The gorges of Crete

Walkers in the gorge of Samaria

There are hundred of gorges in Crete. They are part of the island's personality: the orange and grey of their walls, the wonderful plants which are found only in Cretan gorges, their great trees, the part which they play in legend and song, and the deeds of valour and blood enacted in them.

Most gorges are in platey limestone or conglomerate. Α typίcal gorge has sheer walls, with rock-screes (often cemented as hard as concrete) beneath them. Its floor is coνered with nearly leνel reaches of gravel, alternating with abrupt dams of boulders. The gravel-reaches and boulder-dams are rearranged whenever there is a deluge great enough.

Gorges are old features, of at least Pleistocene age, as the cemented screes bear witness; the Minoans would have seen them almost exactly as we do. But they do not - or not all - go back to the geological beginnings of Crete. The average age of Cretan gorges is perhaps 2 million years.

How were the gorges made, and why has Crete so many?

Earlier travellers thought such mighty chasms were created overnight by 'convulsions of nature'. Later science would haνe us believe that they are an erosion phenomenon, the result of rivers wearing away the rocks - they are merely large ravines. If gorges were cut by erosion, this happened long ago and is not continuing. Most gorges are partly choked with boulders, scree and gravel, and the rocky bottom is hidden. Even deluges never reach the floor of the gorge, let alone cut into it, and so erosion must have happened in times of greater rainfall than now. Erosion undoubtedly formed the gorges of rivers such as the Colorado and the Danube but it fails to account for the multiple gorges in Crete, of all places - a narrow island which can never have had big riνers. Where are the catchments to collect the necessary water? Granted that when the gorges were formed the topography was different, but how can each one - in Sfakia there are fifteen parallel gorges in a distance of 35 km - eνer have collected enough water? The key to Cretan gorges is tectonics. The island is subjected to the huge forces of two continents meeting and pushing against each other. Some rocks were put under tension and cracked as masonry does when stretched. The cracks have been enlarged sideways by erosion: by riνers, and by changes of temperature splitting off stones from the cliffs.

The best known gorges of western Crete

Samaria gorge - the most famous, the longest and by far the busiest

Agia Irini gorge - great gorge offering lots of shade. Much shorter than Samaria

Aradena gorge - spectacular gorge, not too long between the village of Aradena and the sea. Requires some sure-footedness

Imbros gorge - easy walking (a lot easier than the three above) and some spectacular features

Lissos gorge - a short gorge between Sougia and Lissos with some spectacular overhanging cliffs

Sfakiano gorge - a long gorge that runs to the East of Hora Sfakion. The gorge itself is not hugely long but the access to the start at Trikoukia, high above Imbros or via Niato will take time.

Tripiti gorge - almost as long as the gorge of Samaria but vastly more difficult

Klados gorge - runs between the gorges of Tripiti and Samaria and requires climbing equipment

Elygia gorge - runs to the East of Samaria. The gorge is not too long but more technical than Samaria and very remote.. Access to the upper entrance is remote so count two days for this walk

Iliingas or Kavros gorge- a little known gorge right to the West of Hora Sfakion. There are a few scrambling parts but otherwise not too difficult and short enough that you can go up and back down in a day trip from Hora Sfakion.

Kallikratis gorge - a small gorge connecting Kallikratis to the plain of Frangokastello

Asfendou gorge - a small gorge connecting the mountain settlement of Asfendou to the plain of Frangokastello

Sirikari / Tsichliano gorge - actually there are two gorges which start to the South of Polyrinia. The western gorge is called Tsichliano and will take you to the village of Sirikari on a well-maintained path.

Delania or Mesavlia gorge - connects the villages of Mesavlia and Deliana near Kissamos. Very easy walking on a dirt road

Dyktamos gorge - connects the village of Katochori (in Keramia) and ends close to Stylos (Apokorona). Very shaded. A bit of scrambling required and best to walk in the summer and autumn as the gorge can carry a fair bit of water.

Agios Antonios / Patsos gorge - not far from Arkadi monastery. Good path but there can be a lot of water in the gorge

Vilandredo Gorge (Kollita) gorge - from Kato Poros near Argyroupolis, a short but spectacularly narrow gorge



If you don't want to walk there are a few gorges that you can drive through:

Imbros: you will be driving through the gorge of Imbros on the way to Hora sfakion

Theriso: the road passes through the bottom of the gorge

Topolia: on your way to Elafonisi the road passes along and above the gorge of Topolia

Kourtaliotis: you will pass through this gorge if you drive to Plakias or Preveli from Rethymnon


Private guided walks in Crete


Crete photo of the day
Crete Photo of the Day


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