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The fortress standing atop a huge boulder in the south-central Cretan village of Charakas (stress on the first A) is the kind of thing I live for. Nobody really knows anything of substance about it. It’s old, that’s obvious. You see that when you’re approaching the village on the road from the northwest (Rethymno). It leaps out at you – this old structure stuck on top of a rock. In situ there is virtually no information whatsoever, aside from a pockmarked sign reading “way to the fort.” It’s an easy climb up a well-kept, relatively modern walkway, followed by a set of older stairs cut into the stone that lead up the western facade of the outcropping. What you find on top is a recently built, or rebuilt, church on the south side of the rock, and an old, very small fortress that takes up the rest of the space. It almost seems an abomination to call it a fortress, since what we really have is a long, narrow building cut into three non-communicating small chambers. Each room has its own door, and each has a window or two, or, at least, a skylight. The floors, the internet tells us, are carved directly out of the rock. It is hard to imagine more than a couple dozen people taking refuge here in a time of danger – that number would drop if they brought along their livestock. I found just two texts of any substance about the fortress on the internet. They both (one and two) pretty much repeat the same thing with minor differences, and I am indebted wholly to them for the historical information I offer in this post.
Although no common form of dating objects reveals a reliable time of construction for this fortress, most of what we see today is assumed to have been erected in the 14th century by Venetians, although some elements in the area appear to date to the middle Byzantine period (roughly 1000 to 1204 AD). In any case, there are signs that a small village existed in the area surrounding the rock in the middle Byzantine era, while we know that a small fiefdom was located here in the Venetian period. One reason historians suspect this structure was built early in the Venetian period (which lasted from 1205 to 1669) is that it lacks the sophistication that the Venetians tended to exhibit in their architecture in later years. Indeed, when I stood inside and alongside the three compartments of the fortress, it was hard for me not to think it looked more like a barn than a fortress. The local village at the time of construction would have been called San Giovanni – there are records of the city bearing that name as early as 1280. Charakas stands in the famed Messara Plain just north of the northern foothills of the majestic Asterousia mountains. The rock itself apparently gave the village its name in subsequent years, for the word charaki (χαρακι) in the Cretan, and some other Greek island, dialects means “big rock.” (I could not verify this independently.) The fortress was apparently abandoned in the early years of the Turkish occupation (1669-1897).
All photos and text © copyright 2020 by John Freedman. If you wish to use either text or photos, I will almost surely grant permission as long as you do the courtesy of asking.

View of the fortress wall and church from the west.
As was often done in old/ancient Crete, part of the fortress wall uses an existing boulder to save labor and time.
This and the following two photos show the roof of the small fortress building.
The little “box’ you see left of center, in the lower left quadrant of this photo, is either an ancient skylight, or a way to collect rainwater. See also following photo.
The skylight (or hole for collecting rainwater) in the ceiling/roof is visible in the upper left of this photo.
Another of the three chambers.
The church on the boulder next to the fortress is a recent reconstruction.
View from the south.
Only the church is visible when you approach the fortress from the east.