Crete> Agia Roumeli
Agia Roumeli is on the south coast of Chania Prefecture, between Hora Sfakion and Paleochora. Agia Roumeli has become well-known because it lies at the end of the path from the Samaria Gorge. The thousands of visitors who come down the gorge each year end up here to take the ferry to Loutro and Hora Sfakion (to the east) or Sougia and Paleochora (to the west).
The White Mountains with their high peaks and deep gorges keep Agia Roumeli isolated in their embrace. The village is small, there is no road to it and all access is by the small Anendyk vessels.
The history of Agia Roumeli
The name Agia Roumeli may be reminiscent of Roumeli, as central Greece used to be called, but there has no historical connection between the two.
It is thought that many centuries ago there was a temple here dedicated to the Roman goddess Rumilia or Rumina. According to Plutarch, Rumilia was the protectors of flocks, of which there must certainly have been many in mountainous Agia Roumeli.
It is possible that after the establishment of Christianity in Crete, the Roman temple was converted into a Christian church called Agia Roumilia, later corrupted into the unusual place-name of Agia Roumeli.
Until 1954 Agia Roumeli was higher up, about a kilometer from the shore, near the mouth of the Samaria Gorge. Heavy rainfall made the Samaria river flood and cause great damage to the village, which was moved to its present location on the coast.
East of the spot where Agia Roumeli is today, was the site of the ancient city of Tara or Tarra, probably founded in Classical times. Tarra was in important religious center of the Dorians and flourished mainly during the Greco-Roman period. Tarra established a colony of the same name in the Caucasus, while Tarras in Southern Italy is believed to be another of its colonies.
Excavations on the site of the modern village have brought to light the cemetery of ancient Tarra, while the bay of Agia Roumeli was probably used as a harbour. We must take into account, however, that the coastline has changed, as a major earthquake in 365 AD raised the western end of Crete by about four meters.
Tarra was a member of the League of the Oreioi, together with the neighbouring ancient cities of Elyros (near Rodovani village), Hyrtakina (near Temenia village), Lissos (west of Sougia) and Poikilassos (the harbour of Elyros, west of Agia Roumeli).
Coins have been found in the area bearing the head of a Cretan wild goat on one side and a bee on the other, images directly connected to the local wildlife and local occupations (herding and bee-keeping) still alive today.
A stone stele with a double axe carved in relief was also found in the Agia Roumeli area, demonstrating the survival of Minoan religion into historical times. It is now housed in the Archaeological Museum of Chania.
Agia Roumeli Today
Agia Roumeli today lives from tourism, specifically the 350,000 visitors a year who walk down the Samaria Gorge.
After a few hours’ walk down the Samaria Gorge, it’s a great relief when you come to the last two kilometers after the mouth of the gorge and see the first houses of Agia Roumeli. A few yards further on are several taverns trumpeting their tasty food, their “Greek salad” and chilled orange juice. Agia Roumeli loses all its charm at times like this. Everyone’s in a hurry to catch the boat and go home or to their hotel.
The first stop, then, is at the ANENDYK ticket office, where you can buy a ticket to Loutro and Hora Sfakion to the east or Sougia and Paleochora to the west.
Here we would like to repeat that the most convenient way of crossing the Samaria Gorge is to stay in Sougia, take the morning bus to the Omalos Plateau, walk down the gorge and take the afternoon ferry to Sougia, minimizing any hardship.
Once you’ve secured your return ticket, you can pass the time until the boat arrives by enjoying lunch at one of the many taverns, cooling off with a drink of juice, a coffee, a soft drink or a chilled beer, or diving into the crystal-clear waters of Agia Roumeli beach.
Agia Roumeli holiday guide
However, if you’re not in a hurry to get back home or to your hotel, it’s a good idea to stay at least one night in Agia Roumeli and enjoy the beautiful scenery, when the clamor of the tourist crowds has disappeared with the last ferry. It will be late afternoon, the sunset coloring the sky, and you can enjoy the peace and beauty of the large pebble beach.
Later, when it gets dark, you will enjoy delicious Sfakian recipes, good wine and, if you’re lucky, the company of the Sfakian tavern owner, dressed all in black, whose tales will introduce you to the secrets of his homeland. The people of Agia Roumeli are proud and taciturn, but their love of their home, its gorges and its mountains, the Madares as they call the White Mountains, makes their eyes shine when they speak of it.
If you’re not too tired after supper, go for a stroll on the jetty or the beach and turn your eyes heavenwards. If the night is moonless, thousands of stars will be sparkling in the firmament and the galaxy will look like a bright cloud, a glowing highway streaming across the black void. You’ll read this on other pages, but the magic of the night sky on the south coast of Crete is something you must experience for yourself.
Agia Roumeli Beaches and Sights
> The pebble beach west of Agia Roumeli.
> The beach of Agios Pavlos east of Agia Roumeli.
> There are far more choices and you can enjoy beaches both east of Agia Roumeli with a boat (Marmara, Loutro, Glyka Nera) and west of it (Tripiti, Domata and other smaller ones).
> At the mouth of the Samaria Gorge you can see the ruins of the temple of Apollo Tarraeus.
> The church of Panagia (the Virgin) with its beautiful 16th-century mosaics is at the east end of the village of Agia Roumeli, built on the ruins of the temple of Apollo and Artemis.
> The Byzantine church of Agios Pavlos on the beach of the same name, where according to tradition St Paul baptized Christians.
> The two Turkish fortresses above Agia Roumeli. The first, especially, is not particularly hard to reach for most people and it offers a great view of Agia Roumeli from above.