Traveling Classroom Foundation
Friday September 22nd 2017

Water and Tree

It is a pleasant day with a moderate temperate (low-80’s) and a nice sea breeze. We decide to visit Krasi, a village near the Lassithi Plateau. Our route is eastward past the beach town of Stalida and then south up a winding, switchback road into the foothills. The view is phenomenal; one can see practically the entire Gulf of Malia, and all its beach towns.  But the road edge drops off to a long fall. This is the worst part of the trip for someone with fear of heights.

View of Stalida from the winding road leading up to Moxos

We arrive in Moxos (pronounced Mohos) and make our way to the cobblestone platia (town square), surrounded by cafés and dominated by the largest church in town. We look to see if our Scots friend is waiting tables at the café where he works. He is not there, so we continue driving towards the plateau.

The main platia in Moxos is surrounded by cafes

The road crosses the rich Moxos farmland and then rises again towards the high plateau. We turn left to follow the road sign to Krasi, which is 8 km beyond Moxos.  It is a pretty village (altitude over 600 meters) tucked in among hills. We wind through the narrow streets until we reach the platia on a hillside overlooking the village.

The highland village of Krasi

The word Krasi means wine, but the village does not produce notable wines. Krasi is best known for its water, which is quite obvious at the platia. On one side of the square is the Megali Vrisi (Great Fountain), embedded in the hillside. This is an ancient public water system filled by local springs that also fed the Roman waterworks over 2000 years ago.

The "Great Fountain" waterworks of Krasi

The aqueduct that supplied the Roman city of Lyttos (about 20 km from here) had its main source on the west side of Oropedio Nissimou, which looms above Krasi. As it descended from the mountain, the aqueduct collected water at several locations – including the springs around Krasi. The Roman water channel at Krasi was nearly half a meter wide. For more on this see: Aqueduct.

Pure spring water pours from a spout at the public fountain

There are different water stations at the public fountain. One provides a stone basin and spout from which one might fill containers to carry home. Several people stop here to drink the water, which is pure and very cold. Above the spout is a sort of portal, through which we can see water flowing through a stone channel that extends deep into the stone aqueduct.

A view into the aqueduct interior

A few meters away is a public laundry with a row of stone basins, where village folk could wash their clothes and talk about current events.

One station provides a public laundry for village residents

Beyond the wash basins, we can see a large chamber supported by Roman arches and a broad stream of water flowing endlessly from the source springs.

Water flows continuously under the Roman arches

The abundant water in Krasi is important to the plant life in this valley, especially the platanos (plane or sycamore) trees, which need a lot of water. In the platia across the street from the public fountain is an enormous plane tree, with massive branches and dense foliage covering the entire square. The circumference of the trunk is about 24 meters (over 78 feet). Based on this, the tree is estimated to be 2400 years old (each meter represents a century of growth).

Gigantic platanos tree in the Krasi town square

It is the largest tree on Crete, and was providing shade when the Romans built their waterworks on the island.  Over its long life, the tree has witnessed countless events in the rise and fall of empires. It was a meeting place and the center of social and intellectual life in the area. Nikos Kazantzakis, the most famous Greek writer, spent summers in Krasi (where his wife was born) and sat in the shade of this tree with his friends and family.

Plaque with an old rhyme about life and the great tree of Krasi

On the fountain wall there is an old plaque bearing little verse about the ancient tree: “Thinking, Knowledge and Beauty met together many years ago in the many leaves of the platanos tree in Krasi. Humanity, Prosperity, Justice and Freedom were moving like wild branches inside those leaves.”

 

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