Discovering the rich cultural heritage of Crete was an unforgettable experience for me. From the hospitable people to the beautiful landscapes and ancient traditions, this Greek island has so much to offer. During my visit, I had the opportunity to meet and photograph some of the locals, capturing their stories and traditions through my lens. In this blog post, I will take you on a journey through the beautiful villages and towns of Crete, introducing you to some of the wonderful people I met along the way.
From the traditional costume of Sfakia to the handmade items sold by local shop owners, the culture and hospitality of Crete will leave you in awe. So sit back, relax, and let me take you on a journey through the heart of this beautiful island.
Echoes of the Past: The Lyre Maker's Legacy in Rethymnon
As I walked down the narrow streets of Rethymnon, the sound of the lyre filled the air. I followed the sound, led by my curiosity until I found myself standing outside a small workshop, adorned with various musical instruments and tools hanging from the walls. I knew immediately that I had to go inside and meet the lyre maker behind the music.
The workshop belonged to Nikos Papalexakis, a traditional lyre maker who has been crafting these beautiful instruments for decades. As soon as I stepped inside, I was greeted by the warm smile of Nikos, who was sitting alongside his workbench, playing his lyre.
As I looked around the workshop, I was amazed at the number of lyres scattered throughout the space. Some were finished and ready to be played, while others were only half-finished, waiting to be completed. The workshop was a haven for those who appreciated the beauty of traditional Cretan music.
I explained to Nikos that I was a photographer and that I would love to take his portrait while he was playing the lyre. He was happy to oblige, and I set to work, drawing the curtains to create the perfect lighting for the shot. As Nikos posed for me, the lyre's haunting melody filled the room, creating an intimate and special atmosphere.
The lyre was not just a musical instrument to Nikos; it was a symbol of Cretan culture and tradition. He explained to me how the lyre had been a part of Cretan music for centuries and how it had evolved over time. I could see the passion in his eyes as he spoke, and it was clear that he was truly dedicated to his craft.
As I left Nikos' workshop, I felt grateful for the opportunity to witness his talent and dedication to preserving Cretan culture. My black and white portrait of him, surrounded by his lyres, was a testament to the beauty of traditional music and the craftsmen who bring it to life.
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Discovering the Cantades of Spili village
In the heart of Spilli village, something truly special takes place every August 7th. It's the day of the Cantades, a tradition that's been celebrated for centuries. The streets of the village are filled with music and singing as the locals come together to honour their cultural heritage.
As a photographer, I had the privilege of documenting this event as part of my 'Ethos' project. The day was filled with incredible moments, but one of the most poignant was when the musicians made their way to the cemetery.
As we followed along with the procession, we passed through the village and made our way to the gravesite of a beloved local musician who had recently passed away. There, the musicians gathered around his grave and began to sing mantinades, a traditional form of Cretan poetry, in his memory.
It was a powerful moment, filled with emotion and reverence. As the musicians sang, the rest of us stood in respectful silence, honouring the memory of the man who had brought so much joy to the community through his music.
After a few more songs, the procession continued on through the village, bringing music and celebration to every corner of Spilli. It was a day I will never forget, and I feel grateful to have been able to capture it through my camera lens.
Zafirenia's Lantern: A Tale of Nikos Kazantzakis and Hollywood in Crete
It was a typical day in Anogia when I stumbled upon a beautiful garden that caught my eye. I couldn't resist taking a closer look, and as I was admiring the colourful flowers and fragrant herbs, an old woman dressed in black approached me. Her name was Zafirenia, and she welcomed me into her stunning home.
Zafirenia was a master of Cretan hospitality, and in no time, she had offered me Raki, a traditional Cretan drink, and a table full of delicious cheese, bread, fruits and more. I was humbled by her kindness, but she reassured me that this was simply the way things were done in Anogia.
As we chatted, I mentioned a passage from Nikos Kazantzakis' book 'Report to Greco,' which described how his grandfather would go out every night to find foreigners and bring them home for a warm meal and a bed. To my surprise, Zafirenia revealed that she actually had a similar lantern that Kazantzakis described in the book hanging above her fireplace, and she proudly showed it to me.
