Agia Galini, history and name - The ancient city of Soulia
The history of Agia Galini goes back millennia, as does that of most places in Crete. Agia Galini was the historical harbour of Syvritos, a Minoan city that flourished in the Late Minoan period in the foothills of Mt Psiloritis, where the villages of Thronos and Agia Fotini stand today.
In antiquity, Agia Galini was called Soulia and there was a great temple here dedicated to the goddess Artemis. A few finds from the ancient city were discovered during excavations for the foundations of new houses.
The name Soulia may not mean anything to you, but it is linked to a famous myth, the escape of Daedalus and Icarus with their wings of wax. Legend has it that King Minos had imprisoned Daedalus and his son Icarus, but they escaped, took refuge in ancient Agia Galini and, from the great rock that rises to the right (east) of the harbour, flew far from Crete. This myth is commemorated by the two statues of Daedalus and Icarus in Agia Galini.
Destruction by the Arabs
Soulia, as a coastal city, suffered from raids by Arab pirates, who destroyed it in 640 AD. It flourished for a second time in the Venetian period, and later its harbour was used several times for resupplying during the risings against the Turks, and also for exporting olive oil and other products from south Crete. However, there was no permanent settlement at Agia Galini until 1884, when villagers from nearby Melambes and Sachtouria moved here and built the new village.
Agia Galini today
Tourist development began in the 1970s, and today Agia Galini is considered one of the largest tourist resorts in south Crete.
Seeing the tourist development of Agia Galini, unavoidable due to the beauty of its unique landscape, you cannot help but wonder what it looked like a few years ago.
What would this sweet little harbour be like without all the tourist signs, without the many tourist restaurants and tavernas, which may draw the tourists but certainly do not blend in with the local scenery.
The name Agia Galini
In the Orthodox Church, St Galini (Agia Galini in Greek) is said to have lived and been martyred in Corinth in the 3rd c. AD and her feast-day is celebrated on 16 April. However, the name Galini is very rarely used in Greece.
So how did this Cretan village come to have such an unusual name? There are various theories, all based on legend and guesswork. They may not give us a clear answer, but they add a note of mystery to the charm of unique Agia Galini.
- According to the first theory, the name Agia Galini is due to the Byzantine Empress Eudocia, who was caught in a great storm as she travelled to the Holy Land by ship. The huge waves threatened to sink the ship with all hands, when Eudocia prayed to the Virgin for aid, promising to build a church in her honour if they were saved.
The ship safely reached a sheltered beach in south Crete, so the Empress commanded that the church of Panagia Galini (the Virgin of Serenity) be built, now next to the village cemetery.
- According to the second theory, when Christianity was established the Monastery of Galinios Christos (the Serene Christ) was built over the Temple of Artemis, and the village was named after it.
- There is also, however, a third theory, that says the area took its name from the phrase “aei galini” (“ever peace”), because the harbour is always calm and peaceful.