The Island of Crete

After leaving Cyprus for the second time, I flew to Heraklion the major city of the island of Crete.  Another city in the Med that has a lot of Venetian influence, the harbor still has the buildings that they used to repair their ships (the arched buildings in this view of the harbor) and the incredible walls that once enclosed the city.

Three of Heraklion's redeeming values are that it has a very good archeological museum, it is the site of the Minoan palace site of Knossos and it has wonderful little natural history museum that even the bus drivers who drive by it on their way to Knossos don't seem to know of its' existence.

The archeological museum has some wonderful pieces including:

The Crete Natural History Museum has great displays on the biology and geology of the island. Displays like this diagram showing the movement of Crete over geologic time are presented in both Greek and English and mineral specimens from Greece are well chosen and informative.

Dr. Charalampos Fassoulas of the Univ. of Crete and coordinator of the Geology exhibits at the Natural History Museum kindly provided me with some drafts of a soon to be released geologic guide to Crete that directed my interests to the western portions of the island. (7/10/2000 update...The book is now available and information about the English language version can be found at

By bus, my first stop was Rethymno with its' charming harbor. The wind was blowing pretty hard from the northwest and from the Venetian fortezza looking back at the harbor breakwater you could see the waves being produced breaking over itA rental car that had its' front window broken out of it and moved back from the harbor wall. This man was organizing his fishing line. These young Cretans were not shy about dancing. The owners of Olga's Pension and Stellas Kitchen.

With a rental car, my next stop was the southern village of Plakias.  This panorama starts with the mountain village of Sellia and shows the Plakias basin with mountains on each side, a graben created by normal faulting. This type of faulting has allowed streams to create dramatic ravines that run from north to south, the Kourtaliotis Gorge shown in this panorama. On the peninsula at east end of the Plakias beach is a dramatic exposed normal fault surface that is exposed for approximately 120 feet.  In and around Plakias some of the locals: a goat herder appearing to just be feeding his goats when all of a sudden he grabbed the nervous ram and had him down and hog tied.  He just carried it down the hill, threw it in the back of his truck and drove off...his kids still playing with their little computer chip game all the time. Another donkey jam.

By the way there were rocks along the way...a series of phyllites with remnants of what looked like graded bedding, a rock showing a good reflecting phyllite surface, and a rock being broken up to form the boudinage structure. These rocks were not only being stressed and broken up they were also being extensively folded...sometimes with their axes nearly horizontal (example 1, example 2, example 3). These phyllites are overlain by the Mesozoic limestones found in the Koutaliotis Gorge.  The boundary is a thrust fault zone that I had a chance to see in other locations. An interesting aspect of the geology of Crete is that it has been subjected to both compressional(folds and thrust faults) and tensional stresses(normal faulting).

On the road to the Preveli Monesteri south of Plakias the contact between the phyllites, schists, etc. and the limestones is exposed. A closeup of the boundary between the overlying limestones and intensely broken up schists. There is evidence that this zone developed in the Eocene.

Throughout this area an economic commodity that funded the Minoans and present farmers is clearly evident. Nets are spread under olive trees to collect the valuable product. Even if they come out over the roadway.

Two more locations were explored from the Plakias area, one the Agio Pavlos area and some spectacular folds and the Phaestos Minoan site within the agricultural Mesara Plain.

The Ag. Pavlos site was very interesting. A nice beach sheltered by the winds. And a very small village...that is dominated by a yoga center developed 15 years ago by an Englishman and still running strong for 6 months of the year. According to two staffers that I gave a ride, they serve primarily women (15-30 at a time) and the vast majority of the staffers are women.  Of course, I had rocks on the island to see.  Oh yea, the rocks...on the other end of the small beach there are some very spectacular folds, the location shown here
The spectacular folds (click on image to see large version)

and the layers as they go into the water.

On further west to Hania.  From my domatio at sunrise, another charming harbor setting for tourists. A lively marketplace with lots of fish and hangy things that would not appeal to the vegetarian crowd.

Quickly escaping the city, I headed west with another rental car.  Exploring the type locality of a particular limestone unit on the island, I was asked by a couple if I would give them a ride.  When we got to their farm they invited me in to have an ouzo and some treats with them. Demetrius and Anna showed me their bean greenhouse and we had our ouzo (all the while with none of us understanding what the other was saying).  I was touched by their hospitality and how much they reminded me of my own grandparents.

Now powered by ouzo, I continued my exploration of the western side of the island.  A harbor just beyond Kissamos is obviously a place that they make the tetrapods for breakwaters.  The object was to get to the Falassarna area to visit a Minoan site that was once a harbor but the area has now been uplifted above sealevel.  All of the low area to the right in this photo would have been below sealevel...perhaps until the 1800's when a large earthquake caused the uplift. These blocks would have formed the harbor edge not unlike those today in Rethymno or Hania.

The final day of exploration of the western side of Crete saw me taking off for the south western side of the island by crossing the mountains.  I stopped for breakfast (greek coffee, some cheese and bread) and this gentleman who was displaying a bunch of metals paid for my coffee.  The cafe owner was making signals that he was, say, a little touched but I'll never know. We were having quite a conversation without understanding each other!  Further up the road I stopped for another cup of coffee and got this picture of this Cretan lady tending her garden.  I just couldn't resist getting this picture of goats using the bedding planes of these limestones for a resting spot.

At Sougia which is at the mouth of the Agia Irini gorge, there is an ancient (meaning apparently, non-Minoan) site, Syia, where campers have taken up residence.

On to Paleohora to see some uplifted old beach surfaces (here looking east back to Paleohora). Here are some old reef deposits that have been uplifted and above them there are some good wave cut notches.

After leaving Paleohora I visited a site where faulting activity has created a conglomerate-like rock that geologists call a cataclastic rock.  Not only that but it has the distinct look of a blueschist like we have in Marin. These rocks have the associated extensive folding and are associated with another fault zone between the layers.

I tried an experiment to take you on a walk you across one of what I believe is one of these faulted transition zones. This crude panorama is only an approximation since the road was curved but it gives, I hope an impression of the character of one of these fault zones. It begins on the north and proceeds south, moving from the overlying limestones to the phyllite, schist rocks. It represents, I would estimate, somewhere in the range of 100 meters of exposure.

On the way back to Hania the following 3 images shows the dramatic recumbent folding in the mountains, in a relatively new road cut. Click on the images to see the larger versions


On to Athens