Erofili Theatre in Rethymnon

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The Erofili Theatre is part of the Fortezza complex on top of  Rethymnon’s Paleokastro Hill.  This is not an ancient Odeon; it was purpose-built in the 20th century and retains the beauty and feel of an ancient odeon, whilst benefitting from modern technology for performances.  I don’t know what it is about Greek open-air theatres, but even more than in regular  theatres, I feel like a participant, rather than a spectator.

This theatre was named after a famous play written by a Cretan author in the XVI century, when the Venetians ruled Crete.  It’s a tragedy that tells the story of Filogonos, an Egyptian king who has killed his brother, the legitimate king.  This traitor has taken the throne and his dead brother’s wife.  The king has a daughter, Erofili, who falls in love with a young man from the palace, Panaretos.  It turns out that the young man is the son of a king, no less, but had been kidnapped by enemies and then concealed, as he would be in danger by virtue of being the rightful heir to the throne.  Erofili’s love is returned by Panaretos, and they secretly marry.  Of course, the murdered king’s ghost appears and vows revenge.  And so, the king discovers the secret marriage of his daughter and, possessed by rage, decides to kill Panaretos.  In extreme savagery, he does kill the heir to the throne, and even presents Erofili with his ripped off heart.  Erofili, destroyed by grief, commits suicide, and in the end some form of justice is served when the murderous king is killed by the chorus.

The Erofili theatre has a lively programme of events, which includes classical and contemporary concerts, modern and ancient plays.  To me, the most fascinating are still the ancient tragedies.  It is really not about the well-known myth being represented, whose ending is known to all or most of the audience.  It is about being a participant, and witnessing a hero’s decisive moment, where he battles with his conscience and faces destiny.  It is really about the most human conundrum of  facing one’s music and grappling with fate.

If you would like to visit Rethymnon and use the opportunity to be a true participant in a performance at the Erofili, contact Karma Travel! They will be able to advise on the current programme of events and find you tickets.  Beyond these, Karma Travel can also sort out your accommodation and travel needs, and make your journey a pleasure.

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Pirate stories in Rethymnon

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I’m back in Rethymnon and I have taken a stroll up Paleokastro (‘Old Castle’) hill to the Fortezza.  This is a Venetian fortress with a colourful history.  It  possibly stands on the site of a Roman acropolis which is believed to have included a temple to Apollo and a sanctuary dedicated to Artemis.  The ‘Old Castle’ was built here in Byzantine times.

This small fortified Castel Vecchio was occupied by a Genoese pirate in 1206, when the Byzantine Empire was weak and the Fourth Crusade was in full swing.  This pirate was Enrico Pescatore, an enemy of the Venetians whose high hopes led him to claim Crete for himself briefly and strengthen the fortifications.  He named himself Enrico dell Castello de Candia, and was of course also self-appointed Governor of Candia.   His Cretan endeavour did not last very long, for the Venetians’ naval power surpassed his.  Enrico went on to be hired to protect a German fleet of galleys transporting Emperor Frederick II’s bride, Princess Jolanda of Jerusalem, to him.

The Venetians  used Rethymnon as a strategic base, built a small harbor and stronger fortifications.  In the 16th century, the walls were tested by Turkish invaders and other pirates.  A Calabrian corsair, Giovanni Dionigi Galeni, took the fortress in 1571.  As a child, Giovanni was captured by one of the corsair captains of Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha, and served as a slave in a galley.  He joined the corsairs and converted to Islam.  Giovanni was then known by many names, a terror in the Mediterranean.  He even appears in Cervantes’ Don Quixote de la Mancha under the name ‘Uchali’.  Apparently, this would have come from his Italian pirate name, Occhiali.  He started operations out of Algiers, where he became a notable follower of the most feared corsair in the Mediterranean, Turgut Reis.  By this time, he was referred  to as Uluj Ali, and was ‘awarded’ the administration of the Aegean island of Samos, and promoted to Beylerbey (Chief Governor) of Alexandria.  The taking of Rethymnon came during an eventful year for him, when he had captured four galleons near Malta, and then faced a mutiny of his janissaries in Algiers, who demanded overdue pay.  In this year, he also participated in the Battle of Lepanto, where he was involved in a campaign to drive the Spanish out of North Africa.  This is probably where the Cervantine reference comes from.  In this context, Uluj Ali probably had enough trouble already and did not quite manage to capture Crete, although he did raze Rethymnon to the ground.

The Venetians learnt a lesson when Uluj Ali attacked, and promptly started works to strengthen the fortifications.  Construction works were ongoing for the next twenty years.  The fortress was then designed to house administrative offices, ammunition storerooms, and a Catholic church which was attended by the Venetian officers and administrators who lived within the walls of the Fortezza.

After the Turkish occupation, the Catholic church was converted into a mosque, and houses were built inside.

The Fortezza was used as a prison at one point, and at another the houses built inside were used as brothels.  The houses inside the fortress were demolished in the 20th century, and the fortress remains, holding the ruins of the armoury, the church which was converted in to a mosque, and the Erofili Theatre, which merits another blog post.

I am sure there are more colourful stories to this place, which is very pleasant to visit and is now used for cultural events.  In fact, it is the home of a Summer Renaissance Festival which has been running since 1987.

If you would like a guided tour of the Fortezza and pretty Rethymno, and need to sort out transfers and accommodation, just contact Karma Travel!  Their expert staff will take care of all your travel needs and you will be able to just focus on enjoying your trip.  They can also provide helpful information about seasonal festivals and special activities to make your holiday more interesting and pleasurable!

The Monastery of Agios Petros

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I’m back in Heraklion since the New Year festivities.  I find that whenever I set foot here, there is something else I had not seen before, and this time I’m writing about one such discovery.

Strolling around the seaside wall, I wandered into the ancient Monastery of Saint Peter (Agios Petros), built by Dominican monks.  It contains the only surviving 15th century frescoes in Heraklion.  This was a Catholic monastery, and one of the most important in the city.

The monastery has two main buildings.  This was not always the case, and the fact that you can see the marks of many different epochs if you look carefully at the building is the main reason that it caught my eye in the first place.  The main and original building dates back to the 13th century as a one-nave basilica, but it collapsed in 1303 and was rebuilt.  Chapels were built into it throughout the next three centuries.  Perhaps this period was not just about building and adding new chapels to the basilica, but also about rebuilding it over and over again, as it is said that it collapsed at least three times between the 14th and 16th centuries.  The two smaller chapels with vaulted ceilings that stand by the southern wall are from this time.

In 1669, shortly after the Ottoman invasion, it was turned into the Sultan Ibrahim Mosque.  A minaret was added at the southwest corner.  New windows were opened on the north and south walls during this period, too.

In the 19th century, the basilica collapsed yet again.  This time, it was rebuilt and a dome was added.  Some signs of this reconstruction can be spotted in the northern wall.

After the Turkish invasion was over, the religious building fell into disuse.  It was then repurposed as a cinema and then a carpentry.

In 1991, a comprehensive restoration started, which concluded in 2010.  The whole area was expropriated and excavations were carried out in the surroundings.  Archaeologists were fascinated by some of the finds from the 2nd Byzantine period. Some objects can be seen in the Historical Museum. The restoration was supervised by the Cretan Archdiocese, and the building’s religious vocation was also restored. In fact, in recognition of its history, it has become an interfaith place of worship, and also a venue for cultural events.

If you would like to explore Heraklion with  local guide, contact Karma Travel!  Their experts can also advise on interesting sights off the beaten track and sort out all your travel needs to make your stay in Crete unforgettable.

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