Ierapetra - Europe's southermost town
Ierapetra or Gerapetro in the local dialect, is located on the southern coast of Crete. In fact it is Europe's southermost town and Crete's only town on the southern coast. South of Agios Nikolaos and southwest of Sitia, it is an important regional centre. With its 11.450 inhabitants (1999) it is the most populous town in the prefecture of Lasithi, and the fourth town of Crete. The municipality consists of the town of Ierapetra, several villages and hamlets, and the island of Chrissi.
The area is blessed with a very mild climate and temperatures rarely dropping below 12 degrees centigrade in the winter, while the rain fall is extremely low. The average number of sunshine days exceeds 340 a year. The mild climate, favourable to agriculture is the important reason for the development of many green houses to the west of the town, producing off season vegetables for export in the main European markets.
The area's main economic activities are agriculture in the winter and tourism in the summer. The agricultural production can be divided into two main parts. Whereas olive oil has been produced all over the municipality at least since Minoan times, for the last thirty years large quantities of fruit and vegetables have also been exported. These are grown in plastic greenhouses, which spread over an area of 13.000.000 square meters between the town of Ierapetra and Nea Myrtos. They were introduced by the Dutchman Paul Kuypers. Mainly because of the greenhouse production the inhabitants of Ierapetra are in average the richest on Crete.
Ierapetra has had a place in the history of Crete since the Minoan period. The Greek and later Roman town of Hierapytna was on the same sight as present day Ierapetra. In the Classical Age Ierapytna became the strongest town of eastern Crete.
Later, in the 3rd century BC, Hierapytna was infamous for its tendency to piracy. Its importance ended when it was destroyed by the Romans in 67 BC. It was soon rebuilt, but was soon surpassed by the city of Gortys.
Today remains of the Roman harbor can still be seen in the shallow bay. In AD 824 it was destroyed by Arab invaders, only to be rebuilt as a base for pirates (again!). In the Venetian Age, from the 13th to the 17th centuries, Ierapetra - now known by its present name - became prosperous again.
The fortress of Kales, built in 1626 to protect the harbor, is a remnant of this period, although local myth says it was built by the Genoese pirate Pescatore in 1212. In July 1798 Ierapetra made a small step into world history: Napoleon stayed with a local family during his voyage to Egypt. The house where he stayed can still be seen. In the Ottoman period a mosque was built in the town.
Finds from Ierapetra's past can be found in the local Museum of Antiquities, formerly a school for Turkish children. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a well preserved statue of Persephone.
Present day Ierapetra consists of two quite distinct parts, Kato Mera and Pano Mera. Kato Mera is the old town on the southwestern headland. It is characterized by a medieval street layout with narrow alleyways, cul-de-sacs and small houses, creating a village-like atmosphere.
The former mosque and the "house of Napoleon" can be found in this neighborhood. Pano Mera is the much bigger new town, with wider streets and three and four storey houses. Pano Mera is still expanding towards the west, north and east.
Ierapetra's main shopping street is Koundouriotou. In the centre the town hall, the museum and two cinemas can be found. The local hospital lies in Pano Mera. To the west is the southern headland with the fortress and a port for fishing boats. Further east is a short beach with bars and restaurants, followed by the quay for ferries to the islet of Chrissi. Further on lies the main boulevard with hotels, bars, restaurants and souvenir shops. At its end a new promenade leads alongside Ierapetra Bay's long beach.
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How to get there:
From Heraklion by rental car (1,5 hours trip) or by public bus (2 hours trip) at a cost of about 10 Euro.