Sights - Chania Prefecture



The castle is situated towards the sea on the plain, which stretches out from Sfakia to the east and which in wintertime is used by the shepherds from the mountains. It is the only remaining Venetian castle that is still intact - at least the exterior. It was built in 1371 by order of the senate in Venice and measures 60 m by X 30. The four corners are each provided with a tower, a little higher and broader than the walls. Above the entrance is a relief of the Venetian St. Marcus lion and three Venetian shields. The inside buildings are of Turkish origin. 500 m east of the castle are the ruins of the Agios Charalambos monastery with an Agios Nikitas church from the 14th century.




By building the castle the Venetians were able to control the coast and defend themselves against attacks from pirates, and not least against the repeated attacks from the inhabitants of Sfakia. These attacks started as early as in 1319 after the event with the Gold-Haired. The story is as follows:



One day the leader of the Venetian castle in Sfakia, prince Capuletto, met the beautiful Chrysi Skordili, the daughter of a rich man. He was moved by her beauty to such an extent that he immediately kissed her on her mouth. Her prompt reaction to the Venetian's act of love was to slap his face so hard, that she almost blinded him. Also her two servant girls tore him apart. Out of his mind with anger he drew his sword, cut off Chrisy´s hair and hurried back towards the castle.


When Chrysi's father heard what had happened, he flew into a fury, ran down Capuletto and butchered him in the most violent way. In the meantime other members of the Skordili family had also arrived in order to help, and they attacked the castle, killed many of the Venetians and tore down to the ground big parts of the castle.


Of course the Venetians sent large military forces to the area in order to defeat the violent rebellion, which was brought to an end through mediation by Alexios Kallergis.



During the building of the Frankokastello castle, the sfakiotes, led by six brothers from the Patsos family, performed daily attacks on it and at night they tore down, what was built during the day. Once again the Venetians sent large military forces to the area, and at long last they succeeded in finishing the castle. After this they wanted to punish the sfakiotes and first of all the six brothers, who were captured after treachery by a man from Asi Gonia. The six brothers were hanged, four from the towers of the castle and two above the entrance door. This humiliating death caused the sfakiotes to attack the castle again, while the proud people from Asi Gonia captured the traitor and killed him under the eyes of the sfakiotes.



When the Turks captured Crete in the middle of the 17th century, they also occupied the castle, and it was in fact here that the first rebel leader Daskalogiannis had to surrender to the new occupying power together with his 70 men in 1771. Barba-Pantzelios, a poor cheese-maker from Mouri north of Sfakia, tells in his song To tragoudi tou Daskalogianni from 1786 (verse 683 ff.) about the course:




…Φτάνουν στο Φραγκοκάστελο και στον πασά ποσώνου, ...They arrive at Frankokastello and surrender to the pasha,
κι εκείνος δούδει τ' όρντινο κι ευτύς τσοι ξαρματώνου. and he gives the order to disarm them at once.
Ούλους τσοι ξαρματώσασι και τσοι μπισταγκωνίζου All of them were disarmed and ill at ease,
και τότες δα το νιώσασι πως δεν ξαναγυρίζου. for now they sensed that they would never go home.


After this Daskalogiannis and his men were sent to Iraklion, where they were tortured to death with great cruelty.


Chatzimichalis Dalianis

Many years later, in January 1828 when the first Greek state was being established on the mainland, the freedom fighter Chatzimichalis Dalianis from Epirus in north-western Greece set out towards Crete with 100 horsemen and 600 footmen in order to help the Cretans in their struggle for freedom against the Turks. What Chatzimichalis was lacking in military overview, he had on the other hand in (foolhardy) courage. A few months after his arrival in Crete he captured Frankokastello, from which he intended to defeat the Turks, but as early as on May 18th he was surrounded by the forces of Mustafa Pasha (later well-known for the capture of Arkadi Monastery in 1866). Chatzimichalis rode recklessly out into the large Turkish army to kill as many as possible. Of course he was quickly hacked down himself. His men continued the struggle for six days, until they had to surrender, forced by hunger and thirst. But the Turkish victory did not last long, because the sfakiotes lay in wait for them in the mountains and killed about 2.000 of them.



