Sfakia – A history of the region

Sfakia - A history of the regionA new book about the history of the district of Sfakia has just been included in this website’s list of books about Crete. This book offers much more than the history of Sfakia, as it gives an account of Crete from the prehistoric period up to the civil war following WWII, and sets the district’s rich history within the context of events that occurred in the broader area, both in Crete but also in the eastern Mediterranean. The book focuses on Sfakia during periods when the region was at the centre of dramatic events on the island, such as some of the bigger uprisings against the Ottoman Empire, as well as on other eras that have made Sfakia such a unique place in Crete.

The book is intended for two main audiences. First, we wrote this for the regular visitors to Crete and the district who want to learn more about Sfakia’s past. Second, we had in mind the many Cretans and Sfakians of the diaspora, and especially those of the second and third generation, who do not have access to the source materials that we used or who have difficulty reading Greek. We have been aware of this dual need, since we have been frequent visitors to Sfakia for many years and have often been asked questions about the history of the area by tourists and Cretans who live abroad.

Ten years ago Peter Trudgill and I decided to research and write a book that would address this need, without realising how big the task was going to be. After eight years of research and writing, one year seeking a publisher, and another in production with Mystis Editions, we finally have in our hands a hard copy of the book that we dreamed about some ten years ago. The book was officially launched in Sfakia on the 3rd of October and in Chania on the 5th of October.

Although this is a long book, some 300 pages plus an extensive bibliography and index, we believe that it is easy to read and not a dry academic text. We believe that this book will make a serious contribution towards the better understanding by regular visitors to Sfakia of its people, their past and their traditions, which have all been influenced by the region’s extraordinary past, and will thus encourage them to visit the district more frequently and with a deeper appreciation of the area. Similarly, we hope that the more recent generations of Sfakians of the diaspora will be inspired by the achievements of their ancestors against great adversity, as outlined in this book, to visit the land of their ancestors.

George Dalidakis

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2 Responses to Sfakia – A history of the region

  1. Jean says:

    You can see a review of the book at http://www.sfakia-crete-forum.com/read.php?4,3141

  2. David Authers says:

    This book is precisely titled. Sfakia is indeed shown in the greater Cretan context which is so very necessary fully to comprehend the very unjolly history of the island.

    It is easy to see why the book took as long as it did to write: the bibliography shows a huge list of sources and the book gives clear evidence that they have been thoroughly researched and digested: while neither of the two authors is a professional historian they have produced an excellent book which those of us who go regularly to Crete should buy and read as the context the book gives will enrich the appreciation of Sfakia today.

    To get some minor cavils out of the way: any further edition of the book should if possible have more and better maps. There is only one map – of Sfakia – but even that is short on detail with not all of the locations mentioned in the book being marked. I have visited the area two or three times a year over the last 20 and more years and have a superficial knowledge of the villages and places and terrain around and I have quite detailed maps of Crete – but it is dangerous to assume that all readers will. Their reading of the book would be greatly enhanced if there could be a second map showing the crucial places that are mentioned as sites of massacres, battles (there are a lot of those), places where meetings were held or major resistance attempted.

    There are a number of typographical errors but not so many that your enjoyment of the book is turned to fury.

    Clearly the authors had to pare down some of the sources they used: there are brief quotations from Pashley and Spratt but more detailed adventures such as Skinner’s “Roughing it in Crete in 1867” telling his adventures when he got to Crete by means of a blockade-runner and went to Sfakia are not mentioned. If the authors had gone down the route of more exhaustive quotations from their sources, an already large volume would have swollen unmanageably. Still, I have a soft spot for Mr Skinner: “We found the town of Sphakia empty and desolate; its coffee-house on the sea-shore closed, for want of coffee and customers; its few remaining inhabitants living in constant readiness to fly. The Turkish frigates occasionally fired some cannon shot into the lower part of the town, as if to assert their belligerent character, but, for the present, they made no serious demonstration against it. Sphakia was left to enjoy doubtful repose, whilst the insurrectionary government, looking forward to the Turkish invasion which soon afterwards occurred, had ordered that the place should be abandoned” and so and so on.

    Likewise there is another book in English which might have added to the description of the angst that was gripping Europe towards the end of the nineteenth century: J H Freese’s “A short popular history of Crete with an introduction by P W Clayden”. The third edition, for instance, published in 1897 contains very contemporaneous comments on the situation (one footnote indicates that a comment was written on April 12th 1897).

    But these are side issues: this book is a simple “must-buy” for anyone interested in the history of Sfakia and Crete: its research into the great names of the Sfakian families who feature over the generations; the rivalry between the Kapetanioi, the refusal of individual big beast among the Sfakian leaders to play a subsidiary role or to co-operate fully in any agreed plan of action (leading more often than not to devastation for the Cretan Christians); the acute obiter dicta in the footnotes …all help to give us a clearer of picture of how Sfakia became how it is and even how Greece is the country it is. (e.g. page 220 “Greece had got into this dramatic situation as a result of bitter infighting between various political factions. it had five different governments in the space of a year, then another 12 governments in three years”. ‘Twas ever thus).

    I found the book informative from first page to last: the description of the fall of Crete in the Second World War was perhaps rather kind to the Allied Commander in Chief on the ground in Crete: the Minoan history right through the myriad wars and massacres and uprisings against the oppressors , the horrendous slaughters – it’s all there and shows us tourists who only go to Sfakia to swim, walk, drink and wonder why the price of the food in the tavernas is on the upper level, that there is a terrible history behind the present-day prosperity of the area. For instance, will a walk around Aradhena be the same, once you have read the vivid description of the battles fought on each side of that gorge?

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