Lithino Cape, Kefali peak

Kefali peak, Lithino cape in south Heraklion Crete
Kefali peak, Lithino cape in south Heraklion Crete

Lithino Cape: A Strategic Location in Southern Crete

Lithino Cape, located 80km southwest of Heraklion, Crete, is a place of stark beauty and historical significance. The cape is dominated by Mount Kefali, which rises 388 meters above sea level and features dramatic cliffs that plunge into the Libyan Sea. The views from the summit are breathtaking, stretching as far as Gavdos island and the rugged Asterousia Mountains.

Kefali Peak: A Place of Worship and War

Kefali peak, Lithino cape in south Heraklion CreteAtop Kefali Peak stands the small stone church of Timios Stavros. This humble structure is a testament to the site’s enduring importance as a place of worship and refuge. However, Kefali Peak also bears the scars of war. The ruins of pillboxes built by the Germans during the Second World War are a stark reminder of the cape’s strategic value. These pillboxes were part of a network of fortifications constructed by the occupying forces to control the southern coastline of Crete.

Kefali peak, Lithino cape in south Heraklion Crete
Kefali peak, Lithino cape in south Heraklion Crete
Kefali peak, Lithino cape in south Heraklion Crete

Archaeological Discoveries and Minoan Presence

The Lithino Cape region has a rich archaeological history, with evidence of human activity dating back to the Minoan civilization. Archaeological surveys and excavations have unearthed numerous artifacts and structures from this era, including tombs, settlements, and peak sanctuaries. These discoveries shed light on the daily lives, rituals, and trade networks of the Minoan people who once inhabited this area.

One of the most significant Minoan sites in the region is the peak sanctuary at Juktas. This sanctuary, located on a nearby mountain, was a place of worship and pilgrimage for the Minoans. The site features a number of structures, including a temple, altars, and offering tables. The artifacts found at Juktas, such as figurines, pottery, and bronze objects, provide valuable insights into Minoan religion and culture.

The Charakas Promontory and the Arab Invasion

The Lithino Cape is also associated with the Arab invasion of Crete in the 9th century AD. Historical sources mention a promontory called Charakas, where the Arab forces landed and established a fortified camp. This camp, known as Chandax, eventually grew into the city of Heraklion. The exact location of Charakas has been a subject of debate among scholars, but some evidence suggests that it may have been located on the Lithino Cape.

Venetian Maps and the Name “Charakas”

Venetian maps from the 16th and 17th centuries AD provide further clues about the location of Charakas. These maps, which were created for navigational purposes, clearly mark a promontory named Characa (or Caracas) on the southern coast of Viannos, near the Lithino Cape. This suggests that the name Charakas was still in use during the Venetian period and may have referred to the same promontory mentioned in the Arab sources.

The Church of Agios Georgios and the Arab Inscription

In 2003, an archaeological excavation in the valley of the Mintres River, near the modern village of Tsoutsouros, uncovered the remains of an early Christian basilica. On a marble slab, identified as part of the church’s ambo, an Arabic inscription was found. This inscription, which mentions the death of a man named Abdala Umar ibn Hakim in 716 AD, provides evidence of an Arab presence in the region before the 9th-century invasion. The inscription suggests that the area around Tsoutsouros may have served as a base for Arab raids or expeditions.

A Strategic Location for Defense and Communication

The Lithino Cape’s strategic location, with its commanding views of the coastline and the Mesara Plain, made it an ideal place for both defense and communication. The rugged terrain and limited access points provided natural protection against invaders, while the high elevation offered a vantage point for monitoring the surrounding area.

The Byzantine Era and the Kefali Fortress

During the Byzantine era, the Lithino Cape continued to be a place of strategic importance. The Byzantines built a fortress on Kefali Peak to protect the region from Arab raids and to maintain control over the southern coastline. The fortress, known as Kefali Kastro, was a substantial structure with thick walls and towers. Although only ruins remain today, the fortress is a testament to the Byzantines’ efforts to secure this strategic location.

World War II and the German Pillboxes

In the 20th century, the Lithino Cape once again became a site of military significance during World War II. The Germans, who occupied Crete from 1941 to 1945, built a series of pillboxes on Kefali Peak to defend the island against Allied attacks. These pillboxes, which are still visible today, are a reminder of the cape’s strategic importance in modern warfare.

Conclusion

The Lithino Cape is a place of exceptional natural beauty and historical significance. Its rugged terrain, dramatic cliffs, and breathtaking views have captivated visitors for centuries. The cape’s archaeological sites, including the peak sanctuary at Juktas and the Minoan settlements and tombs, offer a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of the region. The presence of Byzantine and World War II fortifications highlight the cape’s enduring strategic importance.

References

  • Gigourtakis Nikos, Initial Remarks on the Debarkation Point of Abu Hafs Omar’s Arabs on Crete, GRAECO-ARABICA VOLUME XI Heraklion, Crete 2011 (in greek)
  • Vasilakis Antonis, Η ΜΙΝΩΙΚΗ ΕΠΟΧΗ ΣΤΑ ΑΣΤΕΡΟΥΣΙΑ. ΣΥΜΠΕΡΑΣΜΑΤΑ ΑΠΟ ΤΙΣ ΑΡΧΑΙΟΛΟΓΙΚΕΣ ΕΡΕΥΝΕΣ 120 ΧΡΟΝΩΝ (1894 – 2016) (in greek)
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