Bust of Chatzimichalis


Chatzimichalis' dead body was later found by the nun Magdalini, who buried him at the small Agios Charalambos monastery.


The national Muse has also immortalized the massacre at Frankokastello in a folksong:


Αφρουκαστείτε να σας πω, ούλοι μικροί μεγάλοι Hear everybody, great and small,
πώς πολεμά ο Μουσταφάς με τον Χατζημιχάλη. how Mustafa fights against Chatzimichalis.
- Χατζή, μην πας στον πόλεμο, γιατί 'σαι το κεφάλι, - Chatzi, do not go to war, for you are our leader,
γιατί 'σαι το κεφάλι μας κι είσαι και η τιμή μας for you are our leader and our honour,
κι ανέ και σε σκοτώσουνε, χάνουμε τη ζωή μας. and if they kill you, we loose our lifes.
Επά στο Φραγκοκάστελλο στενός είναι ο τόπος. Here at Frankokastello the place is too small,
Κι α δε λυπάσαι τον Χατζή, λυπήσουν σκιάς τσ' ανθρώπους. and if you do not take pity on Chatzi, then at least take pity on the people.
- Μα μια φορά γεννήθηκα και μια και θ' αποθάνω - I was born one time, I shall die one time
και μια θα τονε στερηθώ τον κόσμο τον απάνω. and at one time I shall loose the world of the living.
Εδώ όπου βρεθήκαμε τον πόλεμο θα κάμω. Now we are here, I shall make my war.
κι αν με σκοτώσουν σήμερα, σαν άντρας θ' αποθάνω. If they kill me today, I shall die like a man.
Κι αν με σκοτώσει ο Πασάς, κόβγει την κεφαλή μου And if the pasha kills me, he will shop off my head
και την πάει στα Χανιά και παίρνει την τιμή μου... and carry it to Chania and take my honour ...


The Drosoulites

According to tradition there is a story connected to this bloody event: In the mornings a little before sunrise and before the morning mist has lifted, from the beginning of May to the beginning of June, you may se a fog in the shape of a whole army of operational warriors waving towards the castle from the ruins of the Agios Charalambos monastery. This brief phenomenon (8-10 minutes) is the result of Chatzimichalis' soldiers, now in the shape of fog figures (drosoulites) are once again fighting the Turks. But the phenomenon can be observed only if you are in the plain.


It is furthermore said that a group of Turkish soldiers in 1890 - and again during World War II a group of German soldiers - got quickly on their feet, because they took the shadows for freedom fighters.


Another unnamed poem tells about the ghosts:


…Μ' ακόμη και το σήμερο, στις δεκαφτά του Μάη … But still to this very day, on May 17th
ούλο τ' ασκέρι φαίνεται με τον Χατζημιχάλη. the whole army is seen with Chatzimichalis.
Και πολεμούν στα σύννεφα κι ακούγοντ' οι μπουρμάδες. They fight in the fogs, and the noise is heard from the unbelievers.
Φωνές και αλογοπεταλιές στου Καστελλιού τσι μπάντες. Voices and tramp of horses at the sides of the castle.
Ούλ' οι γι-αλαφρόστρατοι, θωρούν τσι και τρομάζουν, You see all the ghost soldiers and tremble,
μα κείνοι - Θεός σχωρέσει των - κανένα δεν πειράζουν... but they - God be merciful to them - can not hurt anyone ...
Άραγες κι είντα θέλουσι κι είντα μαθέ θυμίζουν; What do they wish, and what do they want to be remembered?
Αυτούς που σφάχτηκαν εκειά και τα βουνά ραΐζουν... Those who were slaughtered there, so the mountains trembled ..

The local authorities have since the Turkish period had games in honour of Agios Nikitas on September 15th with competitions in running, horseracing, shooting etc. The games ended with festivity and dance. Recently, attempts have been made to revive the games, which were earlier among the greatest in Crete.





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