I couldn't resist taking photos of Zafirenia and her home. I captured her in her kitchen, living room, and pantry, surrounded by the rich culture of Anogia.
But Zafirenia had more stories to tell, and she regaled me with a tale of the time when actor Robert Powell, who played Jesus in the famous 1977 TV series 'Jesus of Nazareth,' visited Anogia. The locals had told Powell about Zafirenia's admiration for him, and he had asked to meet her. Zafirenia didn't want to venture into the local café, a traditional gathering spot for men, so Powell had to walk to her house instead. When Zafirenia saw him, she immediately fell to her knees, praising him as if he were actually Jesus. Despite his protestations, Zafirenia told him that it was he who she's known as Jesus, despite the fact that she actually knew he wasn't in reality. Thus, she felt her actions to be appropriate.
The next day, I met a young woman named Zacharenia, and we decided to take some photos of her wearing the traditional Anogian costume, the Sartza. I asked if we could use Zafirenia's home as a backdrop, and Zacharenia wondered if it was okay with her. So, I went to Zafirenia's house to ask her permission.
But, in my haste, I accidentally entered the wrong house and found myself in the midst of a family having breakfast. Instead of being upset, the father immediately stood up, warmly insisting to sit down and enjoy a meal with them. It was yet another example of the remarkable hospitality that permeates Anogia. Of course, I explained what had happened, and left, feeling embarrassed.
Finally, I found Zafirenia's house and asked if we could use it for Zacharenia's portraits. She was thrilled to help and offered us her beautiful home as a backdrop. I captured some stunning photos, which I included in my 'Caryatis' project.
Crafting Traditions: Meeting Artisans in Anogia
As I walked through the charming village, I stumbled upon a quaint little shop, adorned with beautiful woven pieces of fabric. It was owned by a local lady named Hermione, who was sitting outside on a wooden bench, enjoying the warm summer breeze. As I walked past her, I couldn't resist the urge to greet her, and she smiled warmly and invited me inside.
Once inside, Hermione poured me a shot of Raki and offered me some fresh cheese. As I sipped my drink, she began to explain the intricate process of weaving, which was her passion and livelihood. Her aged fingers moved expertly across the loom, as she deftly created a beautiful piece of fabric. I was fascinated by her skill and the amount of patience required for such a task.
Hermione then took me further inside her shop, showing me her loom and the many beautiful woven pieces she had created over the years. I couldn't resist the urge to capture her in action, and she kindly agreed to let me take some portraits of her.
Later that same day, I heard about a local man named Stefanos Ploussis, who was known for making and mending traditional instruments. He was also known for his intricate and surreal wooden sculptures. I couldn't resist the opportunity to meet him and see his work for myself.
As I entered Stefanos' workshop, I was surrounded by the sweet scent of wood shavings and the sound of Cretan music playing softly in the background. Stefanos greeted me warmly and showed me around his shop, where he displayed a variety of traditional instruments and his surreal wooden sculptures. I was amazed by his creations, which were unlike anything I had ever seen before.
Stefanos kindly agreed to let me take some portraits of him next to his stunning sculptures, and I couldn't help but feel grateful for the opportunity to meet such a talented artist. It was clear that his passion for woodworking was a labour of love, and his intricate sculptures were a testament to his skill and creativity.
Portraits of Anogia: Meeting the Friendly Faces of Crete
As I continued my journey through Anogia, I met more fascinating people I just had to photograph. One of them was Mrs Gianna, a shop owner who was selling similar items as Hermione's shop. Although I wasn't sure if she made the items herself, I was still struck by her friendly demeanour and willingness to let me take a few portraits of her. She was probably in her early 80s, and her warm smile was a reminder of the genuine hospitality of the Cretan people.
Later on, I found myself in the square opposite Xilouris' house, where I met two friends who were sitting and chatting on a bench. One of them was the owner of the tourist shop in that spot, a woman who sewed and made most of the items she sold. The other woman, her friend, was probably in her early 90s. I was immediately drawn to their lively conversation and asked if I could take some portraits of them.
