance to a quite unrivalled burial chamber cut into the rock probably around three thousand years ago.

Reaching it, sadly, is now a problem.  There was once a path from the spring contouring across, but now is fenced off and overgrown.  Until recently, the easiest way was from 0.5km further up the Cave road, past the new church of St. John the Russian, and then left along a track parallel to the one below, through two gates, to see the tomb below, with easy access. 

In the last six months the landowner has put up signs – PRIVATE AREA and DO NOT ENTER  – which is an absolute tragedy.  The tomb is above, and very close to, the old VW van passed earlier, but fencing and steep/loose rock make this approach dangerous and difficult.

Should you reach the tomb, maybe by what a friend refers to as “judicious trespass’ and a late evening walk, you will be astounded.  Climb inside, to find an area approx. 3m x 2m and nearly 2m high, clearly the last resting place of important personage.  And certainly a “tomb with a view” as was important to the Dorian culture.  Recesses indicate where a stone slab would have covered the entrance.  And if you climb on top, there’s another carved area indicating an open grave.

Here is a video taken 10 years ago showing the tomb in more detail:

Lucky, at the Alfa cafe in Azogires, knows of another tomb in the area, and very probably there are more yet to be discovered.  Lucky too, may know of the situation re. access to the site.

And even should you not be able to visit the tomb itself, the walk to Loutra and back, through  three thousand years of Dorian and Roman history, is a pleasant and enjoyable way to spend a few hours, with the prospect of later refreshments and a warm welcome at the Alfa cafe.

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