Kritsa History

History of Kritsa

The history of Kritsa is long and fascinating. I know I am biased but I think you will find it hard to find a more interesting or beautifully situated village in the East of Crete.

I am Rhodanthe, daughter of a local Papas (Priest), but since my premature death in January 1823, I have acquired the affectionate nickname of Kritsotopoula (Child of Kritsa). Let me explain how the village continues to adapt to changing times and circumstances whilst maintaining traditions, retaining its unique spirit and individuality to carve a special place in the hearts of people who call Kritsa home. Of course, I will also share my own story!

kritsa in crete

The village of Kritsa has existed in one way or another since Minoan times, initially becoming renowned for the quality of its goat meat; it maybe that the word for meat, kreas (κρεας), which eventually became Kritsa.

If you look at Kritsa from a distance, it looks like a scorpion. The two “jaws”, at the head of the village are the oldest settlements and the lower back was a third separate village; the space between has been filled in by other buildings over time resulting in the large village you see today, with a tail of newer buildings trailing out of town.

The layout in the oldest parts of the village will seem very familiar if you have visited any of the excavated ruins of Minoan towns! Some interesting artefacts found in Kritsa are now on display in the museum of Agios Nikolaos. We also have a legacy of buildings from Venetian and Turkish rule.

The peak of population in the village at circa 2,500 residents was between 1928 and 1951, numbers then fell as changing political climates, improved communications, technology and opportunity gave younger people more choice over where and how to live resulting in only 1,640 residents in 2001. These changing demographics left many properties derelict; the restorations of a substantial number of these has provided holiday or permanent homes to a considerable number of non Cretan people. These newer residents enjoy the generosity of their Cretan neighbours in the form of a warm welcome and often gifts of produce or home cooked food.

There are maps of the village at various points showing places of interest including 19 churches! If you look at the oldest churches, you will see Moslem designs added when Turks took them over to become Mosques. Now, talking of Turks let me tell you my story.

Kritsotopoula, the Heroine of Kritsa

At the far end of the main street up through the village (now called Kritsotopoula Street), it narrows to become an alleyway between houses, and the last house on the left was mine. My father was a Papas (Priest) and if you look above the door, you will see a cross to signify this cut into the stone. Peak in the tiny windows and you will see the house is nearly as we left it.

I was with my mother working on the loom and singing to keep time as the shuttle went back and forth when a drunken Turkish officer passed by. He commanded whoever was inside to open the door so he might see who was singing; apparently, my voice was so sweet he wished to marry me! Mother was afraid for my honour and said she was alone, barring his way when he tried to force his way in. In anger, the Turk stabbed her to death and dragged me off to his lodgings.

By masking my grief and keeping my wits about me, I took his murderous knife whilst he slept and slit his throat. I used the knife to cut off my hair, and escaped to the mountains wearing his clothes. Using his cummerbund to bind up my breasts under my shirt I joined the resistance fight against the Turks disguised as a young man.

In 1823, we engaged in a two-day battle with the Turks in the area between Kritsa and Lato and it was here that I took mortal shots to my chest. When my comrades tore open my shirt to tend my wounds, my secret was out!

kritsotopoula dying in the arms of the priest

I am still alive via folk songs and poems. As well as having the street named for me, there is a “bust” of me in the main square but I much prefer the beautiful large stone memorial that the village folk commissioned Nigel, the English sculptor, to create. Situated near to the place I fell in battle just outside of Lato, the stone relief shows me near to dying in the arms of a Priest who was also a resistance fighter.

Even though I kept a watchful eye whilst Nigel completed the sculpture I will never know how he managed to capture the emotion of the moment the Priest, my father, discovered me at my point of death.

*Article by Yvonne Payne

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