As I was taking their photos, the elder woman turned to me and said, in Greek, "Why are you taking our photos? Maybe we can put them on my grave when I die" Her friend laughed at the comment, and I realized that it was a quite natural remark, since Cretan people, similar to many other communities in Greece, traditionally give great importance to death and funerals. I reassured her that I just wanted to capture their beauty and personality in my photos and that I hoped to share their stories with others.
The friend then added, "When you come back to Anogia after I'm gone, make sure to pass by my house and say 'May God forgive her.'" I smiled and nodded, promising that I would certainly do.
Nestled in the heart of Anogia lies a legendary café where Antonis Xylouris, a renowned singer and Lyra player, can often be found. Known to the world as Psarantonis, his musical prowess has earned him a place in the hearts of many. During my travels, I had the honour of meeting him on several occasions, and I even had the opportunity to capture his essence in several portraits. One particular moment that stands out was when I visited him at his late brother's home, Nikos Xylouris, also known as Psaronikos, the most celebrated singer in their family. Despite Nikos' passing in 1980, his house has been transformed into a museum, lovingly maintained by their sister. It's not uncommon to find Antonis frequenting the museum, and it was during one of these visits that I was able to immortalize him in a portrait.
Capturing the Human Experience at Knossos
The sun was beating down on the ancient ruins of Knossos as I arrived with my camera in hand, ready to capture the beauty of this historical site. Walking through the labyrinthine ruins, I couldn't help but feel in awe of the ancient civilization that once thrived in this very spot.
As I wandered through the site, I came across groups of tourists, all marvelling at the intricate architecture and the fascinating stories that the ruins held. With my camera at the ready, I captured candid shots of these curious visitors, all with their own unique expressions of wonder and admiration.
Some stood in silence, gazing upon the ancient columns and frescoes, lost in thought and awe. Others chatted excitedly with their companions, pointing out the details that caught their eye. All were united in their appreciation for the incredible history that surrounded them.
I couldn't help but smile as I snapped away, knowing that I was capturing a moment in time, a snapshot of the human experience as it existed in this timeless place.
The Pilgrims of Panagia Charakiani: A Captivating Cretan Tradition
In the heart of Rethymnon, on the stunning island of Crete, lies a church that holds a special icon of Mary. Every year on August 15th, during the celebration of Mary's Assumption, this sacred icon is moved to the church of Charakiani, located 38km away from the city. And with it comes an intriguing tradition that has been practised for centuries.
For many locals, this annual event is a time of great spiritual significance. They come from all over Crete to pay homage to the icon and participate in the celebrations. And while the focus is on the church and the icon, the surrounding area is alive with a different kind of energy.
At a nearby field, pilgrims make their temporary home in self-made hats constructed from straw, nylon sheets, old irons, and doors. They live in these hats for the first 15 days of August to keep company with the icon. It's a fascinating sight to behold, and one that I had to capture.
I arrived at the church on the 14th, having heard about the customs from locals in Anogia village. I was eager to witness this unique tradition for myself, and I was not disappointed. As I walked towards the field where the pilgrims were living, I saw a sea of hats, each one more creative than the last. There were hats made from palm fronds, old umbrellas, and even car parts.
When I met the last remaining couple living in their hat, they welcomed me with Raki. The couple shared their personal stories and the history of the custom, and I was mesmerized.
The wife, a local, recalled that she first swam in the sea at this very spot. She came from a nearby mountain village where it was not typical for them to visit the sea, so all her childhood sea memories were from this place. Her husband, a Cretan Lyra player, unfortunately, did not have his instrument with him as most of the pilgrims had left. Nonetheless, they invited me inside their hat and gave me a glimpse of their simple life. The hat had everything they needed, a separate bedroom, a small kitchenette, and a table for dining. It was a perfect example of how simple things can be enough to live a fulfilling life, free from the needs that enslave us in our daily lives.
