Crete: Agios Nikolaos

We basically had two reasons to visit the charming little town of Agios Nikolaos in the eastern part of Crete. The first reason was the local archaeological museum, which was recommended in both of our travel guides. The second reason was the fact that one of our travel guides counted the church of the Holy Trinity (Agia Triada) in Agios Nikolaos among the fifteen highlights of the entire island. As a consequence, our expectations were rather high when we drove to the town, which took us about an hour from our apartment east of Heraklion. In the end, we had a nice day, although admittedly some things did no go according to plan.

Agios Nikolaos.

Boats in the inner harbour.

A thing that immediately catches the eye in Agios Nikolaos is Lake Voulismeni, a former sweet water lake with a diameter of 137 metres. Opinions differ about the depth of the lake, but the deepest spots should have a depth of approximately 64 metres. Lake Voulismeni is an inner harbour nowadays. A lookout point in a park on the western shore offers a beautiful view of the town. A canal connects Lake Voulismeni with the outer harbour. The water is very clear and one should be able to see shoals of little fish everywhere, fish that may well be served in some of the local restaurants.

Archaeological museum
The archaeological museum of Agios Nikolaos regretfully turned out to be closed. This was rather weird, as both of our travel guides claimed it was open from Tuesday to Sunday. Our visit was on a Saturday, but the door was locked, there was no note and there was not a living soul in sight. All we could do was admire the highlights of the museum on the Internet. In the first place, the museum is famous for possessing a rhyton (cup or drinking vessel) from the so-called prepalatial period. Because of its conspicuous shape, the object is called the ‘Goddess of Myrtos’. It dates from ca. 2500-2300 BCE and a picture of it can be found here. A second famous object is the skull of an athlete from the Roman era (first century CE). A golden laurel wreath has been attached to the skull and a silver coin was found inside it. Such coins were placed under the tongue of the deceased so that he could pay Charon the ferryman and cross the river Styx in the Underworld. A picture of the skull can be viewed here.

Mosaic adorning the exterior of the church of Agia Triada.

The museum being closed, we decided to have lunch early and went to AVLI Taverna, a good restaurant with a beautiful garden not far from the two harbours. As happens so often on Crete, a local cat decided to keep us company after we had ordered. The animal ultimately accepted the reasonable price of a small piece of swordfish and then stopped bothering us. Cretan modesty.

Church of Agia Triada
When we had finished our lunch, it was time for a visit to the church of Agia Triada. This church is south of Lake Voulismeni, close to a square named after former prime minister Eleftherios Venizelos (1864-1936). The church building is very modern. It has mosaics on the outside and an interior that is entirely covered in frescoes. These were painted in the 1980s in the Byzantine style. As always, the inside of the dome has a fresco of Christ the Pantokrator. In this church, his halo has the Greek letters omikron, omega and nu, which together form the text Ό ΩΝ’ or ‘Ho oon’ in the Latin alphabet. This literally means ‘he who is’ and can also be translated as ‘the eternal one’. The interior of the church is nice, but in our humble opinion Crete has far more impressive highlights.

Interior of the church of Agia Triada.

After visiting the church we walked to the Migomis Café on the southern shore of Lake Voulismeni to have a drink. From the café one also has a marvellous view of the town and the two harbours. We then went back to our car, which was parked along the Akti Koundourou, a road running parallel to the bay along which Agios Nikolaos is situated. A couple of ships were bobbing around in the water and in the distance we could see the Minos Palace hotel. The hotel takes pride in the fact that it is – apparently – adults only, but of greater interest is a small church dedicated to Saint Nicholas opposite the tennis courts. It is from this church that the town of Agios Nikolaos takes its name.

Agios Nikolaos, seen from the Migomis Café.

The bay of Agios Nikolaos.

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