A classic post-Minoan town during the renowned Dark Period of Minoan history, Kastrokefala dates to between 1200 and 1000 BC. Despite being just ten minutes away from Heraklion, most residents are utterly unaware of its existence.
Location and Traveller Appeal
Close to the shore in the Ellinoperamata neighbourhood of Heraklion, Kastrokefala rose on a steep limestone hill – quite steep, and the enormous rock that abruptly ends its southern portion is none other than the Gorge of Keri, also known as Almyros. The Minoans chose to establish Kastrokefala, a settlement sheltered from their adversaries following the collapse of their civilization, at the highest point of this hill on the edge of the canyon since no other location could be found more fortified by nature.
Reaching a height of 355 meters above sea level, the pyramid-shaped hill offers stunning views over the fertile plane of Heraklion, the beach Ellinoperamata, the settlement Rogdia, and the once-holy volcano-like mountain Stroumboulas.
Hiking the Kastrokefala Hill Loop – Keris Gorge
Situated in Ellinoperamata, the Gorge Almyros is the closest canyon west of Heraklion city, a little oasis close to the busy town between the post-Minoan town of Kastrokefala and the highlands of Keri. Crete’s greatest holly (Phillirea media) wood is located in the east side’s centre, making it a significant habitat. Despite overgrazing, numerous species exist, including platan trees, carob, and wild olive trees.
It’s very close to Heraklion, yet very few people have set foot inside. The vehicle arrives at the location of the 14th-century Agios Ioannis Farangitis monastery, also known as Saint John inside the Gorge, which was erected in honour of Saint John the Baptist.
From there, stroll past the chapel honouring Saint Marina, the two-aisled chapel honouring Saint Anthony and Saint Paraskevi, the shrine honouring Saint George, and, after nearly a full day of walking, arrive at the chapel of Lord Christ at the Gorge’s beginning.
The trail is lined with trees, and the foliage becomes more dense as you climb. The Gorge is usually dry in summer, but it becomes a tiny stream in the spring after the winter rains and snow melting from the mountains. Three little waterfalls you will encounter while climbing result from prolonged, intense rainfall in a location where the limestone is pinkish in hue.
The Kastrokefala Hill Loop – Keris Gorge is a moderately challenging route, taking about two hours and thirty minutes on average to finish, sometimes more, depending on your skill level and breaks. The route is lovely and accessible all year round. However, it is not advised to travel there from November to May owing to potential safety concerns brought on by seasonal rains (the Cretan winter).
So, when you plan a day trip to the Kastrokefala ruins, pair it with a hike through the Almyros Gorge, which, incidentally, has six other names:
- Gorge of Keri owing to the same hill of Keri to the east.
- Ellinoperamata Gorge, as it terminates in Ellinoperamata Beach.
- A common name for all the gorges in Crete is Gorge Porofarago, which means the passage.
- Gorge of Tris Ekkliseis (Three Churches) from the monastery of Saint John Farangitis, which stood here from 1350 until its destruction in 1669 during the Turks’ siege of Candia. Only two of its chapels are still standing.
- Strouboulas Gorge because it begins at the base of Mount Strouboulas.
- Ghosts’ Gorge is so named because, for a long time, Satanist groups frequented the gorge area to conduct their different rituals. Because of the held ceremonies, many residents and hikers claim to have seen ghosts or other spirits in the area.
Kastrokefala, a Source of Inspiration for Archeology and History Buffs
A portion of the settlement has been excavated; it consists of an acropolis constructed on the edge of the cliffs, two plateaus occupied by homes, and a cyclopean wall 480 meters long, 2-2.5 meters wide, and 4 meters high that guarded the northwest side of the fortified town, which was the only area naturally accessible.
The mysteries surrounding this magnificent acropolis have been unearthed by archaeologists: they have found artefacts that provide insight into the way of life and culture of the area’s prehistoric residents thanks to fascinating digs.
Buildings discovered during excavations are examples of architectural styles renowned for their superior craftsmanship and rich cultural heritage.
Unfortunately, just a few visible remnants survive today, namely the walls and some building foundations. Still, climbing to Kastrokefala is a unique experience because of the views of the surrounding area and the city of Heraklion. Aside from the ruins, Kastrokefala’s entire region is covered in karst formations, including numerous undiscovered limestone sinkholes waiting to be mapped.
There won’t be many people here when you visit, save from the endless goats that have destroyed everything that hasn’t been harmed by time. Being one of the most grazed areas of Crete, the land remains unprotected by any authority and has become a rocky desert.
The Dark Age of the Minoan History
The bulk of the structures, including the majestic Minoan palaces, were built between 2000 and 1400 BC. The unidentified cause that destroyed the Minoan towns in 1700 BC was most likely the Santorini volcano’s explosion. Although the palaces were rebuilt, the downfall began when the Mycenaeans destroyed the great Minoan cities around 1400 BC.
The Achaeans and the Dorians could take the island because the Minoan superpower was irreversibly damaged, unable to recover, and finally withered away in the following years.
The coastal people withdrew to the most inhospitable and rugged peaks, feeling for the first time that an outside adversary endangered their island. This marked the beginning of the so-called Dark Age (1200 BC – 800 BC), during which settlements were constructed in the most naturally defended and inaccessible places.
The reason the Minoans left their lush land and constructed fortified towns on windswept peaks, such as the majestic settlements at peaks Karfi, Flektro, Kastro near Kavoussi, Azorias, Vrondas, Kastrokefala, Kyrimianos, Fratiani Kefala, etc., is still a mystery to archaeologists today.