As I left the couple's hat, I couldn't help but feel inspired. I had witnessed a beautiful tradition that had been passed down through generations, and I had seen firsthand the resilience and creativity of the human spirit. The Pilgrims of Panagia Charakiani in Rethymnon is a captivating story, full of rich traditions, history, and the enduring human spirit.
Anogia's Mountains: Where Mythology Meets Astronomy
In the heart of Crete, near the village of Anogia, lies a mountainous region that is both mysterious and captivating. This area is known for its rugged landscape, ancient history, and unique traditions of its people.
One of the most fascinating sites in the mountains of Anogia is the Cave of Zeus. According to Greek mythology, Zeus was born in a cave on the island of Crete, and many believe that this cave is the very spot where the king of the gods came into the world. The Cave of Zeus is a popular destination for hikers and adventure seekers, who come to explore the cavernous depths and take in the stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
Another intriguing feature of the Anogia region is the stone hats of shepherds. These unusual structures, also known as mitata, dot the hillsides and provide shelter for local shepherds and their flocks. Constructed from local stone and other natural materials, these structures have been used for centuries by the shepherds of Crete, and they are an enduring symbol of the region's rural heritage. I am hoping to go back to Anogia and spend enough time to capture the essence of the mitata.
In recent years, the mountains of Anogia have become home to the Skinakas Observatory, a state-of-the-art facility that is dedicated to the study of astronomy and space science. Perched atop a high peak, the observatory offers unparalleled views of the night sky, and researchers from around the world come here to conduct cutting-edge research and explore the mysteries of the universe.
Whether you are drawn to the ancient myths and legends of the region or are simply seeking a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life, the mountains of Anogia offer something for everyone. From the majestic heights of the Cave of Zeus to the humble stone hats of the shepherds, and the mind-bending wonders of the Skinakas Observatory, this is a place where the beauty and wonder of nature are on full display.
Anogia's Festival of St. Fanourios: A Timeless Tradition
In the rugged mountains of Psiloritis, halfway between Anogia and Skinakas observatory, the Festival of St. Fanourios takes place around a small church. The celebration, held on August 27th, is a time for the community to come together and honour the patron saint of lost things, and renew their faith in the power of prayer.
I was struck by the beauty of the mountain landscape and the sense of reverence that permeated the festival. I captured the scenes, trying to convey the timeless quality of the event.
The small church, located in a remote area, was adorned with incandescent bulb strings, creating a peaceful and contemplative atmosphere. The villagers gathered around the church, and offered their prayers to St. Fanourios, asking for his help in finding lost items or in navigating life's challenges.
As the day wore on, the festival continued with music and singing. The music and singing continued long into the night, as the villagers celebrated their faith and their connection to each other and to their culture.
For me, as a photographer, the Festival of St. Fanourios was a powerful reminder of the enduring strength of faith and community and the importance of honouring the traditions of the past.
As the festival of St. Fanourios in the mountains of Anogia was in full swing, the delicious aroma of freshly roasted lamb wafted through the air. Local farmers had brought their prized livestock to the festival, ready to be slaughtered, prepared, and served to the hungry crowd. The farmers were well-versed in the process of slaughtering and skinning the animals, and they had brought plenty of lambs to feed the expected crowds.
As the night wore on, the festivities continued and the food continued to flow. But as the last of the lambs were being served, something strange happened. One of the farmers pulled out a small pen, containing ten more lambs. The crowd was puzzled, wondering why the farmer had brought live lambs to the festival.
It soon became clear that the farmers had brought these lambs as a backup plan, just in case they didn't have enough meat to feed the crowds. As the children played around, they watched in amazement as the farmers skillfully slaughtered and skinned the ten extra lambs, right there in front of everyone.
The sight was too much for some of the kids, who started crying at the gruesome scene. The adults tried to console them, explaining that this was simply a part of life in the mountains, where people relied on their own skills and resources to survive. And despite the initial shock, the delicious taste of the lamb soon had everyone smiling and enjoying the festive atmosphere once again.
