Written by
Psycharakis Panagiotis
The history of Elafonisos goes back many centuries since then when a shrine was settled, consecrated to Mousagetis Apollo, in these small islands, the “Mousagores islands”. Mousagetis in Greek means leader of the Muses, a name given to the ancient god by Pindaros, the famous poet. He was referring to Muses of Mount Elikonas who used to sing around a spring, Ipokrini Spring, under the direction of the God. The Muses, which were nine, had the ability to appease the Sea Gods. We must bear in mind that harsh weather conditions dominated (and still do) in the area. The greatest sea storms in the Mediterranean, with big raging waves, burst in this particular area. On the opposite shore, in the small village Inachorion existed a shrine consecrated to Heno. In that shrine ceremonies took place in order to appease the sea. Heno was the daughter of Kadmos, king of Thebes. She had protected Dionysus, the son of Zeus and Heno's sister Semeli from the rage of Hera, who felt betrayed by Zeus's unfaithfulness. Hera in order to punish her took Heno's and her husband's (Athamandas) sanity. Athamantas killed their first son, Learchos, because he thought of him as a deer, while concomitantly Heno threw their other son, Melikertis, in boiled water. After these, Heno felt so desperate that she fell with the corpse of her little son in the raging waves. The Sea Goddesses grieved the young woman and transformed her into a Nereid (a sea-nymph), while her son became the small sea god Palamon. Since then, Heno who was renamed Lefkothea (With Goddess in Greek, meaning goddess of the waves), had been helping wrecked sailors. The small islands had been referred as Mousagores islands by the ancient Roman wise man Plinius and the ancient geographers Meletius and Pomponios Melas. Many years later many Venetian maps refer the islands as Fontestino di Lafonisi or Skolio Lafonisi. As we go on our journey through time we reach in1824 and the uprising against the Turks. In February 17th Manolis Tompazis the sub-perfect of Crete leaves to petition help from free Greece, whereas the Turks proceed to cleansing operations spreading desolation and death. One hundred and fifty women, children and elderly take refuge firstly in Kissamos and finally barricaded themselves in Elafonisos hoping that the enemy wouldn't find the shallow passage that leads to the islet. Among them were 40 armed Cretans. Unfortunately Kamperis, a Turk disclosed the passage to Ibrahim Pasha, the Egyptian battle commander. Another legend says that the passage was found by the traces of a small donkey, which was looking for its master. It was April 24th, Easter Day. The battle was harsh, yet uneven. Most of the men were massacred while the women and the children were sold in the slave markets of Egypt. In this island a great drama occurred, “the slaughter of Elafonisos», a grand sacrifice. The folk Muse of Crete depicts this drama in the following lines:
“Why are the mountains black and the fields pale?
Why aren't birds singing in the nine villages… in the forests?
It is because Cretans were slaughtered on Elafonisi.
Elderly, women, children…”
Since then the place is being called “the Turkish ditch”. Apart from the men, many women were found slaughtered in the islet. They chose to scarify themselves rather than fall in the enemy's hands. A legend says: “blood was flowing in a ditch. Blood that dyed the sea and painted the sand.” And that is how the red colour of the sand in the area is attributed. Noteworthy is a legend about the sacred rock in Chrisoskalitissa where there was a little church carved in that rock. In their cleansing operations the raiders didn't intend to anything untouched, least of all the small church. As they climbed the carved stairs that lead to the small country church, a swarm of bees that nested in the curvature became bewildered and repelled the raiders with their stings. So by this occurrence the small church was saved while the other ten churches of the area were razed. Coming back to the “slaughter of Elafonisos”, we must note that Kamberis, who had revealed the passage to Imbrahim, was rewarded to choose a woman from the captured in order to marry her. Many years later, when his children learned that their mother was a Christian, they held a memorial service to pay tribute to her in Christian churches. Sailors who happened to pass by the place that period said that the islet was covered with bones. Even today when a furious wind blows, it exhumes a bone from the slaughtered martyrs. In commemoration to these martyrs a monument built with black rock was constructed, with the following lines carved on it:
Nowadays and every year, on the day of Saint Irene, the “Lafonisia” are celebrated honoring those slaughtered in 1824. Elafonisos' history doesn't end nor does it start with the 1824 slaughter. Reaching in 1866 at the revolution in Monastery Arkadi, another Arkadi, the homonym ship was doomed to mark the region once again. The equipped ships played an important role during the revolution of 1866, by supplying the fighters and helping the getaway of the unarmed. Arkady had become a real pain for the Turks who put a price of 20.000 pounds on it. So we reach in August 7, 1867 forty-three years after the great sacrifice. A sea battle between Arkadi and a Turkish fleet led to its self-destruction in order not to fall in the enemy's hands. Commander of the ship was Galaxidiotis Kourentis and sub-commander Pavlidis who managed to get away swimming, reaching a cave and finally treated by the local villagers of Sklavopoula. The next station that marked the area's history and the locals' souls was in 1907, the wreckage of the ocean liner “Imperatrice”, where 300 people were drowned. Since then a lighthouse was erected that functioned with oil. In 1939 a wireless phone was placed which served resistance organizations during World War II. Today the lighthouse, which is next to Saint Irene church, functions with a mixture of acetylene and oxygen. Its range is up to 30m.