Souda Bay, Crete
Exploring Souda Bay
Souda Bay's strategic positioning means it’s long been an important naval base – and Greek and UN bases still operate here today, on the northern rim of the bay. So it’s well worth travelling a little further out, to find heavenly beaches like the famous Elafonissi Beach - where pink sand and fizzing waves of crystal clear water, converge. The port here dates back to antiquity, when it was used to access the ancient city of Aptera. Visit the extraordinary archaeological site, to see the ruins of mighty empires – from the Romans to the Minoans – gradually emerging from the dusty ground, as excavations continue.
Expansive fortifications were put in place by the Venetians when they ruled, and the island defences in the bay held firm against Ottomans for 30 years after the fall of the rest of Crete. No visit to the area is complete without seeing the Izzeddin Fortress - a squat construction of imposing walls and daunting watchtowers, left over from that era. Since then, the fortress has been used as a dark, punitive prison, where political prisoners were contained in tiny, cramped cells, with limbs shackled to walls.
Learn a little more about the Cretan Revolt, by travelling to the Arkadi Monastery – where almost a thousand women and children were killed by exploding gunpowder barrels, after seeking sanctuary inside - an event that turned world opinion in favour of Cretan independence. Souda Bay War Cemetery also offers a sobering reminder of more recent sacrifices of the past – and is an immaculately maintained Commonwealth graveyard, with a heart-wrenching number of unknown graves. The shared headstones, from plane crews who fought and died together, are particularly moving.
There's a wonderful selection of engaging museums around Souda Bay, from the tall tales of the Folklore Museum, to the Greek National Football Museum - where you can relive the glory of 2004, and lift Greece’s European Championships trophy. The celebrated Museum of Typography spells out the often overlooked importance of writing and printing, and was recently nominated for the prestigious European Museum of the Year Award.