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New Sfakia history
24 October, 2015 21:24

A review of the recently published book “Sfakia” : A history of the region in its Cretan context, by George K. Dalidakis and Peter Trudgill, edited by Jean Hannah. Mystis Editions, price €14.90.

For those visitors who know and love the physical beauty of Sfakia, with fissured mountains falling into the sea, fertile plateaus and olive trees, corbelled mitatoes, coastal pathways, high altitude walks and distant goat bells, this great sprawling book provides a different perspective, concentrating on the local inhabitants: where they came from, their culture, pride and independence and the roles their forefathers played in resisting a succession of occupying powers.
Straddling the seaways of the eastern Mediterranean, Crete - a fertile island in the wine-dark sea - was always regarded as a geopolitical prize and drew acquisitive eyes. In pre-history, settlers from Anatolia brought ceramics and farming techniques and provided the basis for the emergence of a sophisticated Minoan civilisation. Its eclipse and the rise of Greek city-states followed, to be superseded by Roman conquest. From there, Arabs, Byzantines, Venetians and Turks ruled the island with varying degrees of brutality before it achieved unity with Greece in the last century. Germany wrested the island from the Allies during the Second World War, but encountered fierce local resistance. Liberation opened the door to civil war and Cretan blood flowed once again in the White Mountains.
The details are all there in this book, shocking, brutal and, on occasion, controversial. Individuals and extended families play their parts. And, as with many choices in times of war, decisions based on a cold calculation of certain defeat are frequently regarded by others as treachery. Personal jealousies and in-fighting amongst Sfakian leaders - sometimes affecting rebel allies from other districts - was a recurring feature down the centuries, leading to failed up-risings and the destruction of communities. And while folklore views the Turkish occupation of the island as being particular brutal, it was relatively benign when compared to Venetian rule.
Because of the mountainous terrain and an absence of roads – it was 1952 before Chora Sfakion was linked by asphalt to the outside world – the region was particularly suited to guerrilla warfare. In the 17th century, an Italian cartographer scrawled ‘ Popoli Bellicosi’ across those inaccessible mountains. The inhabitants were, indeed, belligerent and didn’t take kindly to taxation, external law or administrative interference. A hundred years later, that manifested itself in the Anopoli-based, Daskalogiannis-led uprising against the Turks. His statue stands in the plateia there and the event is commemorated through the name of the ferryboat that serves the Samaria Gorge. British agent Xan Fielding wrote “The Fortress” when describing his exploits with Cretan fighters in the White Mountains in the 1940’s,
Over the centuries, the locals developed a reputation for lawlessness, raiding and theft. A number of Turkish armies, sent to impose control, were practically wiped out as they returned northward. Small bands of local sharpshooters controlled the mountain passes and the slaughter in the gorges was immense. Even today, Cretans from the fertile lowlands regard their mountainous neighbours with a cautious reserve.
As the title makes clear, this book places Sfakia in its Cretan context, from the earliest times to the present day. It considers language and settlement patterns; cultural evolution, changing lifestyles, relative prosperity and scorched earth destruction. Transport was by sea and when danger threatened, people fled into the mountains or sought refuge on the island of Gavdos. Particular emphasis has been placed on uprisings, rebellions and guerrilla campaigns involving local families, some of whom trace their lineage to the Byzantine settlement, following the expulsion of the Arabs in 1092. Extensive detail is provided in connection with battles, bloody ambushes and official retribution.
For those visitors from northern countries who dream about sun-filled days and Greek hospitality in the mountains and tavernas overlooking the Libyan sea, this book offers an understanding of the circumstances and privations that shaped the lives of their hosts.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 24/10/2015 22:00 by denisc.

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