“The blood in these streets made us who we are”.
These words might have sounded fanciful in any other place – and coming from anyone else.
But we were sitting outside the tavern Skalomata in Anogeia, Crete, a village destroyed three times in its turbulent history.
And the speaker was the contemporary Cretan singer, songwriter and author, Loudovikos ton Anogeion.
Tavern owners, Barbis (left) and Yarnis (right) watch modern-day teller of the Anogeia story, Loudovikos, (second from right)
Credited with describing Anogeia as “the first place you meet when you descend from heaven,” Loudovikos was explaining how tremendous suffering had shaped the culture of the village.
Anogeia was twice destroyed by the Ottomans in 1822 and 1867 – and then by the Germans in 1944, in retaliation for resistance activities.
“Pain and sorrow is the heritage of Anogeia, but so is resilience.
Tavern Skalomata in Anogeia, Crete,
“In World War II, people were massacred here and almost every building was destroyed, only to be rebuilt.”
To underline this point, Loudovikos played his song The Colour of Love, which beautifully explores the theme that you cannot love if you have not suffered adversity.
Creativity borne from ashes
If resilience and fiesty independence are in Anogeia’s DNA, so too are creativity and artistic expression.
Loudovikos is only one of a disproportionate number of talented musicians to emerge from the area onto the Greek and world stage.
The village is also known for its folk art, including a weaving industry developed largely by the widows of men killed in the World War II massacre.
Whether this burst of creative spirit is a direct cry from the bleeding heart of Anogeia’s painful past is up for speculation
The church of St John the Baptist, Anogeia, Crete
The concept of the ‘Tortured Artist’ has long been debated in society and many books have been written on the subject.
However in Anogeia, where stories of pain are still raw, the people have a deep respect for its story tellers.
Loudovikos simply picked up his phone, hit a few numbers and I was talking the mayor of the village.
He spoke in glowing terms of the singer songwriter’s mission to explain the collective community spirit of Anogeia and how that spirit has been shaped by a past as tragic as anyone could imagine.
Anogeia’s mayor also stressed that confronting the horrors that happened in the village was considered a key part of the process.
A simple yet moving memorial – featuring an Unknown Soldier statue – stands in the centre of Anogeia
The exact order given to German forces in 1944 is engraved in marble on one side of the memorial.
Each August, Anogeia also holds a day of remembrance, featuring community activities centred on the memorial.
Residents are also quick to point out that Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, the German commander who ordered the razing of Anogeia, was captured by the Red Army in 1945 and met a grisly end.
Anogeia sits at an altitude of 738 metres in the Idi mountain range of central Crete, an area dominated by Mount Psiloritis, the highest mountain on the island.
It is a charming village, with a cobblestone Main Street and an array of taverns, coffee shops and cafes where friendly locals gather beneath spreading trees and grapevines trailed across trellis.
Despite Anogeia’s treatment at the hands of foreigners over the centuries, the residents are welcoming and quick to offer the hospitality for which Crete is known worldwide.
During our talk with Loudovikos, the owners of the tavern Skalomata insisted that we sample the local cheese, Rakki, fruit and bread.
Anogeia is connected by public bus services from both Heraklion and Chania Crete’s two biggest cities.
We caught the bus into the hills, leaving Heraklion in the early morning and weaving through the awakening suburbs until we reached the narrow, winding road into the rugged mountains.
It was easy to see how the terrain helped Crete’s famed resistance fighters to ambush and harrass both the Occupying Turks and Germans.
Note: the writer flew to Europe courtesy of Scoot Airways.