Rogdia and Achlada, Crete
Rogdia and Achlada are 2 villages on the hills 20 km west of the
city of Heraklion on the north coast of Crete. An interesting day
trip from Heraklion, Amoudara or Agia Pelagia is a visit to Rogdia,
with its remarkable views, the nearby Monastery of Savathiana,
and then onward to Achlada, a once lively village,
now almost abandoned by its population.
From Heraklion, it is a short journey on the big National road
before we join the scenic “old road” heading west, toward
Rethymnon, following the signs for Gazi and Amoudara. Very soon,
we have passed the beaches at Amoudara on our right, with the entrance
to the Almiros
Gorge, an attractive destination for hikers, on our
From here we can look down on Panagia Bay with its smart residential
development and back towards Heraklio, as we climb on a good road
with, as you would expect, lots of bends, following signs pointing,
to our left, the way to Rogdia. The view becomes superb as we go
up; facing a sparkling sea we can look down on all of Heraklio, this
busy, congested city looking peaceful, the white of its buildings
spreading away from the harbour and beginning to blend into the fields
far beyond its walls. The mountains behind Heraklion can be seen
from here, and Youchtas (pronounced with a soft ‘ch’ like
the Scottish ‘loch’) is particularly impressive, resembling
more than ever the head of the god Zeus looking
up at the heavens, as the myth says.
Along this road we can see another bay, Paliokastro (
photo -> ), which has a beach and shops, and also an imposing Venetian
fort, almost a castle, facing the sea, an obstacle to the pirates
who terrorised these shores during the middle-ages. Plans to begin
restoration on this important landmark are underway.
Entering Rogdia, or Rodia (it has two spellings, even in Greek,
a situation that leads to confusion), we are in search of the Kalergis
Villa, one of several structures in this area which date from the
Venetian period between 1204 and 1669. Before describing a relic
from the past, however, we should say something about Rogdia today.
It is, after all, a living, working village, and close enough to
Heraklio to be a fairly major attraction.
Those who want to enjoy
some "time out from the city will find it here, especially
at night, when the moonlit skies and nighttime views of the city
offer an idyllic taste of small-town simplicity. Tavernas punctuate
the front of the village without crowding out houses and shops,
each seeming to offer a different view. Very easy to walk around
its streets and squares, Rogdia must be considered an essential
stopping-place for anyone staying in the vicinity of Heraklio or
the resorts of Agia Pelagia and Fodele Beach.
Asking at the first kafenio, or coffee house, we discover that the
Kalergis Villa is almost next-door, and a man from the café accompanies
us to inspect the site. He expresses dismay that much needed renovation
work has not been completed, as this would allow the village to show
part of its heritage with pride.
Fortunately, there are many features still intact from this very
imposing old mansion-house in Rogdia. They must have been very wealthy,
the Kallegis family of Byzantine origin, who had this house built.
Alongside it stands a church dating from the same period, although
we do now the exact origins of the church. It would send a very clear
message to the villages around that here was where the power resided.
Now, it is a home for pigeons, which nest in many small alcoves all
around the house. I was sure Yannis was joking when he tells me,
but it is true. The people of Crete liked pigeon meat so much that
they were glad to share their finest houses with these creatures,
fattening them up to be ready for the feast. We can’t look
inside the villa, which has been fitted with new doors and window
frames, but it’s interesting to see the adjacent church, now,
before the restoration, and various out buildings, including the
ruins of an old ‘fabrica’, an olive oil factory, behind
this important villa.
The old church of Panagia of Rogdia sits beside a newer chapel with
a date of 1809 inscribed above the door. We can see an ecclesiastical
arched doorway, and the remnants of a church contemporary to the
villa, leading to a courtyard, in which many traces of the past remain.
With luck and determination, restoration will give this place new
life. There is a shady courtyard behind the church where children
play, and it will hopefully become part of a very attractive public
space. Somewhere the people of Rogdia can feel proud to show.
head through the small but vibrant village of Rogdia toward its very
different neighbouring village, Achlada.
A drive along Rogdia’s main street, past the ‘plateia’ or
village square, and you see the sign pointing to Achlada, our destination,
7km away. The winding, un-surfaced road follows a river bed, along
whose banks have sprung farm buildings and a few houses, built haphazardly,
where the concept of planning permission does not seem to be a priority.
Pastel-coloured beehives too, are visible among the olives and plane-trees
that cover this landscape. Sheep and goats shelter in the shade of
larger trees, and a midday air of stillness is disturbed only by
the sound of our car. There is a turning on the right to Agia Pelagia
(5km from here) at about 3km. It is a dirt road, but a good one,
as these things go, and the ride is bumpy but pleasant enough. The
last 1 km before Achlada, and the road becomes asphalt.
Ahlada village is the close to Agia Pelagia, and its population
has almost entirely deserted this village to live and work in that
coastal resort. Achlada stands silent, although not without signs
of life. There is the surprising sight of a kindergarten beside the
well kept, and impressively sized, church. However, those villagers
we see are elderly, and the houses are almost all empty now. I feel
some sadness in walking around, knowing that progress, economic necessity
perhaps, has induced the young to abandon such a place. Views down
to the bay of Fodele and the coast, so close to Agia Pelagia, the
dramatic but sheltered position of the village, and the good land
around us, are all indications that this was once a fine place to
live and raise families.
Times change. The relocation of the population has meant that houses
here are in various stages of neglect, many starting to fall in on
themselves, others wanting only minimal attention, having been left
during the last decade or so.
We understood that there still existed one kafenio, but this too
has closed. Walking in the narrow streets, the impression of being
in a ghost town persists. A picturesque ghost town, but a place where
life has all but departed, nonetheless. In many villages, ruined
houses are used for animals or as storage space. Not here. An elderly
woman speaks to Yannis, and they chat for a while as I scout among
the empty shops, peering through shuttered windows and gaps in boarded-up
doors. A rusted bed lies beside a cupboard behind one former shop,
the dusty wooden radiogram, complete with broken records, sitting
on top. The far end of the village seems to be the most dilapidated,
about to tumble into the valley beyond.
On re-joining Yannis, we are invited by the lady, Kiria (Mrs) Maria,
to sit with her beside the beautiful bougainvillea tree that adds
life and colour to her garden. Maria is a woman whose kindness is
written in her features. She offers us cold water and tasty cookies
and she answers willingly our questions about the village of Ahlada.
Before 1965 there was almost nothing in Agia Pelagia, which was
a small port from where they transferred wood and coal to Heraklion.
In 1965, a man appeared and started buying land from the locals for
5000 drachmas (approximately 17 EUR) for 1000 square meters (or 1
strema, the common way of measuring land in Greece). Soon another
buyer showed up and he offered double the price. Tourism had just
started in Greece and those two men were among the first to see the
potential in this area. Soon after that, the Capsis Beach Resort
was built on the Souda peninsula of Agia Pelagia.
Mrs Maria and her husband had a small taverna on the beach, where
the builders used to eat. She had sold her land cheap, but they made
good business with the many builders working on the huge hotel complex.
Mrs Maria misses those times, when the people in her taverna were
not her clients, as she says, but her good friends. This tavern has
been renovated many times since then, but it is still in business
today, now owned by Mrs Maria’s two sons.
This story must be a common one for the people of Achlada. Tourism
turned the former farmers and shepherds into restaurant and hotel
owners, who abandoned their village and moved to the beach of Agia
Pelagia. We wonder what the future holds for the small community
who still inhabit Achlada. Time will tell...
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