A Cretan Wedding: A Celebration of Culture and Tradition in Anogia
The scorching sun and summertime in Crete can only mean one thing for the locals - wedding season! The Cretans boast that during this time, they receive more than 40 to 50 wedding invitations. And in a place like Anogia, situated at the highest point of Psiloritis mountain, traditional Cretan weddings are the norm, with almost the entire village of 2 to 2500 people receiving an invitation.
Fortunately, I was invited to attend a wedding by my company of locals. As with any Cretan wedding, the festivities can last from two to three days, with a small lamb slaughter taking place to feed the guests. For this particular event, approximately 300 to 400 lambs were killed - a testament to the abundance of lamb farms in Anogia.
The day before I was invited to one of the pens that would prepare the meat, so I had the chance to take some photographs from that day.
On the same night, the pre-wedding festivities took place, with the groom and the bride-to-be having separate parties at their own locations. I was invited to the groom's party and happily accepted the invitation. The celebration was filled with an abundance of food, drinks, and Cretan music. I was astonished to see a refrigerated truck parked in the yard, fully stocked with lamb meat, ready to be cooked on time.
Usually, during the night, it is customary for one party to visit the other. However, things did not go according to plan this time around. The friends of groom were teasing him after they had all had too much to drink, and eventually, the groom stood up and led everyone to the bride's location. The bride and her guests welcomed us and quickly replenished the food and drinks. Unfortunately, the bride's brothers were upset about the change in plans, so they challenged the groom and his guests to a local tradition called "koupes," which involves drinking glasses of water filled to the brim with wine in one go. As a tourist, I was taken aback but managed to participate and after two rounds, we all became friends once again.
I was thrilled to document this cultural experience and on the day of the wedding, I decided to start by taking candid photographs of the bride-to-be and her bridesmaids. They were getting ready at a quaint little café close to the bride's home, decked out in traditional Cretan clothes. The men, also dressed in the traditional 'Vraka' pants and black tall boots (Stivania), wore black shirts, which symbolized mourning for people lost in wars. Anogia had been burnt to the ground four times by enemy forces, which led the locals to adopt a more sombre tone.
The only hint of joy during the wedding was the white handmade scarf (Mantilla) that men wore on their shoulders, and I managed to capture some stunning shots of the wedding party wearing these outfits while dancing on the rooftop, with Mount Psiloritis in the background.
As the groom and his entourage approached the bride's home, I took the opportunity to meet Lefteris at his café - a cosy spot run by the shepherd and his wife. I watched him play solitaire and even spoke to him for a bit, marvelling at the simplicity of his life.
But soon enough, the groom's party arrived, and the bride's family guarded the house to prevent them from entering. As I positioned myself between the two parties to take photographs, I never expected to be caught up in the fray. The men engaged in a heated scuffle, and I was pushed and punched around a few times. Despite the chaos, I was thrilled to capture some nice images!
Eventually, one of the groom's friends managed to steal a pot of basil from the home's balcony, proving his worth to the bride's family, and they headed off to the small church in the centre of town for the wedding ceremony. Afterwards, a grand feast took place at a local reception centre, with a cornucopia of food that seemed never-ending.
As the night wore on, the guests indulged in some Cretan dancing to live music, and even foreign customs like the bouquet toss were incorporated. While I was left wondering if these new traditions were an evolution or an alteration of the original customs, I knew one thing for sure - this experience was a true celebration of Cretan culture, and I was privileged to document it.
Caryatis in Crete: Capturing the Sfakian Costume
I arranged a shooting at a reception space, located near Rethymnon, Crete. The place was made to resemble a traditional Cretan village. I was going to capture a beautiful lady in the traditional costume of Sfakia, Crete.
As I reached the reception space, I was awed by the sight of a traditional village. It was like travelling back in time, and I was excited to use this space for the photoshoot. I met the lady who was going to be my model, and she was wearing the traditional costume of Sfakia, which was vibrant and with intricate embroidery.
As she posed for the photographs, I noticed the grace and elegance in her movements. She looked breathtaking in the traditional costume, and the backdrop of the traditional Cretan house made the photoshoot even more captivating. I was ecstatic, as I captured the essence of the traditional Sfakian costume and the beauty of the model.