When people imagine Crete, they mostly envision year-round sunshine, perfect beaches, and the salty Cretan Sea surrounding Greece’s biggest island. In the island’s south, however, there are many miraculous freshwater phenomena to be found. These sources have a story and irreplaceable function too. Here are three examples that will enthrall you.
Kourtaliotis is a perpetual waterfall near Plakias. Strangely, almost miraculously, there is no river anywhere to be seen that supplies the vibrant falls. Instead, the cool mineral water – of very good and constant quality – apparently just emerges from some holes in a rocky wall.
Recently, Geologists discovered that the source is an overflow from an underground ‘aquifer’, or river. Each Winter, it seems, the aquifer collects the rainwater from a 105 km2 inland plateau, enclosed by hills on all sides. The water sinks into the porous limestone soil but then encounters a watertight rock layer at a depth of 150 to 350 meters.
A volume of no less than 43.4 million cubic meters of water is therefore locked up in a huge ‘underground tub’! This tub constantly overflows in just 2 spots, and the most important one is exactly at the feed of Kourtaliotis Waterfall. This continuous flowing water eventually winds its way to the river of the romantic palm beach of Preveli.
The Baths of Ancient Gortyn
Another very special freshwater phenomenon can be found at Gortyn, half an hour to the east of the tourist center of the South, Agia Galini. There, magnificent ruins of what once was the Minoan capital of southern Crete stand alongside remnants of the Roman Empire. The site has an amazing ancient citadel, palaces, bathhouses, fountains, and pleasure gardens. Once again, however, the source of all the freshwater that graced this paradise is not so obvious. A small river runs beside the ancient city, but it’s not nearly big enough to have supplied so much for the city, especially not in Summer.
As it turns out, the Romans found a water solution high up at Zaros, about Zaros, 15 kilometers away, on the flanks of the Psiloritis Mountains. Roman engineers and constructors built a canal system that transported approx. 7,000 m3 of fresh water per day to Gortyn. A 400m3 large reservoir was placed at the top to keep the pressure on. Another piece of engineering genius was an ‘inverted siphon’, halfway through the route. Without pumping, it simply guided the water via a closed aqueduct into a lower valley and up again over the next hill, and so on down to the citadel. Thanks to this reliable water supply, Gortyn was a good place to be in those days! And even today, the Zaros spring is the source of a famous bottled water brand with that name.
A Spili Wonder
The main road from Agia Galini to Rethymno runs past another beautiful place with hidden fresh water as a feature. At a small parking lot just before the village of Spili, today’s locals always stop to fill a few bottles or jerry cans with spring water under some lush trees. The quality is much better than the municipality water at home, they say.
In previous times water from the spring flowed like a tiny river onto a beautiful arcade, which protruded into the valley at right angles. After about 150 meters, the arcade suddenly stops, and the waterfalls some 20 meters down through a kind of chimney. A dilapidated workshop can still be found there, where the force of the falling water is used to drive a millstone to grind flour for the local bakeries. Of course, a small chapel, Agia Fotia, overlooked this beautiful place, and hence that is the name of the source since ages.
Author’s note: You can reach these three places, Kourtaliotis Waterfall, Gortyn, and Spili, from Agia Galini in half an hour by car. Check www.visit-agiagalini.com for more information.